Walkways suspended in the rainforest trees, a new wooden bridge suspending across a breezy valley plus great views over the city & sea – this is the Southern Ridges trail in Singapore.
Singapore is pumping big money into enhancing its natural environment, and this is demonstrated in a quite remarkable manner in the Southern Ridges – just 3 – 5 km from the city centre. I think developing green capital is critically important for densely populated cities, especially where there is a rapidly ageing population. The thought of retiring and growing old in a concrete jungle is quite depressing, but it is impressive to see the longer term thinking in Singapore. Local authorities are creating extensive networks of green corridors throughout the city, in conjunction with sympathetic restoration of places that have historical significance. It’s great to see that Singapore is more than a shopping mall.
It’s difficult to define exactly where this area begins and ends, but there are useful maps and guides of the Southern Ridges that outline the hiking opportunities. These low lying hills stretch along the west coast of Singapore, overlooking the ocean which carries a large portion of the world’s shipping trade and Sentosa Island (which is a huge tourist trap of epic proportions).
I’ve done several hikes through this area, in the early morning and evening, when the oppressive tropical weather is less harsh. I do love the relative solitude of early morning walks in Singapore. It is warm and balmy and very enjoyable. Birds and animals are active at this time of day. Once it heats up, I’m ready to hit a hawker stand or air conditioned coffee shop by about 9am, so treasure the early morning respite from the heat.
Although the Southern Ridges are within an urban area, the hiking is still interesting. Newly developed bridges and aerial walkways also make the hiking really interesting from an urban architecture perspective. And many forests in the urban areas still have plenty of wildlife and unique flora. Moving from east to west along the Southern Ridges, you’ll pass through dense forests, quirky mansions and local communities that are very busy.
Starting from Harbourfront MRT, start by walking up Morang Walking trail which climbs straight up to Mount Faber. This is one of Singapore’s highest hills at an underwhelming 94 metres above sea level, but the view is still great. Trust me, the small rise in elevation is quite an effort in tropical heat and humidity, even though the path is well shaded within the forest. Large colonial style bungalows sit tranquilly under the lush forests along this trail. They must be amazing to live in, as you are living within a jungle in a 19th century house, only minutes from the bustle of Singapore.
When you reach the top, Mount Faber looks like a tourist trap from the 1980s – nasty looking restaurants and car parks for the tourist masses who come up by bus. The only thing that has changed in the 21st century are the youngsters who take selfies in front of a tired fountain or statue. Thankfully, you can quickly pass this area – head west for for another 15 minutes through lush forests until the canopy opens up to the entrance of the Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge.
Completed in 2008, this futuristic structure with lots of wood crosses 274 metres between two hills at an elevation of 36 metres above the valley floor. The bridge is curved with a gentle wave like shape, blending into the angles of the hills in this part of Singapore. The views over the forest are great, contrasted against the concrete jungle of Singapore’s housing estates. There is a futuristic complex that looks like a space centre from a science fiction movie, rising above the misty tropical rainforests. I was instantly reminded of the Jodie Foster movie “Contact” (1997), where the aliens gave instructions on how to build a space centre to travel through the universe. This building is just an apartment or office block, but it’s good to see some imaginative architectural elements in new buildings.
Henderson Bridge gives an appreciation of how simple suburban walkway can be transformed into a piece of art. The bridge is quite safe, but I pondered that the low safely barriers along the walkway must pose a risk to the new selfie generation who may just lean back a little too far, falling over the edge in front of double decker buses that regularly pass along the highway under the bridge. Darwin’s survival of the fittest at its best. At the time of writing this blog, there seemed to be a lot of construction to reinforce the safety barriers and seating along the bridge, somewhat ruining the photo opportunities.
At the end of Henderson Waves Bridge, a shaded jungle path leads to a hilly peak where one of the more quirky features of the Southern Ridges comes into view. Alkaff Mansion is a 1914 building that was built by a prosperous Arab trading family (Syed Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Alkaff). It’s grand with extensive terraced gardens, apparently this site hosted some of Singapore’s best garden parties and dances in the 1930s. It’s not hard to imagine a big party being held here, but the mansion has had a mixed history as it was mysteriously abandoned in the lead up to World War 2. Subsequently, several restaurants that have come and gone with more periods of being abandoned. Nowadays the site is well maintained by the parks authority, with some over priced cafes. I’m guessing that the restaurants face an uphill battle, as the site is not close to public transport and there is amazing food elsewhere nearby.
Continuing westward, you’ll reach my favourite part of the trail, as there is an elevated walkway with easy gradients that meanders through the forest canopy.
In this part of the walk, there’s a good chance of encountering some of the surprising equatorial birdlife even though you are in the city. My favourites are the sunbirds, as they often hang out within a metre or two of the walkway. The walkway has a very gradual gradient that twists down the hill, past some old black and white houses to Alexandra Road.
Once you reach the bottom of the hill, there’s a bridge that crosses Alexandra Road. You can continue on a walking trail that leads further west to Hort Park and Kent Ridge. Multiple bus routes can take you back to an MRT station from Alexandra Road, or you can wander around some of the interesting old barracks (Gillman Barracks), or the Interlace Apartments, which have interesting geometrical designs.
Getting there and away
Singapore’s public transport system is very easy to navigate. Morang Trail starts at Exit D of Harbourfront MRT and ends at Alexandra Road, where you can take several buses back to the same MRT station (93, 963, 100, 166, 61, 97). If you exit at any point along the ridges walk, it’s very easy to find a bus back to the city or another MRT station.
Here’s a useful map and blog by Nature Walker: