Category Archives: Singapore Micro Adventure

Peak to Peak 2014 – adventure beckons!

Morning folks!

Based on our success with Peak to Peak 2013 in New Zealand, where we became the first people to ever make a continuous human powered journey from the summit of Mt Ruapehu to the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook, we have decided to  push the ‘Peak to Peak’ concept one step further.  Our ‘Peak to Peak 2013’ New Zealand journey had all the elements of classic adventure.  It was hugely challenging. required serious commitment, had no guarantee of success, and we were attempting something unique which had never been tried before.

Peak to Peak 2014 – will run in the same spirit as Peak to Peak 2013.  With a shoe string budget and as little as support as practically possible, in September of this year  Alan Silva and myself will set-off from the summit of the highest mountain in Western Europe, and travel completely by human power to finish our journey at the highest point in another European country. Our journey will involve climbing these mountains by technical routes, kayaking a very dangerous stretch of water, and cycling.  Unfortunately due to restrictions imposed by some countries, part of what we are attempting to do is not even legal!  So we are forced to keep our intentions low key at this stage as we attempt to obtain the necessary permissions.  This is not a ‘packaged holiday’ adventure, using guides and support and following set itineraries.  We are truly taking a step into the unknown.

In the meantime see my brand new Inspiring Keynote Speaking brochure attached below (click the image to download the PDF version).  My Inspiring Key Note Presentations are proving very popular and I have been giving more and more recently.  So if you are looking for a speaker at your next event to tell an extremely entertaining & inspiring story,  then please contact me!

Bye for now,

Axe

 

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Click on the image above to download the PDF version of my Key Note Speaking brochure

 

 

An open water sea kayaking expedition to Pulau Pisang

To celebrate Chinese New Year (year of the horse), we saddled up our sea kayaks and took to the sea for an exploratory mission to Pulau Pisang Island (literally translating to ‘Banana Island’ in Malay). Pulau Pisang is located 14km off the coast of Malaysia in the Malacca Straits. The island officially belongs to Malaysia. However in 1900, Singapore signed an agreement with the Sultan of Johor which allowed them to operate a lighthouse from the Island in perpetuity. This has recently caused some political tensions between the two countries, mainly over sovereignty issues. We did not care too much about international politics as I believe the Island was there long before men were running around laying claim to certain pieces of the earth.

I had managed to convince Stephanie my wife and long-time rugby mate Andrew Glass (a.k.a ‘Glassy’) to join me. We set-off at 5:15AM from Singapore with two kayaks loaded up ( a double for Stephanie and myself and a single for Glassy). After an obligatory ‘athletes breakfast’ of roti prata (aka rote canai) in Gelang Patah in Malayia, we were in the water by just before 8am at the small town of Pontian and paddling.

It is a 14km open water paddle to reach the island. At this time of the year the prevailing winds are north-easterly due to the monsoon. Our paddle out to the Island took 2 hours and 30 minutes. Wind induced short period choppy swells sweeping in from behind made an uncomfortable journey as we were pushed and rolled around without warning. Stephanie and Glassy were amazed when I told them after 1.5 hours of paddling that the Island was still 7km away as it looked deceptively close.

We landed on the Island and had the company of some friendly Malay families who had come over in a boat and were swimming and enjoying themselves. We took a short walk to the lighthouse at the top of the Island which is permanently staffed and operated by Singaporean’s. They were very friendly to talk to and told us they work on a ten day on/ten day off shift.  It would be a beautiful part of the world to have your office.

We  enjoyed a tranquil lunch sitting on the small jetty on the Island before gearing up for the paddle back to the mainland. My water proof camera and waterproof GPS both gave up life on the journey meaning we steered mainly on a compass heading back the first half of the journey. The mainland looks so featureless from 14km away that it is hard to recognise features for navigation purposes. As we got closer Glassy recognised one of the landmarks to head for onshore. It was a good lesson not to completely rely on GPS or electronic navigation devices.

We arrived back after 2 hours and 15 minutes of paddling. Paddling across open water is a very different experience to coastal paddling (paddling alongside and parallel to the coastline). The scenery changes much slower in open water paddling. The conditions can get much worse and the commitment level is higher due to the fact if something goes wrong offshore then you can’t easily get into the safety of dry land. It can be an intimidating yet exhilarating feeling when you are so far from land with the weather conditions worsening. Stephanie’s arms were very tired and I was exceptionally proud of her for having the physical and mental strength to paddle for 5 hours, on her first open water crossing.

For anyone contemplating this paddle in the future, my advice to be wary that is longer than it looks to the Island!  If anything goes wrong out there you are pretty much on your own.  Cellphones do work from Pula Pisang so if you had a phone in a waterproof bag this would be a good back-up (and of course you must know who to call!). Navigation is also a challenge, especially if the visibility is poor. So prepare and train properly so that you have enough strength to paddle in choppy/windy condition’s for at least 5 – 6 hours, and enough experience to know what to do in the event that conditions change or something went wrong.

Could there be any better breakfast than this? Breakfast of champions - Roti Prata, fish curry and Teh Tarik!

Could there be any better breakfast than this? Breakfast of champions – Roti Prata, fish curry and Teh Tarik!

Sunrise from Pontian town on the west coast of Malaysia, our launching point.

Sunrise from Pontian town on the west coast of Malaysia, our launching point. (Photo” Andrew Glass)

Map of our route to Pulau Pisang in relation to Singapore.

Our GPS track of our route to Pulau Pisang in relation to Singapore.

A close up of our GPS track to Pulau Pisang starting from the small town of Pontian.

A close up of our GPS track to Pulau Pisang starting from the small town of Pontian. CLICK THE IMAGE TO SEE AN INTERACTIVE MAP DISPLAY OF OUR ROUTE!

7AM arrival at Pontian, we found a new breakwater under construction which we managed to drive out and launch off.  From here Pulau Pisang is just visible 14km in the distance to the right of the vehicle.

7AM arrival at Pontian, we found a new breakwater under construction which we managed to drive out and launch off. From here Pulau Pisang is just visible 14km in the distance to the right of the vehicle.

Stephanie gets her feet wet at the bottom of the breakwater as we prepare to depart Pontian.

Stephanie gets her feet wet at the bottom of the breakwater as we prepare to depart Pontian.

Under way. Pulau Pisang still looks a long long way away. Stephanie's first open water kayaking trip and she was amazed how long it took to get to the Island.

Under way. Pulau Pisang still looks a long long way away. Stephanie’s first open water kayaking trip and she was amazed how long it took to get to the Island.

Pulau Pisang on a zoomed up shot from Pontian. Appearing as a ghostly haze on the horizon - about 13.5km as the crow flies.

Pulau Pisang on a zoomed up shot from Pontian. Appearing as a ghostly haze on the horizon – about 13.5km as the crow flies.

Halfway through the paddle - about 7km from Pulau Pisang.

Halfway through the paddle – about 7km from Pulau Pisang, the lighthouse starts to become evident as a white spec on top of the island.

After 2.5 hours we had almost reached the island and could see a small bay with a jetty which we headed for.

After 2.5 hours we had almost reached the island and could see a small bay with a jetty which we headed for in centre right of photo. This view is the east side of the Island. I had originally planned to kayak around the island however the wind and thought of the long slog to get back to the mainland meant I scrapped this idea. Maybe another time.

Stephanie and Glassy make friends with the local kampong kids on the island.

Stephanie and Glassy make friends with the local kampong kids on the island.

The jetty on the Pulau Pisang.  There is one Malay family which lives here.

The jetty on the Pulau Pisang. There is one Malay family which lives here.

The island is full of lovely little lizards such as this green one here.

The island is full of lovely little lizards such as this green one here.

We wandered up the hill to the lighthouse.  Access is denied so we took a photo from outside.

We wandered up the hill to the lighthouse. Access is denied so we took a photo from outside.

Stephanie having lunch on the jetty on Pulau Pisang.

Stephanie having lunch on the jetty on Pulau Pisang.

Glassy tucking into his delicious pasta lunch which he shared with us.

Glassy tucking into his delicious pasta lunch which he shared with us.

On the way home. The mainland looks a long way away and we were concerned about the wind picking up.  We made it back in 2h15mins.

On the way home. The mainland looks a long way away and we were concerned about the wind picking up. We made it back in 2h15mins.

V for Victory! I was very proud of Stephanie for paddling 28km in an open sea crossing like this.  She was pretty tired but never missed a stroke for 5 hours paddling.

V for Victory! I was very proud of Stephanie for paddling 28km in an open sea crossing like this. She was pretty tired but never missed a stroke for 5 hours paddling.

House hunting in Iskander: A seakayaking microadventure in search of a home

A journey to the end of Asia – Kayaking Tanjung Piai

In 2005 I attempted to walk to the very end of the mainland South American continent.  The most Southern Point of mainland South America is known as ‘Cabo Froward‘ and access involves a challenging 5 – 6 day walk along an unmarked trail following the rugged Patagonian coastline.  The trek must be carried out completely independently (no hostels or stores along the way!) so we carried everything we needed.   With numerous river crossings, horrific weather, no communications with the outside world, a walk to Cabo Froward is an enticing challenge.  Things did go wrong for us.  It rained so hard the rivers which were normally knee high, came up to my neck.  We aborted our mission on day two and only just managed to get back out again to the road head.  It was the scariest river crossings I have ever done, the final river we crossed on the way out was high in flood, the waters ran swift and we were forced to cross close to the river mouth which was flowing directly into the sea.  We had to dodge huge trees and logs which were being swept down the river by the flood waters and I was sure we were going to get swept out to sea.
While reflecting on this trip recently, I become curious as to where the Southern most tip of the mainland Asian continent happened to be.  It turns out it is only about 50km from my apartment!   It is known as Tanjung Piai,  and is located at the very southwest tip of Peninsula Malaysia in the state of Johor.  (Sentosa Island in Singapore also claims to be the Southern most tip of continental asia.  However Singapore is an island and their interpretation of this is due to the fact that Singapore is connected to Malaysia by man-made bridges, which do not count when we are looking at the actual natural continental land mass) Together with my wife Stephanie, we set-off on the 12 – 13 October 2013 to make our way to the tip of the Asian continent.  Our mode of travel was the ‘Divorce Machine’ (Our inflatable sea eagle fast track kayak).
We started at Puteri Harbour in the state of Johor.  On the 1st day we paddled for 6 hours, 25km in total, down the south-west coast of Malaysia to the small resort of Tanjung Piai.  We spent the night here in a basic but comfortable resort accommodation.  The next day we rounded the very tip of Tanjung Piai, then headed north up the coast to the small fishing village of Kukup.  A shorter day of 12.5km.   Here we deflated the ‘divorce machine’ at the Kukup ferry terminal in front of a very curious crowd of onlookers, packed her into a taxi and headed back to Puteri harbour to collect our car.   It was a fantastic journey, we paddled through intense sunshine, tropical downpours and choppy waves. We saw families of sea-otters, flying fish and forests of mangroves lining the seashores. We got sun burnt, ate the best roti prata and enjoyed two days of adventure in each others company in a beautiful part of the world.   All for the total cost of S$60 each, some physical effort and some imaginative planning.  That’s what microadventure is all about! Enjoy the photo’s below.
Map of our route on day one with km markings.

