Five Rivers and Half Ubin Kayak

In the latter half of the pandemic, the inner mangroves of Pulau Ubin were crowded with different groups of brightly colored kayaks, many from various enterprising outfits that had sprung up to cater to people’s hungry need to get outdoors. Since borders have fully reopened though, the waters have vastly emptied. In our 5.5 hours around and in Pulua Ubin on Sunday, we spotted only a handful of other kayaks / paddle boards.

Indeed, this was only my second time paddling across to Pulau Ubin this year, plus a Southern Islands paddle in March.

Heron perched on the edge of a kelong, small floating house

Even as we pushed off at sunrise, the day promised to be super hot and humid. The air hung, heavy. Shan, our intrepid leader, had planned for a half island anticlockwise paddle past Chek Jawa to Mamam River, whereupon we’d meander our way through five different mangrove sheltered rivers before coming back out through Sungai Puaka on the southern side and back to Singapore. The plan was to coincide with the rising tide, which peaked at 1pm, that would allow us enough clearance through the mangroves. That also meant a paddle against the current. …

Crossing to Pulau Ubin on what already promised to be a sweltering day
Welcome quick pit stop to empty the water from our kayaks and to stretch our legs.

Aah, actually, we ended up going against the current more that half the time that day. I was in my single Oru, and struggled at times a little to keep up with the others in their trusty doubles. Huge thanks to Judy and Stanley who shared some of their water. I had just about enough, which is to say, I should have planned for more. Judy’s was ice cold, and lemon scented, and I was really grateful for that reviving hit.

Almost 21km paddle. One of my hottest and most humid paddles. Still, very thankful I got up for it! Most of the images were from friends on the trip. 😃

Kayaking: Round Ubin Training

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.

Approaching the Pulau Ubin Jetty [photo credit: Jeff]

What started out as a beautiful sunrise and then flat glassy waters turned into a crazy storm.

Calm before the storm, on the backside of Ubin [Photo credit: Jeff]

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.

Video still of the storm we got caught in, and that of a lone fellow paddler [Credit: Jeff]

So, training done. 21km in not our fastest time, but it was epic.

Sunrise paddle to Pulau Ubin

We were going to join our friends for a short social paddle to Pulau Ubin at 8am. Decided to sneak in a bit of training and watch the sunrise before.

Lovely paddle this morning. Nice cool breeze; felt good to get back in the water. It’s been two months!

Me vs the Evergreen (photo credit: Jeff)

Kayaking the Four Rivers of Pulau Ubin

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.

Jeff’s shot of me – love the lighting!

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.

Busy day on the water: Waiting for the ship to cross the channel from west to east, and two sand barges to cross from east to west before we made our north to south crossing back to Pasir Ris

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!

Quick Jaunt to Paulu Ubin from Pasir Ris by Kayak

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.

Mid crossing pic from Scott
Scott on his paddle board, approaching Pulau Ketam

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.

This looks like a drone pic, or a pic from a bridge, but it’s actually just from Scott standing on his SUP

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.

We wandered through the old prawn farms on Pulau Ubin

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!

Gourmet kayaking at Pulau Ubin

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)
  • Foie Gras
  • Ballontine of Chicken with Herb Jus
  • Prime Rib of Angus Beef, Red Wine Sauce
  • Roast Potatoes and Onions
  • Marinated Mushrooms
  • Burnt Cheesecake

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.

Launching from Pasir Ris beach. The calm and flat waters were a welcome change from the prior week
Approaching Pulau Ubin

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.

Chef at work. Look at those gorgeous hunks of meat

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…

We’re serious about our drinks
While waiting for our meal, Sarah, Judy and I decided to go for a short paddle up the river

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.

Kayaking: First paddle of 2021 at Pulau Ubin

We rang in the new year with relentless rain. Literally, from the first day of the 2021 till pretty much last Thursday, it poured buckets everyday. Heavy, pounding rain that lashed against our windows, along with howling winds and startling claps of thunder and angry flashes of lightning.

We ended up cancelling all our outdoor activities and hunkered down indoors, spending the first weekend painting away.

Paint by numbers of our favorite Sydney sunrise from my kayak

Last Saturday though, the weather finally cleared, and eight of us (yay for relaxed covid restrictions!) eagerly got into our kayaks for a paddle to Pulau Ubin.

Photo by: Jingyi

After weeks away, our muscles definitely felt it. The strong currents and headwinds didn’t help either, so after battling our way to Ubin, we abandoned our plan to get to the Chek Jawa reserves and instead turned to go with the currents to explore Sungei Tiga, one of the many rivers on the island.

After, we beached up on Ubin itself, in the hopes of some belly warming Mee Rebus from the Muslim lady in the store by the jetty. Alas, she was closed for business, so we just found another store for some refreshments.

