Before we moved from Sydney in 2018, we’d toyed with the idea of getting a short term rental up by the beach, say Manly, for a couple of months, where we could could indulge in early morning swims or paddles. We never did make that work then (although we couldn’t complain, since where we lived in Waverton, we had access to a private jetty from which was a short paddle to the Opera House!). But this trip, we decided to make Manly our base, and found a cute Airbnb that had a gorgeous view of Manly and Shelly Beach.
In the mornings, we enjoyed strolls along the beach, marveling at the crowds of active folks already out jogging, playing beach volleyball, surfing and swimming. We lead a super sedentary lifestyle in Singapore by comparison.
Our goal was to relax, and get in as much water time as possible. We made it out to Spit Bridge twice, to get in some quality kayaking time, as we’d signed up for a 50km circumnavigation by kayak around Manhattan in New York City end May (yay for travel again). It was fun to paddle the old routes, out to Balmoral and around Middle Harbour – brought back memories of my training for the Murray Marathon. I haven’t used a Euro-blade paddle in far too long though, having gotten used to my Greenland paddle, and so suffered from numb hands pretty much the full 3-4 hours we were on the water. 😦
But since we’d lugged our paddle boards all the way from Singapore, we also made sure we got plenty of use out of them. We went out for a couple paddles in the North Harbour, in front of the Manly ferry terminal, and explored all the little coves and beaches. We were very tempted to paddle across to Balmoral and Watsons Bay, and even to the entrance of the Gap, the last of which we’d not even broached by kayak before… but we’re not the most confident of SUP boarders yet, and didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. Next time! But we did bring our boards to the Manly beach-side on a day when the surf looked much smaller than usual, and had a blast trying to catch small waves at the break point just outside Shelly Beach. Goals for next time too – surfing on SUPs!
We also got in a few swims from Manly to Shelly. The water temperature was a cool but comfortable 21+ degrees. Most days, the rains and surf rendered the water silty, so visibility was not the greatest. But we did have one beautiful day on Sunday when the sun was out in full blast, the winds calm, and the surf small, when the ocean looked like a beautiful swimming pool. We spotted baby dusky whaler sharks, tons of fishes, blue groupers and rays.
We had friends come out to Manly to hang with us a few different days, which was tons of fun. Our last evening though, we decided to venture back downtown to meet up with friends, and enjoyed riding the ferry at dusk back to Circular Quay. That sight never gets old!
Australia was one of the second wave of countries to announce their re-opening to travelers back in November last year. Immediately, we booked tickets. We quickly found out though, that that plan was a soft launch, just for Singapore citizens, and did not include expats residing in Singapore (like Jeff). Then, Omicron hit, and while borders remained opened, travelers now had to do a mandatory 3 day quarantine at their place of residence before they were allowed to leave. In the end, we shelved those plans, and contented to staying in Singapore for the holidays.
Happily, we’re over that hump now (and hopefully it’s firmly in the rearview mirror). With borders re-opened – this time fully – we used the last of our carry over vacation days from last year to revisit what we regard as our second home.
We’d come in right before the ANZ long weekend, perfect to plan a weekend getaway with some friends. The Monday before though, after obsessively following the weather forecast, over a Zoom call, we reluctantly changed our plans to camp at Mungo Brush up in Myall Lakes, given the gloomy 8mm of rain projections every day of the long weekend. Happily, Dani found alternatives out west, and we easily swapped out our plans to explore Cudgegong River, west of Mudgee.
It was so, so, so lovely to be back on the water with these kayaking mates. This time, Jeff and I brought our standup paddle boards instead of kayaks, and Dani brought along her racing SUP for us to play around with (along with her trusty Elliot kayak and Oru Coast). We had the most marvellous afternoon paddling around together on Saturday afternoon, just like old times, before we returned to prepare a delicious hot pot meal and to lounge by our campfire and admire the stars and milky way overhead. Just like old times.
It’s always a special treat when one travels with friends who love to cook! For Sunday brekkie, we made french toast with fresh berries and mascarpone with vanilla and maple syrup. SO GOOD. Washed down with fresh moka pot coffee – we were nicely set up for a long day’s paddle!
The day’s paddle started off lovely. Though it was mostly cloudy, the winds were low and so made for a nice leisurely paddle to our lunch spot, a tiny brushy island on which we found a small clearing. Delicious build-your-own wrap lunch of roast chicken, pickled daikons, cucumbers, tomatoes, rocket, ham, and tuscan mix. Mm.