Map of our route on day one with km markings.

Map of our route on day two with km markings.

Map of our route on day two with km markings.

Stephanie fueling up on Roti Canai in Gelang Patah before we start.  This stuff is heavy and no need to eat for a few hours afterwards, perfect for kayaking!

Stephanie fueling up on Roti Canai in Gelang Patah before we start. This stuff is heavy and no need to eat for a few hours afterwards, perfect for kayaking!

We started the journey from Puteri Harbour. This friendly security guard allowed us to use the private jetty.

We started the journey from Puteri Harbour. This friendly security guard allowed us to use the jetty.

The Divorce Machine felt right at home as we paddled her our past some other very expensive pleasure craft.

The Divorce Machine felt right at home as we paddled her out past some other very expensive pleasure craft.  Stephanie asked why all the other boats had motors except ours.

The entrance to Puteri Harbour

The entrance to Puteri Harbour

Heading south west - the second link bridge linking Singapore to Malaysia in the distance.

Heading south west – the second link bridge linking Singapore to Malaysia in the distance.

Underneath the second link bridge.

Underneath the second link bridge.

Stephanie celebrating the 1st 8km of the trip after crossing under the 2nd link.

Stephanie celebrating the 1st 8km of the trip after crossing under the 2nd link.

Having a wee swig of 100-plus after we finish the first 8km leg to the 2nd link causeway.

Having a wee swig of 100-plus after we finish the first 8km leg to the 2nd link causeway.

It rained really hard for a short time which was beautiful as it cooled us down. Kayaking in the rain is actually a very pleasant experience in the tropics.

It rained really hard for a short time which was beautiful as it cooled us down. Kayaking in the rain is actually a very pleasant experience in the tropics.

Passing a platform as we get closer to Tanjung Pelepas port

Passing a platform as we get closer to Tanjung Pelepas port

Tanjung Pelepas port in the distance - the wind picked up and the sea go choppy as we crossed here.

Tanjung Pelepas port in the distance – the wind picked up and the sea got choppy as we crossed here.

Stephanie relaxing at a small beach we found on Tanjun Pelepas port.

Stephanie relaxing at a small beach we found on Tanjung Pelepas port.

Heading the last leg of the day, across to the lighthouse at Tanjung Piai, it seemed to take forever.

The last leg of the day, across to the lighthouse at Tanjung Piai, it seemed to take forever.

Finally arriving at the jetty at Tanjung Piai.

Finally arriving at the jetty at Tanjung Piai.

Tanjung Piai resort is situated 2km from the actual tip of the continent.

Tanjung Piai resort is situated 2km from the actual tip of the continent.

Stephanie outside the front entrance - 'Selamat Datang' means 'Welcome' in Malay.

Stephanie outside the front entrance – ‘Selamat Datang’ means ‘Welcome’ in Malay.

The jetty we landed on from Tanjung Piai.  This is the view from our room.

The jetty we landed on at Tanjung Piai. This is the view from our room.

A view of our room on the top right in the building in this photo.  Taken from the jetty.

A view of our room on the top right in the building in this photo. Taken from the jetty.

All I need to keep me happy at the end of a hard day, TV, a good book and a bag of chips.

All I need to keep me happy at the end of a hard day, a nice bed, a good book and a bag of chips.

I went for a walk in the morning around Tanjung Piai and found this small river.

I went for a walk in the morning around Tanjung Piai and found this small river.

The view as the sun rises from Tanjung Piai resort down towards the very tip of the Asian continent - still 2km away.

The view as the sun rises from Tanjung Piai resort down towards the very tip of the Asian continent – still 2km away.

Sun rise from our room.

Beautiful sunrise from our room.

Launching the Divorce Machine from the jetty was a small challenge as the tide was so low. Lucky she is lightweight.

Launching the Divorce Machine from the jetty was a small challenge as the tide was so low. Luckily, she is lightweight.

Setting up the SPOT GPS tracker on the front of the Divorce Machine at the start of Day 2.

Setting up the SPOT GPS tracker on the front of the Divorce Machine at the start of Day 2.

Passing the very tip of mainland Asia. The cape of Tanjung Piai.

Passing the very tip of mainland Asia. The cape of Tanjung Piai.

A close-up of the sign marking this point.

A close-up of the sign marking this point.

Paddling up the west coast of Malaysia towards Kukup fishing village.  The water was so shallow even though we 200m offshore.  I decided to jump out and sunk up to my knee's in very soft mud.

Paddling up the west coast of Malaysia towards Kukup fishing village. The water was so shallow even though we  were 200m offshore. I decided to jump out and sunk up to my knee’s in very soft mud.

Paddling towards Kukup village.

Paddling towards Kukup village we passed many fisherman.

Coming into the ferry terminal at Kukup village.

Coming into the ferry terminal at Kukup village.

Coming into Kukup ferry terminal we had a crowd of curious onlookers.

Coming into Kukup ferry terminal we had a crowd of curious onlookers.

The end! Getting ready to disembark at Kukup ferry terminal.

The end! Getting ready to disembark at Kukup ferry terminal.

I love this sign as we drove back into Singapore!  'Welcome to Singapore' on one side. 'Death to Drug Traffickers' on the other!

I love this sign as we drove back into Singapore! ‘Welcome to Singapore’ on one side. ‘Death to Drug Traffickers’ on the other!

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

A Changi Airport transit stop microadventure – beach, beer and boats!

“What can we do with a 5 hour stop-over in Changi airport?” This was the question my friend Bevan asked me last week on while in transit through Singapore’s ultra-efficient Changi airport.

Bevan is a kiwi mate of mine whom I know from University days.  He is currently based in Sydney but had previously spent three years working in Hanoi.  I had visited him a number of times in Hanoi.  My visits typically involved him picking me up on his 100cc plastic motorcycle then cruising off for 20 sphincter clinching minutes through the madness of Hanoi traffic until I could not take it anymore.   Whereupon we would pull pull into the closest ‘beer hoi’ bar and I would begin to re-build my courage through downing 5 or 6 glasses of delicious, freshly brewed Vietnamese ‘beer hoi’.  All the total price of about $1.50.   Onwards we would then continue.  I had such fond memories of these trips and always liked re-telling the stores to others about this crazy kiwi who would double me around the streets of Hanoi.  This definitely classified as microadventure in my book.

I thought about the excitement that Bevan had introduced me to during our catch-ups in Hanoi.  Then I thought about what I could do with him in Singapore?  Meet on Boat quay or Clarke Quay?  Have a beer and some over-priced chilli crab?  Meet at Raffles Hotel for a $26 Singapore Sling?  Take him up Marina Bay Sands for a look at the view and some more horrendously priced drinks?  There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things.  I have done most of them many times.  But there is not a great deal of excitement or a sense of accomplishment in completing them.  I also have found when I show visitors these sites they often get an impression that Singapore is a concrete jungle and full of high-rise buildings! Well it isn’t. I wanted to show him a different side of Singapore.   A side very few people would ever get to see. I also wanted him to have an adventure.

So I decided to take Bevan on a microadventure.  A microadventure is a simple adventure, close to home, that does not break the bank account and fits into your time-frame.  We had 5 hours – that was plenty of time.  The hard part was to convince Bevan to join me.  I dropped him a message:

Me:  “How about I meet you at Changi Airport at 5:30PM, and I take you for a sea kayaking micro adventure?”

This apparently did not sound to appealing to Bevan and his answer was:

“Umm, paddling might be pushing it a bit for me mate! If it’s easiest I can just meet you in town – shall I take the airport train in and meet you somewhere, I would like to eat some local food?”

I tried again:  “This isn’t hard out at all, cruisy as…. we will paddle over to Pulau Ubin Island, just bring some shorts and a teeshirt – I will provide all the other gear – its where all the nice local food is (a slight lie) but if you prefer town that’s cool also”

This seemed to work I was rather happy to hear his reply: ” ok then,  bear in mind I may have a slight hangover and don’t make me miss my flight!”

Superb – we were all set!  I left work and raced out to Changi airport to pick up Bevan.  20  minutes later we were at Changi beach, unpacking and inflating the ‘Divorce Machine’ (my trusty Sea Eagle Fast Track inflatable kayak).  At 6pm we were in the water and paddling across the Johor Strait to Pulau Ubin Island.  We were headed for the small village on Pulau Ubin Island.  Pulau Ubin Island is the last place in Singapore that still has traditional village (Malays call it ‘kampung’) life.  It is only accessible by boat or kayak.  It is a beautiful island where you can mountain bike, swim or enjoy some beautiful seafood in the small restaurants that line the shoreline in the tiny village.

All set-up on Changi Beach ready to go.

All set-up on Changi Beach ready to go.

We paddled slowly across the Johor Strait, talking and laughing as we dodged ferry boats and larger vessels.  After 30 minutes we pulled into Pulau Ubin village just as the sun was beginning to set.  The evening was beautiful, the water was mirror smooth and the village was almost empty of people.   We wandered down the villages one small lane.  A couple of island dogs lay sleeping in the last rays of the sun.  They looked up at us disinterestedly as we wandered by.  We found a small store which was open and bought a beer each.  Bevan soon made friends with the lady who ran the store and quietly chatted away as we sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet of this tranquil location.

Paddling across the Johor Strait.

Paddling across the Johor Strait.

Bevan arrives at Pulau Ubin as the sunsets.

Bevan arrives at Pulau Ubin as the sunsets.

All too soon it was time to leave.  The view out over the water as we began the paddle back was stunning. Bevan told me about his life in Sydney, the activities he gets up to with his children and how he enjoys living in Australia.  The planes looked majestic and beautiful with their landing lights  lighting up the sky as they glided in on their descent paths to Changi airport.  Too far away for their engine noise to destroy the peace and quiet but close enough to enjoy their view.