Felt almost like we were in another country – Malaysia / Philippines / Thailand
Our paddles neatly lined up

Felt so good to be back out on the water, even though I was honestly wiped out and had to nap the rest of the afternoon. 😂

Kayaking: Exploring my backyard in Pasir Ris

The tides didn’t line up with when we wanted to go out to explore the mangroves of Pulau Ubin. Rather than wait another weekend though, we decided to venture out anyway. Even if we couldn’t find a river to cut through the island, it still would be a great way to get in some fresh air and workout.

The rain overnight did not clear the clouds, which still loomed low in the sky. The air also felt still and heavy, but at least we had a smooth crossing from Pasir Ris over to Pulau Ubin. Within a half hour of launch, we entered the river fronting the abandoned PA chalets. As soon as we rounded the first bend, the chirping of the crickets enveloped us. We spotted our first pair of otters placidly swimming past.

As always, the cacophony of crickets enveloped us when we entered the mangroves

On our past forays into the mangroves, we had friends guide us. This time, my brother and I were alone. With the help of a grainy Google Earth (Google Maps did not offer enough detail here) and a compass though, we felt confident enough to map our way out of the labyrinth network of riverlets.

We squeezed past narrow gaps in search of navigable routes to the northern shores of Pulau Ubin

Alas, no matter what small channel we managed to squeeze past, the tide was just a little too low, the mangrove roots too exposed. Oh well. We retraced our path, following a brilliant blue kingfisher that flitted just ahead of us with every quiet stroke of our paddles.

On a whim, when we got back to Pasir Ris, we decided to venture up the canal bisecting Pasir Ris Park. We’d crossed the main bridge hundreds of times in the years past, but never did venture up its length. But the canal is much cleaner now, evidenced by another pair of otters that ducked between the mangroves alongside the water’s edge, watchfully eyeing us as we paddled past.

Going up the Pasir Ris River

We were so astounded by the quiet beauty of the river, and of the uniquely Singaporean sight of the colourful housing blocks peeking from above the trees. What a lovely view these residents enjoyed of the river, with the resident egrets and herons nesting on the high branches. My brother spotted another otter, this one bravely swimming right under his kayak and then popping its head out of the water to stare at him.

Beautiful morning.

Kayaking: Pasir Ris to Ubin

With Covid cases flaring back up in countries that had already eased restrictions, we are resigned to the fact that for the foreseeable future, we will be stuck here in Singapore.

A friend reminded us the other day though, that it’s important to find pleasures where we can, otherwise life will be miserable. True that.

So we try to be in the present, to continue to count our blessings that we otherwise are healthy and have jobs, have still the freedom to meet with small group of friends for in-person catch-ups, and the freedom to take to the waters to explore.

In the past couple of months, we have made a half dozen paddles over to Pulau Ubin from Pasir Ris, eagerly squeezing under low bridges to dive deeper into the lush mangroves. Each time that we bring new friends along to explore, we delight in the wonder and excitement they enthuse as the cacophony of cricket calls and overhanging branches envelope us, transporting us into a different world.

If we’d have the flexibility to travel, we would not have been able to explore as deeply as we have the wondrous environment right at our doorstep, so there’s something to be thankful for!

Kayaking: Exploring the Rivers of Pulau Ubin

Waning moon phase with a high tide at 940am. With mild currents predicted, we were in a good place to launch off from Pasir Ris at 730am to leisurely explore the mangroves in Pulau Ubin.

Unlike the stormy conditions from a couple of weeks before, the air was still and the water glassy. It made for an easy and light-hearted crossing to Pulau Ketam, from which we crossed over to Pulau Ubin.

Our goal was to explore another river of Pulau Ubin – river Mamam. The mouth of that river opens up from the northern end of the island, but not wanting to do the lengthy circumnavigation, we opted to cut through the island via Sungei Juletong and under Juletong Bridge next to the famous Ah Ma Drink Stall.

Kampong by the mangrove’s edge
Photo credit Jeff
Jeff contemplating our green waterway – photo credit Jingyi
Me, happy to be on the water – photo credit Jeff

The twisty streams are a challenge to navigate, especially with rough maps that don’t show all the detail. But Shan led the way with aplomb, and a few false but fun turns later, we found our way through to the northern end at around 1030am.

A beautiful blue bird day to explore the Mamam River

Initially, we worried that the tide might not be high enough to traverse the mangroves, and indeed in certain stretches our paddle tips kept striking the mangrove roots in the shallow water. But the lower water levels proved a blessing, for it enabled us to squeeze under the two bridges that bisected the river, so that we needn’t step out onto the muddy banks to portage across. Win!

Jeff just managing to squeeze under the bridge, a manoeuvre that required him to slide all the way into the front of his kayak, so that he lay flat in his kayak
Our route from Pasir Ris to Ubin and back. We were all excited that the water levels were low enough for us to squeeze under the two bridges that bisected the River Mamam, so we didn’t have to get out into the muddy mangroves to make a portage – or to retrace our route to circumnavigate the eastern flank of the island

Such a fun paddle! Animals sighted: egrets, wild boar crossing the river, family of otters feasting on fish near the river banks, iguanas floating in the water.

We’ve now kayaked the major rivers of Pulau Ubin, but there remains plenty more twisty turns to get lost in!