The wind picked up just as we finished lunch though, and sent white caps spraying in whichever direction. Initially, we’d entertained continuing up the river to explore, but very quickly decided with the strong headwinds, that it was more prudent to start turning back. What a mad struggle – especially for me, a semi-novice stand up paddle boarder! The winds were pushing us backwards at least 3 km/hr, and I’m on average just clocking in 4 km/hr on my board. Lol. After at least 45 minutes of full out paddling, I looked back and we were barely 1 km away from our lunch spot. Gah. Looking at the time, I decided that if we wanted any chance of returning before sunset, I had to get a tow assist.
Enter Garry! He gamely pulled me behind his kayak for a good 7km. And though the sun finally came out right at the end, and the winds died down, I was too spent from trying to hold my own end of the tow to volunteer to unhitch from his kayak. Huge kudos to Jeff for pushing through on Dani’s racing board, badly skinning the tops of his toes kneeling through the wind in the process.
We were pretty wiped out by our 17 km paddle – no thanks to the epic winds coming back – and woke up sore the next morning, but it was a beautiful sunny and calm day on Monday that a bunch of us simply had to take the crafts out for a last spin. We ventured up to what we thought was a cove at the end of lake, but it turned out to be a fun little creek that we could meander up for quite a distance, alongside curious cows.
To end off the trip, and to take further advantage of the beautiful sunny weather, we stopped by Lowe Wines in Mudgee for a bit of cheeky tasting, and walked away with four bottles. Just couldn’t resist.
Another amazing Aussie bush weekend for the books! So grateful for the lovely company as well. Our hearts are full.
151km later (or 145km if you were a more experienced / efficient paddler and didn’t zig-zag like we did), we did it: a circumnavigation of Singapore and 28 of her islands, to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation. As of this moment (donations close end September), we’ve raised north of $30k, including pledges from our sponsors!
We are deeply grateful to have been included in this expedition. Conceived by our friend Shirley only just a short couple of months ago, it’s astonishing how she and a core group supported by Sea Ops, managed to push through all the naysayers and endless regulatory red tape to put together an event that was professionally run: We had the coast guards and maritime port authority vessels helping manage traffic at crucial junctures of our journey; we had fellow kayaking enthusiasts volunteering their time to help with logistics on land and photography; teammates helping patch the 35-year old kayaks Sea Ops had given a second life; companies stepping in to sponsor or match our donations; and a generous donor at the end who sponsored our delicious seafood dinner at our end point at SAF Yacht Club. Really huge hats off.
We also feel extremely privileged to have been introduced into this community of kayaking enthusiasts in Singapore – there are so many folks in the group that have vast and deep experiences to share. We learnt a lot paddling with them these past four days: How to lead an expedition; how to help out as port, starboard, and stern sweepers; how to read the winds and tides and plan our trips around these; that even if the tide is against us, it’s possible to find lines of localised eddies that are in our direction of travel. That this was a community organised event made it all the more special, as we weren’t just participants, but all teammates working in concert.
That last point was a lesson that didn’t really resonate till right before the event started. Initially, I’d wondered why we couldn’t procure newer and more sea-worthy kayaks for use, instead of having us macgyver modifications to the boats: sourcing and sawing off PVC pipes for use as footrests, removing seats (and then paddling with the exposed screws jutting out of the floor), drilling holes in the kayaks to attach rivets and decklines, and endless patching of holes and cracks in these old boats. But a lot of the folks didn’t complain, but just got down to doing what needed to be done. They weren’t running this as a professional charity event, but really as a ragtag team of enthusiasts to raise funds for a charity. I think, at the end of the day, that it made the event that much more meaningful.
And it was really beautiful to see how we all started to work together as a team by the end of the four days. We appreciated the debriefs we held each day, where everyone had the to chance to reflect on the day’s expedition. Everyone internalised the feedback, such that by the end, we were paddling in tight formation, and helped looked out for one another especially during the storms.
We also learnt that our bodies can take the distances and the long hours on the water, and that we can comfortably keep pace with the more experienced kayakers. We made sure to stretch religiously after each day, and refuelled with delicious hot meals my mum sent over each night – steak, salmon, and juicy roast chicken with hearty portions of salad. Though our bodies, especially shoulders and upper back, felt sore, we never hit a wall where we just had to stop. In fact, two days later, as I write this, I feel charged to go for another round… and gauging from the chat in our WhatsApp group, the consensus is pretty much the same! We definitely feel more seasoned and comfortable as kayakers now, able to tackle the varied conditions on the water, and able to appreciate a bit more what the kayak-authors write about of their expeditions.