Bevan enjoying a beer on Pulau Ubin with the friendly store owner

Bevan enjoying a beer on Pulau Ubin with the friendly store owner

We pulled back into Changi beach just as darkness fell at 7:20PM.  15 minutes later we had the Divorce machine packed up in the boot of the car and were sitting in the Changi Village Hawker centre eating plates of steaming noodles and rice.  With an appetite that only physical exercise can bring on, the food always tastes so much better.

I dropped Bevan back at the airport at 9PM, with plenty of time to catch his onward flight home to Sydney.  The total cost of the evening was $25 including the food and the beer. The only other thing it took was a little bit of time and effort.   Bevan’s parting comment to me as I dropped him at Changi terminal 3 was “That was the highlight of my whole week”.

It made me grin all the way home.

Bevan back at Changi Terninal 3 after a successful microadventure

Bevan back at Changi Terninal 3 after a successful transit-stop microadventure

The next time you have some guests in town, maybe you can consider taking them on microadventure?  There is so many amazing things to see and do in Singapore that do not break your bank account and burn up all your time.   At the very least they will show you a different side of this country that very few people ever get to see or enjoy, give you some exercise and you may even get a beer out of it! (If you want).

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Dodging Giants: A sea kayaking microadventure to Pulau Jong

Singapore has around 60 Islands, most are natural, some are man-made  and some no longer exist.  (See the complete list here).

Today with my wife Stephanie, we decided to head out to explore a tiny little uninhabited island known as ‘Pulau Jong’.  This island is also referred to as ‘Junk Island’ or  ‘Hamburger Island’.   The name ‘Junk Island’ comes from a local legend whereby  a Chinese junk was attacked by Malay pirates one night where the island now is. Just as the pirates were about to board the junk, the captain (the Nakhodah) awoke. When the captain saw the pirates, he uttered such a frightful yell that the sea spirit turned the whole junk into an island (Source Wikipedia).  Because of its shape it is also referred to as ‘Hamburger Island’.

Pulau Jong is 6km off Singapore’s south coast. This part of Singapore has some of the strongest currents which always makes paddling interesting.  We intended to depart and return to Tanjung Beach in Sentosa.  However the real issue with getting to Pulau Jong is that you have to cross the ‘Jong Fairway’ and the ‘Sisters Fairway’.  A ‘fairway’ in this sense is a an area where vessel traffic is free to move.  In crossing these fairways you have to skip between the path of some ENORMOUS vessels.  Fortunately these move slowly up and down the channels and do not cause much stress or wake for a paddler to worry about.  More of an issue is the fast ferries which come steaming past from Batam.  These travel very quickly and one was heading directly towards us before I stood up and waved my paddle at which point they veered away.  I gave them a friendly wave with my middle finger and they gave me a friendly honk on their horn in return.

We did not have too many problems getting to Pulau Jong.  We arrived at the Island in around 1.5 hours paddling with a distance of 6.7km.  As the tide was low we had the good fortune to be able to land on the island (at high tide this would be impossible) and stretch our legs for a short break.  We then paddled back via a circuitous route, with another pit-stop on the beautiful Sisters Islands, then around the Southern Islands of St Johns, Kusu, Lazarus and Seringat. We arrived back at Tanjung beach on Sentosa, 5 hours and 21.5 km later.  A great days exploring, however the amount of vessel traffic makes it a place to paddle with care.

Enjoy the photos below.

Our route as mapped by GPS, 21.6 km in total.

Our route as mapped by GPS, 21.6 km in total.

All set-up in the Divorce Machine and ready to go from Tanjung Beach, a glorious morning for a paddle.

All set-up in the Divorce Machine and ready to go from Tanjung Beach, a glorious morning for a paddle.

Pulau Jong way out in the distance.

Pulau Jong way out in the distance.

The vessels at anchor are so impressive to paddle around, they are monsters!

The vessels at anchor are so impressive to paddle around, they are monsters!

We saw a friendly crew member on the back deck here who gave us a wave.

We saw a friendly crew member on the back deck here who gave us a wave.

We have a thing for anchor chains.

We have a thing for anchor chains.

The anchor chains are enourmous.

The anchor chains are enormous.

We gave way to this guy.

We gave way to this guy.

And we decided to give way to this baby also....

And we decided to give way to this baby also….

Pulau Jong in front of me is also referred to as the 'hamburger island' because of its shape.

Pulau Jong in front of me is also referred to as the ‘hamburger island’ because of its shape.

A close -up of Pulau Jong at low tide.

A close -up of Pulau Jong at low tide.

Because of the low tide we could land on Pulau Jong, its  a lovely peaceful little uninhabited island.

Because of the low tide we could land on Pulau Jong, it’s a lovely peaceful little uninhabited island.

A small beach on Pulau Jong.

A small beach on Pulau Jong.

Having a rest and swim on the beautiful Sisters Islands.

Having a rest and swim on the beautiful Sisters Islands.

The rocky foreshore around St Johns.

The rocky foreshore around St Johns.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Crocodile Hunting in Singapore: A sea kayaking microadventure from Kranji to Sungei Boloh

Sleeping with rats: An overnight microadventure to the Sisters Islands

For all those men out there who are wishing for more physical contact or intimacy with their wives or partners, I have the solution for you. Take your partner on a microadventure to sleep on a deserted island infested with rats. I did this with my wife and she never strayed more than 0.5m from me the entire evening. Its been years since she paid me this much attention!

Our recent microadventure involved paddling our trusty inflatable sea kayak (affectionately labeled ‘The Divorce Machine’) to the Sisters Islands in Singapore, and spending a night there camping in our tent.  The Sisters Islands are actually two tiny islands, around 3.5km off the Southern Coast of Singapore, which form a group known as the ‘Southern Islands’ of Singapore. They are uninhabited by humans, are without power,  have a basic toilet facility, a few monkeys, some monitor lizards,  a bbq pit, loads of palm trees and as we found out a fair few rats.

I picked Stephanie up from work at 5pm, and we raced into Sentosa Islands Tanjung beach which was our launching point. We arrived at 6pm and were in a race against time to set up the Divorce Machine then paddle out to the Sisters Island’s through the busy shipping channel before darkness fell. We are getting efficient at setting up now after lots of practice and were in the water ready to paddle in only 20 minutes flat.  It was a beautiful evening and the stress of a days office work soon melted away as we paddled out off the coast heading for the Sisters island.  This really is a beautiful part of Singapore with gorgeous views of the CBD of Singapore, of huge ships moored and some steaming slowly by with their precious cargo, and the Southern Islands themselves. Dodging past a few fast ferries which came roaring past leaving their large wakes, the last 20 minutes paddling was a real struggle as we battled hard against a strong  current to reach the Sisters Island just after 7pm.

All loaded up on Sentosa and ready to paddle.

All loaded up on Sentosa and ready to paddle.

Stephanie leaving the shores of Sentosa and heading out across the shipping channel

Stephanie leaving the shores of Sentosa and heading out across the shipping channel

Sisters Island in the distance.

Sisters Island in the distance.

We quickly set-up the tent, our home for the night.  I then started a fire in the bbq pit with a small bag of charcoal we had bought over with us.  As darkness fell we both noticed a small furry rodent with a very long tail come scuttling past the bbq pit. “What was that?” Stephanie exclaimed in alarm.  After 39 years of living on this planet, experience has taught me that there are certain combinations of things that do not go together at all well. Just like ice cream and beer, ladies and rats are a terrible combination. A combination so bad that it can have severe lasting negative effects for any man who is unfortunate to put the two together.

“Erm…… I think it was a squirrel” I replied in a lame attempt to hide the fact it was a bloody big rat. “A squirrel? Squirrels don’t look like that…. Are you sure?” replied Stephanie very suspiciously. “Yeah I think so….either that or it was a long tailed mouse” I said even more meekly. Suddenly the rat came racing back out underneath the bbq pit right beside us “Oh my god! It’s a rat” Stephanie squealed. “Don’t worry it won’t come anywhere near us, it’s just looking for food scraps”.  So set-off a very uneasy silence for the next few minutes as I quietly cooked some noodles and sausages for dinner on the bbq. Stephanie sat on the table with her legs drawn up, anxiously scanning the ground in search of the rat. “Fuckin hell – it’s on the table” she shrieked as she jumped off the table.  The jolly rat (lets call him ‘Roger’) had jumped up onto the picnic table beside her in an attempt to share some of the chips Stephanie was nibbling on.  Now this was all a bit traumatic for poor Stephanie and I must take my proverbial hat off to her bravery in the face of adversity as she was scared stiff and came and stood beside me for the rest of the evening never venturing more than a footstep away.  We finished dinner(I ate all 6 sausages as Stephanie lost her appetite), had a wash-up and were making our way to the tent when we noticed that actually Roger was not alone on the island but had a number of friends running around the picnic area with him also.  It was a very relieved Stephanie who made it into the tent and zipped the door tightly shut for the night.

Home for the night. The MACPAC tent on Sisters Island

Home for the night. The MACPAC tent on Sisters Island

Cooking some noodles and sausages over the BBQ

Cooking some noodles and sausages over the BBQ

Sleeping in tents in the tropics has never been one of my favorite experiences. If you ever had a few too many beers and fallen asleep in a sauna you will understand the feeling of what its like sleeping in 30+ degrees heat and high humidity.  My air mattress which I had last used in a snow cave in an emergency bivvy on Mt Cook in New Zealand in December had also sprung a leak.  So it a fairly uncomfortable night sleeping on the ground.  Roger and his friends were having a great time outside the tent, squealing and fighting and making all sorts of noises as they clambered in and out of the metal dustbins.  Around 5am a strong wind picked up which cooled things down and Roger and his mates finally decided to bugger off to bed.  This allowed us a rather nice 2 or 3 hours sleep until morning time.

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Stephanie packed up and ready to head back to Sentosa the next morning.

We rose around 8:30am and slowly packed the gear and paddled off for Sentosa.  It was a lovely morning and we had a swift trip home as the current pushed us back over to Sentosa in only 25 minutes.  We both came back from our adventure with smiles on our faces, still married and non the worse for wear. It also made us enjoy a hot shower and a nice bed the next evening, those things we often take for granted in normal everyday life.  I would go as far as to say it was jolly good fun. Would Stephanie do it again? In her own words “Probably not”.  Would I do it again? Absolutely.  Next time I would take a hammock however, sling it between the trees and sleep in that as it would me much cooler.  I may also bring a cat.

Happy adventuring and see you out there!

Axe

Back on Sentosa again the morning after... Sisters Island is evident in the distance, 3.5km away.

Back on Sentosa again the morning after… Sisters Island is evident in the distance, 3.5km away.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Sea kayaking Selatar Island – the divorce machine sails solo

The skipper of the Divorce Machine was unavailable for selection this morning, so I made the first solo excursion in the ‘Divorce Machine’. I am currently in training to paddle across an apparently very potentially dangerous stretch of water as part of my next expedition coming up in December. So as well as microadventuring, my weekend paddles also serve as training for my December trip.

Today’s plan was a circumnavigation of Seletar Island on the North East coast of Singapore. Departing and returning to Sembawang beach this is a round trip of just over 12km. I was pleasantly surprised by how the Divorce Machine handles as a single-seater. She rides higher and therefore does not take on as much water as when we have two people. Of course it is much more fun when my wife joins me but it was also nice to have some time to myself as I paddled along the coastline and around the Selatar island. Seletar Island is a popular spot for wakeboarding and a number of boats were zipping up and down the channel past me.  So I opted to return on the northern side of the island where it is much quieter. After just over 2 hours I returned to Seletar beach to a small crowd of curious onlookers. They watched me paddle into shore, pull out the kayak onto the beach, let out the air and roll it up into its bag, then haul it onto my back and walk off up the path. I got the feeling by the attention I was receiving that they thought this was very odd behavior, and where on earth did I come from and where was I going!

The 12km loop around Seletar Island starting and stopping at Sembawang beach.

The 12km loop around Seletar Island starting and stopping at Sembawang beach.

The Divorce Machine set up to ride solo.

The Divorce Machine set up to ride solo.

A fisherman checking his net

A fisherman checking his net

Paddling under a kelong or fishfarm.

Paddling under a kelong or fishfarm.

A panorama showing Seletar North Link bridge

A panorama showing Seletar North Link bridge

I passed a group of three other kayakers

I passed a group of three other kayakers

Lunch on the road

Lunch on the road

This guy was fishing for crabs from his boat.

This guy was fishing for crabs from his boat.

Wake boarders

Wake boarders

This monkey came down to the beach to check me out as I paddled past.

This monkey came down to the beach to check me out as I paddled past.

Paddling around the north side of Seletar Island

Paddling around the north side of Seletar Island

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

A failed microadventure – Kayaking SAFYC to Sentosa

A great thing about microadventure is that we get to experience so many new parts of Singapore we have never visited before.

So last Sunday  morning Stephanie and I opted to try to paddle from SAFYC (the Singapore Armed Forces Yacht Club) all the way down the east coast to Sentosa Island.  This would be the longest paddle yet at 25km distance.  We humans sometimes think we are a little more important in the bigger scheme of things than we really are.  Maybe we are doing well at work, sport, academically, artistically, financially or whatever it is that makes us feel 6 feet high and bullet proof.  We only need to pop outside and try something in the great outdoors which mother nature is not in the mood for us to do, to realise our true size and importance on the planet.  We are actually tiny grain’s of sand in a huge, huge universe. All very humbling.

So to cut a long story short – even though we planned the tides and currents to have them working in our favor – the wind was blowing in the opposite direction.  It whipped the sea up into a choppy mess.  We battled for 10km, being blown backwards every time we stopped paddling ad the Divorce Machine filling constantly with water before we called it a day.  We refueled at the Manamana restaurant on the east coast with vanilla milkshakes and fish and chips.

So in the end not a success but we still had great fun and spent a quality 3 hours together as a husband and wife enjoying being ‘out there’.

As the great man Winston Churchill said:  “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Captain of the Divorce Machine setting her up at the SAFYC.

Captain of the Divorce Machine setting her up at the SAFYC.

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Ready to roll at at the SAFYC.

Passing the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal

Passing the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal

A windy paddle

A windy paddle

Coming down the east coast

Battling down the east coast – Bedok Jetty in the distance

Stephanie stops for a rest and a relaxing view along the east coast.

Stephanie stops for a rest and a relaxing view along the east coast.

Passing underneath Bedok Jetty

Passing underneath Bedok Jetty

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The end – we chose to bail out early at the Mana Mana beach club after 10km.

The route we took from SAFYC to Manamana

The route we took from SAFYC to Manamana

Kayaking Kukup – a world first circumnavigation of Pulau Kukup for $30

After 5 previous microadventures around the coast of Singapore, it was time to venture further afield.  Together with my wife Stephanie we loaded our sleek gray inflatable kayak (affectionately known as the ‘Divorce Machine’) into the boot of our sleek gray Toyota VIOS (we have a thing for gray) and set off for a microadventure in Malaysia.

The plan was to drive over to the small fishing village of Kukup.  Kukup is located in the south-eastern corner of Peninsula Malaysia.  Kukup is 150 years old. Many of the houses are built on stilts over the water.  The main industries are fish farming and feeding car loads of hungry Singaporeans who come to sample the fresh seafood at the small restaurants which line the main street.  From Kukup we planned to launch the Divorce Machine and do a complete circumnavigation of Pulau Kukup Island.   I had scoured the internet for information on kayaking around Pulau Kukup and came up empty so was looking forward to a real adventure today trying something that I had no idea was even possible.

After spending 1hour and ten minutes stuck in a school holiday traffic jam crossing the 2nd link causeway  into Malaysia, we got through just in time before I was forced to urinate in our water bottle(I was busting to pee and the was the only thing we had available).

It’s approximately a  one hour to drive to get to Kukup.  However all engines need fuel to operate and Stephanie and mine are no exception.  We stopped off at our favorite ‘Roti Prata’ stall in the small town of Gelang Patah.  Roti Prata is an Indian type of flat, fried pancake(more commonly known as ‘Roti Canai’ in Malaysia).  I like my Roti Prata accompanied with fish curry while Stephanie prefers hers with sugar.  All washed down mugs of hot sweet ‘teh tarik’ (tea sweetened with condensed milk) – a perfect start to the day.

The driving route to Kukup  from Singapore

The driving route to Kukup from Singapore

Upon arrival in Kukup village we had a small problem in finding a suitable launching spot for the Divorce Machine.  The houses along the main street back into the water but it is a busy area and not a good place to try and set up the kayak.  We spotted a visitor information center and I popped in to ask where we could launch from.  I was lucky to meet a very friendly chap who could not speak English so in my broken bahasa (malay language)I  asked him where we could launch our boat.  He was very helpful and offered to guide us to the local Sungei (river) on his motorbike.  “Ada buaya dalam sungei?” I asked him (“is there crocodiles in the river?”).  “Dula ada, skerang tedak ada” he chuckled in reply (“Last time there was but now not anymore”).  We drove behind him for a few hundred meters down a small lane lined with many small basic houses built on stilts.  It looked like the inhabitants throw their rubbish directly into the swamp below their houses as litter lined the area.

We soon found the small launching point at Jetty Nelayan Pengkalan Tok Ali.  It was a sweltering hot day as we quickly set-up the Divorce Machine.  We are getting quick at this now and in less than ten minutes were ready to go.

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Jetty Nelayan Pengkalan Tok Ali where we launched from.

Some helpful locals especially the chap on the right guided us to the launch spot

Some helpful locals especially the chap on the right guided us to the launch spot

Together with Stephanie with our new sun shields which were very helpful in the hot sun.

Ready to launch together with Stephanie with our new sun shields which were very helpful in the hot sun.

Skipper of the Divorce Machine ready to go.

Skipper of the Divorce Machine ready to go.

I made my usual mistake and did not bring enough water and was already feeling very thirsty as we paddled slowly out the small river past the rows of houses in stilts.  We soon reached the strait between Kukup and Pulau Kukup (Pulau means ‘Island’ in Malay).  Pulau Kukup is said to be the second largest uninhabited Mangrove Island in the world.  The distance across the small Strait varies from between  500 – 1000m.  The strait is lined with floating fish farms. You can take a small ferry across to Pulau Kukup and go for a walk along the board walks there.  Our plan was to circumnavigate the island, which meant a total round trip distance of about 12km.  We paddled north first and soon left the fish farms and the human population behind.  It was incredibly peaceful as we glided along and soon reached the northern tip of Pulau Kukup.  The sea was calm and with no wind at all the sun beat down mercilessly.  I was soon feeling very hot and thirsty and knew it was going to be a long paddle without much water.  As we came back down the western side of Pulau Kukup the magic of this beautiful mangrove Island became more apparent.  It was so calm and peaceful and we stopped frequently to drift and enjoy the tranquility.  Far out to see on our right hand side we could see some huge container vessels steaming up the straits of Malacca – one of the busiest and most strategically important shipping channels in world shipping.  It also happens to be heavily pirate infested.  On our left side was the Mangroves of Pulau Kukup.  Bird life was abundant and small fish jumped out of the water continuously as we paddled along.

Paddling out the sungei (river) past the houses on stilts

Paddling out the sungei (river) past the houses on stilts

We passed a man cooking lunch over a wok in his house here.

We passed a man cooking lunch over a wok in his house here.

Looking across the strait to Pulau Tekukor (Tekukor Island) - the worlds second largest uninhabited mangrove Island.

Looking across the strait to Pulau Kukup (Kukup Island) – the worlds second largest uninhabited mangrove Island.

A lone mangrove at the Northern tip of Tekukor Island.

A lone mangrove at the Northern tip of Pulau Kukup.

Looking out into the Malacca Strait at some huge cargo vessels.

Looking out into the Malacca Strait at some huge cargo vessels.

Coming around the southern tip of the Island we had to paddle a few hundred meters offshore as it was so shallow.

Coming around the southern tip of the Island we had to paddle a few hundred meters offshore as it was so shallow.

Soon we reached the  southern tip of the island.  Here we realized the vast extent of the shallow mud flats and had to paddle a few hundred metres offshore to get enough water under the Divorce Machines keel to get around.  The problem with a sea kayaking circumnavigation beginning and ending in the same point is that you will usually have to fight current for at least part of your journey.  And for the last hour we were battling into the current as we rounded the southern tip and paddled the last 3km back up the straits to Kukup.  By this stage I was feeling severely dehydrated which was causing me to feel very weak and lethargic and develop  a headache.  Stephanie was going strong however and put in a great effort to get us back over the Strait to Kukup.  This is not the first time I have made the mistake of not being adequately hydrated before the kayak and also not taking enough water along with us.  It is very interesting to see how my performance decreases when I get dehydrated. I estimate that during this paddle I was probably was at around 50% only of my normal strength and endurance, purely through not drinking enough.