Day 1– Shortest, but not the easiest day
Route: Kranji Dam to Raffles Marina, distance: 21 km
Island of Bajau
We did not backtrack to the Woodlands Causeway in the end, because it proved too much of a hassle to negotiate permissions from the coast guard. That led to our shaving 6km off the pre-planned route, though the strong headwinds and chop made up for the energy we might have saved. What would have usually taken us 3.5 hours to cover took 5.5 hours.
We had a representative from the Children Cancer Foundation see us off at the start. Mr Khoo Siew Chiow, Singapore’s premier adventurer, also came and gave us some words of encouragement and helped us carry our kayaks down the rocks.
The start of the paddle was glorious: we kayaked past Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, where sea eagles soared overhead, and egrets and herons eyed us watchfully from the water edge. Some in the group even passed by a 2m long crocodile, though we only saw its startled dive down by the time we heard their excited yells.
We paddled to the drumbeat of the army live firing practice, stretching from Surimbun all the way up to the Tuas causeway to Malaysia
Not so much of a highlight: fighting the aforementioned wind and chop. That was draining!
Route: Raffles Marina to Sentosa; distance: 49 km
Island of Bukom
This was a long day, made longer by the fact that we’d been mentally prepared to paddle 42km based on our pre-departure briefing, but with added islands enroute, we ended up paddling 49km.
It started excitingly enough though: a 5am push off in the dark. With currents assisting, we flew down the south western edge of Singapore, and passed Tuas at sunrise. We also got to surf some big waves when we made the crossing to Jurong Island, which was mighty fun. Major props to Sea Ops for coordinating with the coast guard to help manage traffic in the busy channel!
The paddle in between the islands of Sudong, Bukom and Semakau saw many of us flag though. We’d been on the water for 6 hours by that point, and were starting to get hungry. The sun came out overhead in full force, and the protection of the islands meant that we had no waves, no surf, and no wind to distract ourselves with. By the time we hit Pulau Hantu, our lunch point, everyone was exhausted. While some sought the shade, some of us just soaked in the sun-warmed water, where we rehydrated and scarfed down lunch.
Happily, at least we’d covered the bulk of the distance by then, though it was a tiring stretch back to Sentosa from the Southern Islands, where we had to fight a strong drift to the southwest. Some folks decided to camp overnight at Sea Ops’ facility on Sentosa; Jeff and I elected to head back home for the comfort of our own bed.
Route: Sentosa to East Coast; distance: 31 km
St John Island
We got lucky with the weather and made it to our end point at Constant Wind in beautiful conditions.
It was a super fun 31km day. We set off just after 6am from Tanjong Beach in Sentosa, and paddled to the Southern Islands for a gorgeous sunrise. The Maritime Port of Authority vessel accompanied us for the crossing towards the Tanjong Pagar Terminal, the beautiful skyline of the central business district in front of us the whole way.
Though we were supposedly against the current along the long East Coast stretch, the downwind created lots of lovely waves for us to surf back on. Compared to the prior two days, day 3 felt like a breeze! We ended 1.5 hours ahead of schedule, and felt like we still had a full store of energy.
Day 4 – The Longest Day
Route: East Coast to SAF Yacht Club; distance: 51 km
Punggol Timor Island
West Punggol Island
Long in terms of both time and distance. 12 hours on the water, and 51km.
Technically, we launched by 6am, but actually floated in the bay for 45 minutes waiting for our safety boat to show up.
We finally pushed off at 645am, but within 15 minutes, the thunderstorm that we had seen billowing and thundering in the distance caught up to us. Given that we had the huge traverse around the Changi Naval Base ahead, we beached up to wait for the visibility to improve a tad before setting back off.
It rained most of the day. But since we were wet already, we actually didn’t mind and found it quite refreshing and fun, especially since the currents were light. It was a bit of a relief from the scorching sun the previous three days, and the early morning light filtered through the clouds made the whole seascape very surreal.
And then, it seemed that we were suddenly almost at the finish line. With 15km to go as we crossed over to Coney Island from Pulau Ubin, we alternately felt excited at the prospect of stretching out and checking off this big adventure, to feeling wistful already that the expedition was almost at the end.
But a last surprise was in store when we pulled up to SAF Yacht Club! We’d been diligently tracking and recording the islands that we’d passed on our route, and the official from the Singapore Book of Records was waiting for us at the finish line to award us with certificates for the largest island hopping kayaking expedition around Singapore! We’d covered 28 islands in our journey. 🙂
It’s been a super fun ride. So grateful to have been a part of this expedition, especially in a time when we’re still stuck on Singapore unable to go anywhere else. And the charity drive continues through the end of the month too. Hopefully we can hit our stretch goal of $40,000!
We got in three training days this weekend. A dawn paddle around Ubin on Thursday, a paddle to Yishun Dam on Sunday, and a paddle to Changi Village and Coney Island on Monday. 20+km per trip. Feeling stronger and faster that’s for sure!