The tide was going out was we reached the small Sungei (river) where we started from and it was fascinating as we paddled back up the river to see the hundred of mudskippers jumping around the mudflats and skimming along on top of the water as we approached.

A closeup of a mudskipper

A closeup of a mudskipper

Stephanie paddling back up the river at low tide as we finish the paddle.

Stephanie paddling back up the river at low tide as we finish the paddle.

The GPS track our route showing km markings in red.

The GPS track of our route around Pulau Kukup showing km markings in red.

Stephanie with the Divorce Machine all packed up in the boot.

Stephanie with the Divorce Machine all packed up in the boot.

We soon had the Divorce Machine packed up in the boot of the car and I was very happy to start rehydrating with some well-earned 100-plus sports drink.  We wandered down the relaxed main street of Kukup and had a beautiful plate of nasi goring ayam (fried rice with chicken).  Food always tastes better when you are hungry.

Overall the paddle was an interesting change of scene from Singapore.  We describe it as a very peaceful paddle as you really get a feeling of quiet isolation especially when you paddle around the western side of Pulau Kukup.  Total cost of the day including petrol, toll charges, causeway charges and food was around S$30 for both of us!  And I am fairly sure we did a world first circumnavigation of the Pulau Kukup in an inflatable kayak by a husband and wife team. Not that doing a world first is important to us at all to be frank BUT we did prove once again that you don’t need to spend hundreds  or even thousands of dollars and weeks of leave to fly somewhere to have an adventure. You can do one from your back doorstep. Happy adventuring!

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Inflatable sea kayaking microadventure: Sembawang beach to Changi beach

The captain of the Divorce Machine (my wife Stephanie) was unavailable to paddle yesterday so cabin boy Blair Spendelow was called in to fill the 2nd seat on the sleek inflatable dream machine.  The plan was to paddle from Sembawang beach down to Changi beach, checking out the small islands of Pulau Seletar and Pulau Serangoon on the way.  The tide was going out all morning which meant the current should he heading east. I was hoping this would push us along nicely and make for a relaxing paddle but it turned out to be quite hard work and the current seemed negligible most of the way and not of any noticeable assistance.

We arrived at Sembawang beach at 7:30am.  It was my first visit to this spot and what a beautiful little beach this is.  The weather was perfect and the sea surface was mirror smooth.  There are great views of the Johor Straits and Johor Bahru across the water.  We soon had the Divorce Machine setup and ready to go, complete with 2 litres of water each(I learnt my dehydration lesson from last trip around Changi about what happens when I don’t drink enough).

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow with the Div orce Machine checking the conditions frrom Sembawang beach.

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow with the Divorce Machine checking the conditions from Sembawang beach.

The paddle started out well and we made good time following along the coastline for the first 10km.  We then chose to cross the strait and paddle around the northern coast of Pulau Ubin.  Coming around the eastern tip of Ubin to Chek Jawa marine reserve the tide was so low that we had to make a large detour to get around the shallow water.  It’s a completely different experience paddling around here at low tide as compared to high tide.

The wind also picked up here and it was a slog to get across the strait to Changi beach.  The Divorce Machine also started taking on water in the choppy sea state. The newly purchased water pump came in handy and Cabin Boy Spendelow did a fine job on the bilge.  We pulled into Changi beach after 4 hours of paddling, a distance of 23km in total and the longest trip the little pleasure craft has made to date.  We packed up the boat on the beach and took a taxi back to Sembawang beach to pickup the car.

This is a really nice paddle with interesting coastline, calm water and nice views across the strait to Malaysia.  I will definitely plan to come back and explore the Islands more in the future.  Enjoy the photos below.

Map of the route from Sembawang beach to Changi beach.

Map of the route from Sembawang beach to Changi beach.

We met Robin - a kayak fisherman in his very cool inflatable kayak. It was peddle powered and he even had an electronic fish finder.

We met Robin – a kayak fisherman in his very cool inflatable kayak. It was pedal powered and he even had an electronic fish finder.

The conditions were smooth and perfect for paddling for the first 10km.

The conditions were smooth and perfect for paddling for the first 10km.

We stopped at Punggol jetty for a quick stretch.

We stopped at Punggol jetty for a quick stretch.

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow took this shot with his GOPRO waterproof camera.

Cabin boy Blair Spendelow took this shot with his GOPRO waterproof camera.

We watch them, they watch us. The Coast Guard came by to check us out. (Photo credit Blair Spendelow)

We watch them, they watch us. The Coast Guard came by to check us out. (Photo credit Blair Spendelow)

Crossing the Johor Strait to Pulau Ubin.

Crossing the Johor Strait to Pulau Ubin.

Love the bow wave of this vessel which steamed past it at a fair rate of knots in the Johor Strait.

Love the bow wave of this vessel which steamed past it at a fair rate of knots in the Johor Strait.

Cabin Boy Spendelow working hard on the bilge pump.

Cabin Boy Spendelow working hard on the bilge pump.

We saw a number of these beautiful birds, they are very elegant and have long legs and for some reason remind of me Gwyneth Paltrow.  If anyone knows the name of these birds please let me know.

We saw a number of these beautiful birds, they are very elegant and have long legs and for some reason remind of me Gwyneth Paltrow. If anyone knows the name of these birds please let me know.

I jumped out for a wee swim in the Johor Strait and took this photo of Blair.

I jumped out for a wee swim in the Johor Strait and took this photo of Blair.

The tide was so low we had to paddle a long way off Chek Jawa Marine Reserve on Pulau Ubin.

The tide was so low we had to paddle a long way off Chek Jawa Marine Reserve on Pulau Ubin.

The end is in sight! Changi beach in the distance.

The end is in sight! Changi beach in the distance.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Sea kayaking microadventure – Changi Village to the East Coast SAF Yacht Club

When the alarm went at 6am on Saturday morning, neither myself or Stephanie were feeling particularly energetic.  After a few minutes lying in bed procrastinating we got up, loaded our inflatable kayak (a.k.a ‘The Divorce Machine’) into the car and set off on our morning microadventure.

The plan  was to paddle from Changi beach all the way down past Changi Airport and Changi Naval base to the East Coast parkway.  During pre-planning I knew low tide was at 0653 and high tide was around 1320hrs but I was uncertain exactly what the currents would be doing around this complex area of coast.  Our route following the coastline would take us in easterly, southerly and westerly directions.  After last weeks struggle in the strong currents, wind and a thunder-storm to get back from St Johns Island to Sentosa (click here to read about that), I wanted to try to work the currents more to our advantage for future kayaking trips.

The morning was calm and perfect for paddling as we parked beside the Changi Ferry Terminal and set-up the Divorce Machine.  We are getting faster at setting her up and in 15 minutes set off paddling at 0720hrs.  We followed closely to the shoreline as we headed out in the direction of a very narrow spit of reclaimed land called ‘Changi Finger’.  I had been told the current speed picks up to a very high-speed coming around ‘Changi Finger’ (in the order of 3+ m/s depending on tide) and to be careful in this area.  So I was a little nervous at how we would manage getting around the tip of the finger.

Stephanie prepares the "Divorce Machine' on a beautiful morning on Changi beach.

Stephanie prepares the “Divorce Machine’ on a beautiful morning on Changi beach.

Beautiful flat conditions initially as the sun rises and we head towards Changi finger. The land visible on the left of the photo is the South Eastern coast of Malaysia.

Beautiful flat conditions initially as the sun rises and we head towards Changi finger (right hand side coastline). The land visible on the left of the photo is the south-eastern coast of Malaysia.

It’s over 5km of fairly boring paddling to get out to the end of Changi finger.  We took a rest beside a large clam-shell dredger which was working digging up huge mouthfuls of sand.  Up until this point staying close to the shoreline, the current speed had been negligible.  But rounding the tip of Changi finger the sea was a bubbling mess as the currents collided.  We had to paddle as hard as we could to get through this section as the Divorce Machine twisted and bucked in the waves.  Gradually the currents eased off as we got further away from the tip of the finger.  Next we had a large bay to cross  to get to Changi Naval base.  Crossing this turned out to be a real slog.  We took the shortest route, a 6km straight line which took us far from the shore.

This huge dredger was working at the end of Changi finger

This huge dredger was working at the end of Changi finger

Now I don’t want to be one to point fingers however being in the front seat, I was not sensing a great deal of paddling input coming from the skipper of the Divorce Machine seated behind me.  Stephanie later admitted she was feeling really tired and had been having a few ‘rest breaks’.  To make things harder, the currents in the bay go in two opposing directions.  The first 4km we were paddling into the current.  This was exhausting and I began to get really tired.  I paddled for 100 strokes at a time then rested.

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As we crossed the bay we came along way offshore – its 6km hard slog to reach Changi Naval base just visible way out in the distance.

We finally got close to the Changi Naval base where the currents reverse direction and the going got easier.  As we rounded the south-eastern tip of Singapore Island and the long break water of Changi Naval base, the sea became choppy and the Divorce Machine started taking on  water.  When she is dry she glides through the water like the  S$2000 dream machine she is.   However when she takes on water she behaves more like a pregnant bathtub and becomes hard work to paddle.  We had also forgotten to bring a container or sponge to bail her out with so Stephanie used our water bottle to attempt to empty some of the water. We finally got around the choppy waters of Changi Naval base and started to head west with the currents towards the east coast of Singapore.  By this stage we were both really tired.   The day was starting to get very hot with the sun blazing and glaring off the water.  I had not drunk enough water and had a splitting dehydration headache.   The SAF yacht club was a welcome sight as the first point in a few km where we could get into shore safely.

The red colored roof of the SAY Yacht club in the distance was a welcome sight.

The red colored roof of the SAF Yacht club in the distance was a welcome sight.

We gratefully and slowly paddled in and ended the voyage here.  Even though we only paddled 13.6km, it took 2 hours and 50 minutes and was tiring working against the currents.  I was feeling completely knackered and well in need of some food and drink.  We deflated the Divorce Machine here, loaded  her into a taxi and headed back up to Changi beach car park to pick up the car.  I started to feel a little normal again after powering down a beautiful plate of Ayam Penyet (Malay style fried chicken) and drinking a fresh coconut in Changi Village hawker centre.

The skipper of the Divorce Machine refuels at Changi Village hawker centre.