The round Ubin trip felt leisurely, for the weather was mild, the water glassy, and the currents on our side. A far cry from the whiteout conditions we met the week before!
On Sunday, we joined the expedition group for a training paddle to Yishun Dam, where Singapore’s Last Fishing Village is. A hodepodge of blue plastic barrels, zinc sheeting, and wooden stakes tied together to form a series of floating platforms, juxtaposed against the modern buildings in the background.
Monday morning, National Day, we got up for another early morning paddle. The tide was the lowest we’ve seen. Just past Api Api River, the waters were so shallow that we got stuck near the blue buoy barriers, about 100m from shore. We had to carry the kayak over the barrier in order to continue to Changi Village.
The hawker center at Changi Village was bustling, never mind that safe distancing measures were still place, such that we had to check in to enter the hawker, and could only buy food for takeaway but not dine in. No matter. I bought two packets of nasi lemak and lime juice, and brought it back to the beach for a leisurely breakfast.
At Coney Island, we watched the fighter jets zoom past in formation, then the slower chinooks bearing the Singapore flag fly past. It’s a lovely gesture, these helicopters, going around the island with the flag, since we don’t have a proper parade this year due to the heightened measures.
We’ve been training for a 4-day 150km round Singapore island paddle at the end of August, to raise money for the Children Cancer Foundation.
Some in our group have taken the trainings very to heart, organising epic 50+k days on the water! We joined the group for a 40km paddle last week, and had really sore bums for a few days afterwards.
Consequently, we weren’t in the least tempted to join the group for a 58km paddle on Sunday, preferring to wait until we’d managed to properly equip the old kayaks we’d be using with proper foot rests. Instead, we decided on our own mini-by-comparison training paddle, a 21km loop around Pulau Ubin.
What started out as a beautiful sunrise and then flat glassy waters turned into a crazy storm.
The winds picked up as we approached the back north-west half of Ubin, such that the last hour was a full on battle against increasing winds and waves. We’d looked forward to finally getting current assistance when we rounded the island, but hit the full brunt of the storm then. Beached up with a skittish wild boar to wait out the worst of the whiteout conditions, given that we could barely make out the ships passing in the channel, never mind Pasir Ris on the other side.
So, training done. 21km in not our fastest time, but it was epic.
So grateful for the opportunity to explore another area of Singapore this past Thursday: Pulau Hantu and Semakau, the latter which is Singapore’s first offshore and now remaining landfill.
We had to go through immigration to board a ferry to Hantu – it felt almost like international travel again, except that our identity cards sufficed, even though we had also brought our passports, just in case.
It was a gorgeous day on the water – the skies were a brilliant blue, with voluminous cumulus congestus clouds, a sure sign of rain to come. But the rains stayed away, even as we heard the ominous rumblings of thunder grow ever more urgent right after noon. We could see grey walls of rain in the far off distance, on the main island, but the skies remained clear where we were.
Which is to say it was a scorching hot day. I was just wearing a tank top initially, but after just a half hour lounging in my kayak, waiting for the others to set up their inflatable boats, I had to pull on my long sleeve rash guard to get some relief from the sun. Dipping into the water helped too. The tide was still low mid morning, so we could see the blanket of soft corals in the little bay on the southwestern side of Pulau Hantu. The water was silty – Huey said it is generally much better in the latter part of the year, but not having been able to see any coral reefs at all for over a year, this was a treat.
Our paddle wasn’t terribly long, just under 10km, but it was a beautiful one. We crossed the narrow strait between Pulau Hantu and Semakau, then leisurely meandered our way around the shallow coastal mangroves. Unlike on Pulau Ubin and even Khatib Bongsu, the mangrove trees here were sturdier, with broad gnarled trunks. Brown kites soared overhead, while in the waters we spotted the occasional schools of tiny silvery fish. A few in the group even saw a small black tip shark darting away in the shallows.
After, when we got back the Hantu, the rest of us lounged around – some seeking relief in the water; others went out for a bit more kayaking – while chef Desmond Foo whipped up some delicious spicy buttermilk chicken and prawn paste drumsticks on the barbie, accompanied with homemade toasted focaccia and corn veloute soup with bacon bits. Finished with super ripe mangos and coffee. Bliss. Especially since right after we returned to land, the government sent out a directive banning social bbqs for the next two weeks as we grapple with a rise in community cases again.
When the time and the tides align, one of our favorite paddles is to explore the four rivers of Pulau Ubin, where we’d cross over from Pasir Ris, and cut up from the southern side of the Island via Sungei Jelutong up through to the northern tip, then paddle back down through the island again on a couple other rivers.