The skipper of the Divorce Machine refuels at Changi Village hawker centre.

We both agreed that the Southern Islands and Pulau Ubin paddle are more scenic than this area of coastline.  It is a good trip to build paddling fitness.  In the future I plan a longer paddle and to finish another 12 km down the East Coast at Mana Mana.  This would make a trip of 25km in total.

Map of route

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Microadventure’.  Microadventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘microadventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more microadventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Inflatable sea kayaking micro-adventure: Sentosa to St Johns Island

Fresh and flushed with inspiration after the maiden voyage of the Divorce Machine the week before, Stephanie and I decided Sentosa Island would be the location to launch our next inflatable sea-kayaking micro-adventure.  I enjoy testing and challenging things to the limit and today I managed to find the limits of both the Divorce Machine, how fast I can paddle against strong currents, and my relationship with my long suffering wife Stephanie.

The official Sentosa Island website describes the island as follows:

“Located just 15 minutes from the city, Sentosa, Asia’s Favourite Playground, is home to an exciting array of themed attractions, award-winning spa retreats, lush rainforests, golden sandy beaches, resort accommodations, world-renowned golf courses, a deep-water yachting marina and luxurious residences. Spread over 500 hectares, the vibrant island resort is ideal for both business and leisure.”

Asia’s favorite playground?  I wonder what they were smoking when they came up with that line?  Asia’s most artificial playground with overly inflated property prices would probably be a more appropriate name.  The original name of Sentosa Island was actually a Malay name “Pulau Belakang Mati”.  This translates to “Island of death from behind”.   Since then however it went through a few name changes.  As you can probably imagine not many people wanted to hang out on an island with that name.  Now Sentosa translates to “peace or tranquility”.

We found a car park located at Tanjong beach and inflated the Divorce Machine.  We then carried her down to the rock breakwater and scrambled down the slippery rock wall to launch her.   Our destination today was St John’s Island island to the south-east of Sentosa.  I had been told by a professional oceanographer (Mr Blair Spendelow who also happened to come up with the name for the Divorce Machine) that the currents around these islands are very strong.  So I was a little apprehensive about today’s paddle.

Getting to St John’s was not a problem as the current was whistling along from west to east.  We cruised along easily with the current, making speeds of  6 – 8 km/hour.  There is a high number of fast ferries cruising around the coast of Sentosa, and we had to cross the strait from Sentosa to Tekukor Island in gaps between this vessel traffic.  This was a little hairy and we paddled hard to get across here.  The day was overcast and windy.  The wind was whipping the sea into a choppy mess and coupled with the swells from the vessels zooming fast at high-speed we soon had water pouring over the side of the Divorce Machine.  Compared to the relatively calm water at Pulau Ubin the week before it was definitely a more intense experience.

We island hopped from Tekukor Island over to St John’s Island and pulled into the small bay and beach area.  What a beautiful little island is St John’s.  There were only 2 people on the island, a Chinese chap fishing, and the Malay caretaker named ‘Supar’. Supar was a very friendly chap who had 30 cats and told us he had been there since 1954.  He had one large tom cat with him on the jetty which was more the size of a baby tiger.  We chatted for a while.  I was surprised that here – so close to Singapore was this tranquil little island with only 2 people.  When I Google’d St John’s island when I got home I found it is haunted – maybe that explains it?

St John’s Island is actually located in a group of 4 islands known as the ‘southern islands’, St John’s, Lazarus, Kusu and Seringat. Seringat, Lazarus and St John’s are all connected to each other.  We spent a very enjoyable 2 hours slowly paddling around the perimeter of the islands. We stopped off on Kusu island which has a Chinese temple and a Malay temple on top of a small hill.   You can see more from the photos below.

Around 1300 hrs we started to paddle back to Sentosa.  Immediately the going was harder as we headed into the current.  Paddling hard we were making around 3 – 4km/hr on the GPS.  But it was tiring work.  The current was pushing directly against us.  To make matters worse the islands cause the currents to do strange things and in some areas the water gets very wild where currents from differing directions meet.  This twisted and rocked the Divorce Machine and more water poured into her.  She soon become quite heavy with water and I attempted to bail her out in between paddling.  When I stopped paddling and bailed water Stephanie continued to paddle but I noticed that the current was so strong we were not making any forward progress at all. It took two of us paddling to even move forward.  Things got worse as the wind then picked up and a huge thunderstorm  came swooping in with torrential rain.  So there we were, out in the middle of the shipping channel, in a half sunk inflatable kayak, paddling as hard we could into a head wind and head current, in the pouring rain with very poor visibility, while high-speed ferries zoomed past.  We were making around 1 – 2 km/hr.  It was terribly good fun, however I was starting to get a little concerned as we became more and more tired.  Eventually we made the decision to head into Tekukor Island to wait out the storm, drain the kayak and wait for the tide to turn at 1443hrs and hopefully the current would reverse direction.  Two very tired and relieved kayakers pulled into a small beach on the deserted Tekukor Island and found some shelter in a small rock cave for 90 minutes while the thunder/ lightning and rain passed over head.

While waiting on Tekukor Island we made friends with a little hermit crab which brightened up our day (See the short YouTube video below). At 1440 the rain had gone and we emptied the Divorce Machine of water and relaunched.  With a rest and the currents easing off we made good time and paddled hard across the strait to reach Sentosa Cove.  From here we had another 2 km of hard paddling to get back up to Tanjong beach.  We pulled in at 3PM, pretty tired and with sore hands from paddling.  The trip was just over 18km in total.

The next time I attempt this trip I will pay more attention to the tides and make sure we have the currents in our favor for the return journey.  And I strongly recommend anyone trying this for the first time to take care with the currents.  They really are very strong and the water can be rough and choppy with large swells.  We had fun, but it was a battle and a good reminder of the power of mother nature.  Enjoy the photos below.

Map of the route - 18km in total

Map of the route – 18km in total

Leaving Tanjong Beach behind and making good time paddling with the current. Some big black clouds behind Stephanie's shoulder would eventually catch us out later.

Leaving Tanjong Beach behind and making good time paddling with the current. Some big black clouds behind Stephanie’s shoulder would eventually catch us out later.

A high speed ferry whizzes past in the distance.  These travel so fast they are on you within a couple of minutes.

A high-speed ferry whizzes past in the distance. These travel so fast they are on you within a couple of minutes.

Sentosa Cove in the distance on the left hand side.

Sentosa Cove in the distance on the left hand side.

Stephanie takes a dip in the bay at St John's Island.

Stephanie takes a dip in the bay at St John’s Island.

Arriving at St John's Island.

Arriving at St John’s Island.

The signboard for St John's Island.

The signboard for St John’s Island.

The Divorce Machine on the beach at St John's Island.

The Divorce Machine on the beach at St John’s Island.

Stephanie checking out this guys catch.

Stephanie checking out this guys catch.

He had caught a lot of these small Pomfret which he says he steams and eats and taste great.

He had caught a lot of these small Pomfret which he says he steams and eats and taste great.

The Malay caretaker 'Supar' who has worked in the island since 1954 with one of his 30 lovely cats.

The Malay caretaker ‘Supar’ who has worked in the island since 1954 with one of his 30 lovely cats.

This guy was super fat and super cute.

This guy was super fat and super cute.

Stephanie arrives at Kusu Island jetty.

Stephanie arrives at Kusu Island jetty.

The signboard on Kusu Island.

The signboard on Kusu Island.

Kusu means 'turtle' in Chinese apparently.

Kusu means ‘turtle’ in Chinese apparently.

Paddling home - Marina Bay sands in the distance.

Paddling home – Marina Bay sands in the distance.

A fishing boat passes us.

A fishing boat passes us.

That white water just infront of the boat is a sign of two different current streams meeting.  Was hard work paddling through this and it filled the boat up with water.

That white water just in front of the boat is a sign of two different current streams meeting. It was hard work paddling through this and it filled the boat up with water.

Stephanie's legs showing what it takes to be an outdoor girl! Tan lines and scars, and sitting in a boat full of water as we paddle hard to make Tekukor Island.

Stephanie’s legs showing what it takes to be an outdoor girl! Tan lines and scars, and sitting in a boat full of water as we paddle hard to make Tekukor Island.

The view across the straight to Sentosa Island from Tekukor Island in the pouring rain.  You can see how the visibility dropped and made it dangerous to paddle amongst the high speed ferries.

The view across the straight to Sentosa Island from Tekukor Island in the pouring rain. You can see how the visibility dropped and made it dangerous to paddle among the high-speed ferries and strong currents.

Living the dream.

Living the dream on Tekukor Island.

Stephanie finds shelter on Tekukor Island from the rain and lightning.

Stephanie finds shelter on Tekukor Island from the rain and lightning.

My hands after 5 hours immersed in water.

My hands after 5 hours immersed in water.

Some of the million dollar properties at Sentosa Cove.

Some of the million dollar properties at Sentosa Cove.

Finally back at Tanjong beach - very happy and a little tired.

Finally back at Tanjong beach – very happy and a little tired.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Micro Adventure’.  Micro-adventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘micro-adventure’.  You can read about him here.  I will continue to add more micro adventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Maiden voyage of The Divorce Machine – a kayaking micro adventure from Changi to Pulau Ubin

After living for almost 15 years on this beautiful tiny little Island, Singapore yet again surprised and delighted me this morning.

The story actually starts some weeks back.

A wise man once said “Every man wants three things in life, beautiful woman, the company of good friends, and an inflatable kayak”.  (I just made that up but I am sure wise men would say stuff like that).

So it was with much anticipation and excitement three weeks ago that I took delivery of my brand new Sea Eagle Fast Track Inflatable Sea Kayak, mail ordered from the USA and delivered to my office as it was too large to fit in my home post box.

I lumped the 3 large boxes into my car and ferried them home and set about setting up the paddles and inflating the kayak in the small lounge of our 1000 sq foot apartment.  I had deliberately kept the purchase of this little pleasure vessel a secret from my wife Stephanie as I wanted to surprise her. (A secondary reason was that I knew she may stop me doing it).

Surprise! Trying out 'The divorce machine' in the lounge.

Surprise!!!

It definitely did turn out to be a surprise for her when she came home and found me sitting in the inflated kayak in the lounge watching television.  In fact she was so surprised she made me pack it up immediately and get it out of the lounge before I smashed the glass ranch slider with my paddle.   After my few pre-prepared lines such as “Its got two seats, one for you and one for me” and “god you look beautiful when you are angry” did not seem to enable her enthusiasm for the purchase, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to get her out on an adventure to prove just how much of a good idea this whole thing actually was.  All Stephanie seemed concerned about was tiny little details such as  ‘where are we going to store it?’ and ‘how are you going to clean it?’ and ‘what will you do it when it gets a hole in it when you are in the ocean?’.  All things I had never actually thought about to be honest.