On Sunday, we did just that. The gloomy weather predictions had mostly fizzled, such that we were offered a clear sunny window to mid morning. The crossing was easy – on flat waters under a partly cloudy sky after a beautiful orange-pink sunrise, and all too soon, we’d left behind the drone of power boats in the channel and entered another world, filled with the melodic chirpings of unseen birds and incessant calls of crickets.
Shan, as always, was our unflappable guide through the rivers, although on this day KayakAsia was also leading several groups up through the rivers as well, so we used them as our guideposts as we overtook the groups, exchanging pleasantries and greetings with our friends as we passed.
We made good time, even with stopping for a short snack by the narrow silver of beach on the northern side of the island (next to fresh wild boar tracks!) and floating around in the thick of mangroves for around 20 minutes or so, waiting for the tide to rise just high enough for us to paddle over a couple of half submerged tree branches that blocked our paths.
By the time we made it back out the southern end of the island via Sungei Puaka, we could see thick grey clouds overhead. And by the time we hit Pasir Ris and looked back, Pulau Ubin was shrouded in mist; the storm had descended upon the island. We got lucky; a few passing puffs of rain clouds hit us as we got our kayaks out of the water, but it was only after Jeff and I had just finished washing our kayaks that the rain really started to come down – just in time for a warm shower and lunch!
We went with some friends last Saturday on a KayakAsia led paddle from Sentosa to the Southern Islands. What a beautiful morning to set off!
The currents were mild on the way over, and we enjoyed blue skies and clear waters. The tides were really low when we got to Kusu Island though, such that we had to carry our kayaks midway into the lagoon – no soaking in the cool emerald green waters in the inner lagoon this time for us.
After a bit of a morning tea where we enjoyed fresh curry puffs, homemade four berry tarts, tangerines and coffee, we clambered back into our inflatable kayaks to cross over to Lazarus Island.
There, we poked around the tidal pools, admiring the sea anemones, nudibranches, and moon jellyfish.
All too soon, it was time to make the slog back. I suppose it was too much to ask for mild currents again! My right arm was tired by the time we made it back to shore, having to pull against the currents the entire trip back. At least I earned those beers after!
When your company’s country head asks you for a 1-1 meeting done on the water, why would you ever say no? Especially on a brilliantly warm and breezeless day like it was last Monday, when the waters even in the middle of the channel looked absolutely flat and glassy?
So it was that we set off from Pasir Ris towards Pulau Ubin, me in my trusty Oru kayak, and Scott on his stand up paddle board.
We had a couple of hours before other meetings, and so decided on a quick exploration of the mangroves in Pulau Ubin. We ventured up the river mid-tide, when the flow was still mild and in our favor, past a family of monkeys swinging through the trees alongside and overhead us.
There are rivers that we could paddle up to bisect the island, but the turns are tricky, and without relying on maps, we found ourselves in disused prawn farms instead. No matter – it was time to head back to the mainland anyway.
As it was during the phase of the full moon, the tides were stronger than usual, and the head-on flow took us almost by surprise. The waters were still calm, but we had to exert much more energy to fight the currents all the way down the river and back across the channel to Pasir Ris.
But fun times – and we’ll be looking to do more of such meetings on the water!
Our friends Shan and Desmond were inspired the other day. Let’s do a gourmet kayaking trip, they suggested. That is, load our kayaks full of provisions and drinks, and paddle from Singapore to Pulau Ubin, and cook up a storm there.
Desmond, a professional cook by training, was more than up for the challenge. His menu, ambitious by normal standards, blew our minds for this being an outdoor setting:
Baby Spinach Salad with a Tomato and Bacon Dressing
Celeriac Veloute (Soup)
Ballontine of Chicken with Herb Jus
Prime Rib of Angus Beef, Red Wine Sauce
Roast Potatoes and Onions
We set off bright and early from Pasir Ris. The weather window looked clear for us in the morning, with ominous threats of thunderstorms later in the day – hopefully when we’re back safely on the mainland and all cleaned up.
After a leisurely paddle to Ubin, we beached up by the old PA chalets and unloaded our kayaks. Desmond quickly got to work, starting a fire on his charcoal stove to heat up the soup and grill the steaks.
Meanwhile, the rest of us got busy with setting up our drinks table. Champagne, Bordeaux, espresso martinis, cold brew boulevardier, gin and tonics with freshly smashed peppercorns…
Desmond truly outdid himself! After all that food and the drinks, it was a struggle to paddle back to Pasir Ris. Haha, but what a fun morning out with a fantastic bunch of kayaking and food buddies.