After completing our ‘1 star kayaking course’ two weeks previously with the lovely people from Xtreme kayaking (I strongly recommend them if you want to learn how to kayak as they are very patient and run professional, well taught courses at Manamana on East coast parkway), we ventured to Changi Village on Easter Friday morning and set out on the maiden voyage.  During the 1 star kayaking course, our inflatable kayak has been fondly  christened ‘The Divorce Machine’ by good friend Mr Blair Spendelow.  Stephanie seemed to think the name was quite appropriate.  So I decided to stick with it.

Pumping up 'The Divorce Machine' at Changi beach carpark.

Pumping up ‘The Divorce Machine’ at Changi beach car park.

The plan was to start at Changi beach, and paddle ‘The Divorce Machine’ across the Singapore straits, and around the eastern half of Pulau Ubin (an island located just off the North East coast of Singapore).  Pulau Ubin means ‘Tile Island’ in Malay.  This is because of the granite that was quarried from the island and used for building purposes on the Singapore mainland.  The granite quarries closed in the 1960’s and the island has since become one of the few placed in Singapore where you can experience a relaxed kampong (village) atmosphere in some beautiful natural surroundings.

After some extensive research and pre-planning (2 minutes on the computer checking the tide tables and a quick sketch on a piece of paper to work out the currents the day before), my calculations showed that high tide would be around 12:26PM, and we could therefore do a counter clockwise loop around Pulau Ubin, paddling with the current as we headed west, then cut straight down through the island through the river mangroves as we reached high tide then could paddle back across the strait to Changi Beach in a south easterly direction with the current as the tide started to go out. (The current direction in Singapore is directly related to the tide, when the tide comes in, the current flows to the west and vice verca).

The Singapore strait happens to be a very busy shipping channel, with some very large boats and very many ferries travelling very fast which all made me very nervous paddling very slowly in a very small rubber kayak filled  with a very small amount of air laden with a very precious cargo (i.e. my wife).  However the water surface was calm and with no wind it was ideal conditions for paddling.  We set off at 10AM and crossed the channel in between tug boats pulling huge barges full of sand, large merchant vessels and many smaller ferries. Stephanie even seemed to enjoy the excitement of dodging these huge vessels.

Some of the things we decided to give way to in the Singapore Straits

Some of the things we decided to give way to in the Singapore Straits

Here we paddled around the perimeter of an area known as Chek Jawa.  Chek Jawa is a marine reserve and full of rich bio diversity.  I had read the day before that it is possible to see dolphins in Chek Jawa.  We were having a small rest from paddling and enjoying sitting in the boat when suddenly only 10 feet from the boat something surfaced and let out a whoosh of air.  It scared the crap out of both of us, “what was that?!” Stephanie squeaked in alarm.  “It must have been a dolphin” I excitedly shot back.  I couldn’t believe our luck!  We eagerly scanned the water  surface for the next few minutes to see if we could spot the creature again but alas it was not to be.  Since coming home I have done some research online.  It may have been a dolphin or a dugong, it is hard to say as we did not get a good look at it.  I would love to hear from anyone else who reads this, if they have had other similar experiences.

We set off leaving Changi beach behind.

We set off leaving Changi beach behind.

The beauty of Chek Jawa's rocky foreshore. A rich ecosystem and one of the last natural rocky shorelines in Singapore

The board walks along Chek Jawa’s rocky foreshore. These help protect the rich ecosystem and one of the last natural rocky shorelines in Singapore

We continued our way around the island.  It was a beautiful morning for kayaking, slightly overcast which meant it was not to hot and glary.  I marvelled at the beauty of the rocky shoreline of Chek Jawa.  I could not help but wonder why I had never visited this area in 15 years of living in Singapore.  As it turned out the day just kept on getting better and better.  My current and tidal predictions turned out to work out about as perfectly as I could have hoped for.  We moved easily with the current around the northern end of the island.  Here there is a fence along the rocky shoreline – I presume to stop people swimming in from Malaysia?  There is also quite a lot of garbage floating in the sea.  My view on this is that instead of moaning about it, if everyone picked  a bit up then the situation would naturally improve.  We ended up picking up a large bag full of plastic bottles, wrappers and all sorts of bits and pieces which we took back to a rubbish bin on Pulau Ubin.

We paddled on past some floating fish farms or ‘kelong’ in Malay (not sure if I spelt that correctly so please do comment if I am wrong).

A 'Kelong' or floating fish farm.

A ‘Kelong’ or floating fish farm.

Finding the mouth of the river was interesting as from a distance the entire shoreline looks fenced.  It is not until you get closer up that the entrance to the river is apparent where there is a gap in the fence. Once in the mangrove system, the scenery changed completely.  The tide was pushing hard up the river so we floated along with a few easy strokes every now again to keep direction.  Stephanie at this point became a little concerned about the presence of crocodiles.  Every log and stick floating along in the murky water soon took on the resemblance of a crocodiles head and our minds raced with wild thoughts.  I tried to sound confidently reassuring to Stephanie by informing her the only wild crocodiles in Singapore were a few km further west in the Sungei Buloh nature reserve.  But I do admit wondering to myself – if they are up there, then why are they not down here?!

Finding the whole in the fence to access the mangroves and the river mouth entrance

Finding the hole in the fence to access the mangroves and the river mouth entrance

Paddling through the mangroves - I imagined we could have been in the Amazon!

Paddling through the mangroves – I imagined we could have been in the Amazon!

The scenery was beautiful though and was we followed the many twists and turns of the river, not a sight or sound of another soul, just us, the river and the mangroves lining the banks.  I imagined we could have been anywhere in the world. Floating down the mighty Amazon in South America even.  From the small map I had printed the night before, I knew we had a short portage (portage means carry the kayak) of a few hundred metres to access the river system draining south through the island.  I popped the divorce machine on my head and headed off while Stephanie carried the paddles and other bits and pieces.  Soon we were in the second section of river and were paddling out into the Singapore Strait on the south side of Pulau Ubin, heading back for Changi beach.

Carrying the divorce machine on my head for a short distance across the interior of Pulau Ubin.

Carrying the divorce machine on my head for a short distance across the interior of Pulau Ubin.

By now the wind had picked up, the tide was going out, and the current had reversed direction.  The shipping channel was busier and the wind and the ship wakes caused the swell to pick up.  It was great fun and even felt a little exhilarating as we paddled hard in between breaks in the vessel traffic to get across to the mainland side.   Here we had a relaxed paddle following the coast back down to Changi beach where we had a well deserved swim.  I mapped our route using GPS  and the RUNTASTIC application on my blackberry phone.  We paddled just over 17km and it took a total of exactly 4 hours.

The great thing about an inflatable kayak is they are so portable.  Back at the car park, I simply deflated the boat and rolled it up and stuck it in the boot.  This took no longer than 15 minutes.   My first impressions of ‘The Divorce Machine’ after her maiden voyage are really very positive. She tracks in a straight line very well.  She is very stable even in boat wakes and larger swells. She is made of tough material that seems very hard to puncture, and is fast to set up and pack up.   The biggest bonus of all – Stephanie loved the trip!

We are really looking forward to more kayaking exploration and adventures over the next few months.  Happy Easter and may you also have some exciting adventure to put some sunburn on your body, a smile on your face and some happy memories in your heart before you go back to work on Monday!

Stephanie arrives back at Changi beach after completing the maiden voyage of 'The Divorce Machine'

Stephanie arrives back at Changi beach after completing the maiden voyage of ‘The Divorce Machine’

'The Divorce Machine' all packed up in 15 minutes flat fits into this fairly small bundle.

‘The Divorce Machine’ all packed up in 15 minutes flat, fits into this small bundle.

Map Pulau Ubin

Our approximate route around Pulau Ubin, 17km and 4 hours paddling time in total.

This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Singapore Micro Adventure’.  Micro adventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘micro adventure’, you can read about him here.  I will continue to add more micro adventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures.  If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!

Cycling in the rain – The Desaru/Kota Tinggi loop

Together with my wife Stephanie, from 9 – 12 January, we planned a 3 night, 4 day cycle tour around the south-eastern corner of Peninsula Malaysia.  Our route took in the small town’s, beaches and Kampong’s (villages) of Desaru, Sungai Renggit, Tanjong Balau, Sedili Besar and Kota Tinggi.  This is a brief trip report with some photo’s and information useful to anyone planning their own trip.

Day one (75km) – Tanjung Belungkor to Tanjung Balau (via Sungai Renggit)

We took the 9:30am ferry from Changi Ferry Terminal (30 Changi Ferry Road), across to  Tanjung Belungkor in Malaysia.  The ferry cost us S$94 dollars for two people (return) including our two bikes.  The ferry can be booked through Desaru Fruit Farm Tour & Travel (or call Changi Ferry Terminal phone: 6535 8686, email:  sulemah@desaruff.com).

The 2013 timetable and schedule is listed below.

Ferry schedule 2013 Singapore - Tanjong Belungkor (click to enlarge)

Ferry schedule 2013 Singapore – Tanjong Belungkor (click to enlarge)

The ferry boat alongside the dock at Changi Ferry Terminal

The ferry-boat alongside the dock at Changi Ferry Terminal

It’s a 30 minute pleasant ferry ride across to Tanjung Belungkor. Don’t confuse this ferry with the small bum boats which take you to Pengerang from Changi Village ferry terminal.  Pengerang is about 7 km further east of Tanjung Belungkor.

Map showing the two ferry options to get to south east peninsula Malaysia

Map showing the two ferry options to get to south east peninsula Malaysia

After passing through the customs check point in Tanjung Belungkor we emerged into rural Malaysia.  This is a completely different world than the built up, fast paced, mega-city of Singapore. We enjoy visiting this corner of Malaysia and this is our third cycling trip here.  It has few tourists, some nice little local seafood restaurants, quaint kampong’s and a slow relaxed pace of life.  You can make up your own itinerary from day trips, to overnight, to multi-day excursions.   It’s nice for simple cycling holidays as the roads are fairly quiet and the Malaysian drivers in this part seem to be quite respectful of cyclists.  The scenery does not change dramatically and tends to be dominated by palm oil plantations however for simple, down to earth, inexpensive and healthy weekends away its pretty cool.  You can also come over without bicycles of course and can rent taxi’s from Tanjung Belungkor to various destinations.  Click here to see the 2013 taxi pricing options available from the Tanjung Belungkor ferry terminal.

Attached below is the approximate route we took from google maps.  (Some of the roads and places we stayed are too small to appear on google maps, hence the reason the route shown here is an approximation and shows slightly shorter than the actual route we rode.)

We peddled off slowly taking our time and chatting away under the hot sun.  For the first section the cycling is mainly through palm oil plantations.

You have to get used to lots of palm oil plantations when riding this area

You have to get used to lots of palm oil plantations when riding this area

Stephanie soon noticed her first road kill – a monitor lizard.  She spotted all sorts of dead things on the road during the next 4 days including snakes, a possum type creature and eels. The only thing I found was a giant spider, the size of my foot.  It turned out to be a stick.

P1000783

We saw a number of dead monitor lizards on the roads which had been hit by cars

40km later we reached the seaside town of Sungai Renggit.  We had stayed here before on a previous bike trip in the hotel ‘Seng Huat’.  The hotel cost us 30 Ringgit for the night and is run by an older chinese gentlemen.  You can book this hotel by telephone only (and it helps to speak Chinese).  His name card is attached here below.

Seng Huat Hotel

On that trip we ate beautiful butter lobster at the end of a hot 70km cycle washed down with some cold beer at the ‘Beautiful Village Seafood Restaurant’ (not so appropriately named) .  This is located on the street corner right beside the hotel Seng Huat.  We highly recommend eating here.

The main drag of Sungai Renggit

The main drag of Sungai Renggit

Nasi Ayam Goreng for lunch in Sungai Renggit

Nasi Ayam Goreng for lunch in Sungai Renggit

After a 45 min break  we set off on the second leg, heading further north to Tanjung Balau.  By this time, the day was scorching hot.   Even with layers of sunscreen on, I could feel my skin burning under the intense sun.  We rode slowly along the coastal road for a few km until we spied a small bus stop with some welcome shade.  We lay down in the cool concrete floor and rested for 30 minutes.  Finally we gathered up the courage to get back on the bikes. It must have been close to 40 degrees and the road has very few tree’s offering any form of shade. The heat was unbelievably intense and sucked the energy from us.

Having a rest in the shade on day one - it was super hot with no shade

Having a rest in the shade on day one – it was super hot and sucked the energy from us.

Slowly we ground down the km’s.  Stephanie was getting a very sore backside and we were both glad to arrive at the Pelangi Balau Resort located 5km north of Desaru in the small seaside kampong ‘Tanjong Balau’. We felt like we had been in a toaster all day and both had wicked tan lines.  My bum felt like Mike Tyson had been using it as a punching bag.

We both got burnt to a crisp on day one.  Nice tan lines.

We both got burnt to a crisp on day one. Nice tan lines.

Pelangi Balau is a small resort right on the beach which has seen better years.  The staff here appear tired and disinterested. It cost us 150 Ringgit for a double room inclusive of breakfast. It seems to cater mainly to local Malay families, I was the only white guy there and there were no Singaporean cars that we could see. We left the resort and walked 200m to some food stalls for dinner.  We ate some basic mee hoon soup and nasi goreng for dinner.

Day 2 (49km) – Tanjong Balau to Sedili Besar

We slept ok until midnight although I could almost count the individual bed springs pressing into various parts of my body. It wasn’t the most comfortable mattress I have slept on.  We were woken by a noisy group of youngsters having a party in the corridor from around 1 am.  I finally got up and summed up all the charisma I could muster (at 3am with a sunburnt body and lacking sleep) to ask them if they would mind moving away to some other spot. To their credit they were quite polite to me and left immediately.

We woke again at 7:30am to heavy rain. The breakfast in Pelangi Balau looked as interesting as the staff were interested in their jobs.  Fueled up on some mee goreng and black tea we then rested in the room, hoping the rain would stop. To no avail, we finally accepted the fact we would be getting wet backsides and checked out. I let the staff know that it may be a good idea to get their security guard to take a walk during the evening to keep the noise levels down so guests can sleep.  They seemed as interested in my feedback as I was interested in their breakfast.

The view from the Pelangi Balau dining area of the rain pouring down over the swimming pool

The view from the Pelangi Balau  resort dining area of the rain pouring down over the swimming pool

Our sunburn was raw and painful to touch this morning, so the heavy rain was almost a blessing.  The 1st 10km was flat and smooth and we made good time. It then starts to become a little more rolling, but the road follows the coast all the way. There are no towns or villages at all for the first 30km until you reach Sedili Kechil.  A large bridge leads you into Sedili Kechil crossing a river mouth leading to the open sea.  Here Stephanie spotted a large number of dead eels on the side of the bridge.  The mystery was, how did they get there?  We could only think that people had been fishing on the bridge and dumped them there.

Dead eels on the bridge leading in to Sedili Besar.

Dead eels on the bridge leading in to Sedili Besar.

2km later Stephanie also spotted this dead possum or cat-like animal on the side of the road.  Does anyone know what this is?

What is this animal? It looks like a cross between a possum and a cat.

What is this animal? It looks like a cross between a possum and a cat.

(Ed’s note:  Thanks to identification by David Lim after I wrote this post – I believe this animal is actually a variety of Civet Cat.   They eat mainly berries, pulpy fruits, coffee, small mammals, insects and palm oil sap (which explains why the two of them we saw were on roads through palm oil plantations.  As an interesting side note, Civet Cats are referred to as ‘Luwak’ in Indonesia.  The coffee beans that they eat and excrete are collected and sold  as ‘kopi luwak’ for human consumption, producing the most expensive coffee  in the world at $100 per cup!)

The further north we rode and the more rural the setting, the friendlier people seemed to become.  Groups of young children would invariably always shout out cheerful “helloooooooo’s” to us as we cycled past, in a genuine and friendly manner.

Cycling in the rain on day 2

Cycling in the rain on day 2

We cycled on without stopping until we reached Sedili Besar and asked for directions from a young chap.  I can speak basic Malay and he told me that I needed a motorbike to reach Tanjung Sutera resort and it was back the way we had come from.  From previous experience I have learned that asking for directions in this country can be a counter productive exercise – that is if you actually want to find the destination! We decided to ignore his advice and continued following our noses until we found some signs pointing us in the right direction.  It was raining hard now and the final stretch into the small resort involves a steep climb and then follows the ridge-line of a Peninsula for 4km.

49km after leaving that morning, we arrived at the Tanjung Sutera resort. This cost us S$150/night inclusive of 2 lunches, dinner and breakfast.  After the previous nights fiasco at the Tanjong Bulau we did not have high expectations.  However we were happily greeted by a friendly receptionist named Syed and were just in time to sample a delicious buffet lunch, including ikan bakar (fried fish), crab in coconut sauce, tempet (fried beancurd) and spicy chicken in chilli sauce.  I found a jar of condensed milk and must have been lacking sugar as could not resist a few big spoonfuls.

Stephanie enjoys the delicious buffet lunch at Pelangi Balau Resort

Stephanie enjoys the delicious buffet lunch at Tanjung Sutera Resort

Syed even helped us with taking our bikes to the room in the rain. Nice chap.  I don’t often get to say this in the tropics, but after being wet for over 3 hours on the bikes and finally stopping, we were feeling cold.  The small bungalow we slept in was basic, but clean with plenty of space.  Stephanie and I have fairly modest expectations for our rooms when we travel. All we expect is that they are clean, have a comfortable bed, a heated shower and are peaceful enough to sleep in. Aircon is also a bonus. This room had it all and we appreciated warming up under the shower and having a rest.

Dinner that night was also delicious, I had a beer (8 Ringgit/can) with cereal prawns, assam fish(spicy fish), brinjol (eggplant), mixed vege.  Meanwhile the rain continued to pour down as he hit the sack for an early nights sleep.  The Tanjung Sutera resort is quite remote, with no shops or villages for a few kilometres.  The rooms are clean and basic, but spacious and the food is excellent.  We recommend this place to stay and the details are here.

Contact Syed from Tanjung Sutera to book your stay (click image to enlarge).

Contact Syed from Tanjung Sutera to book your stay (click image to enlarge).

Day 3 (42km) – Sedili Besar to Kota Tinggi

It rained most of the night but stopped for a brief period while we had breakfast.  We got to enjoy the nice view from the resort dining area this morning, overlooking the rocky coastline and the ocean.

Stephanie enjoying the view from the Tanjong Sutera resort

Stephanie enjoying the view from the Tanjong Sutera resort

Today’s route heads inland to the town of Kota Tinggi.  Kota Tinggi means ‘high town’ in Malay so I was a little concerned we may have some stiff climbs.  One of the joys of cycling holidays is you burn lots of calories so can eat well. 5 donuts, 3 pieces of toast and a bowl of lontong later we were ready to depart. Just as the rain started again.

More cycling in the rain on day 3.

More cycling in the rain on day 3.

Today is a shorter day, just over 40km. The first 15km flew by and we sailed along at 23km/hr. Stephanie seemed to be getting her cycling rhythm today and sat hard on my back wheel the whole ride.  After 15km the climbs began. Nothing major though and compared to the Coromandel cycle tour we did in New Zealand in 2011 these hills were mere bumps.

Cycling past these birds nest factory's, built for birds to nest in. The nests are harvested and are delicacies in Chinese cuisine.

Cycling past these birds nest factory’s.  They are built specifically for birds to nest in. The nests are harvested and are delicacies in Chinese cuisine and also used as remedies in Chinese medicine.

The rain got stronger for the two hours we rode, getting to the point it was hard to see and the large drops stung our skin.  We still managed to average 20km/hr and pulled into Kota Tinggi completely soaked to the bone.  We had booked the hotel ‘Mayres‘ which proclaims itself to be the only ‘business’ hotel in Kota Tinngi.  I was a little suspicious of this description and skeptically wondered if they were counting the world’s ‘oldest business’ in their description (I.e. prostitution).  Once we reached the centre of Kota Tinggi I had to pull out google maps on my blackberry locate the hotel which turned out to be 1200m away.

The hotel Mayres turned out to be just fine, for 116RM per night for a double room (not including breakfast).  The room was spacious and clean and even had a decent view of the bustling metropolis of Kota Tinggi.  We could only check in at 2pm so had an hour to kill.  We peddled back down to the ‘old town’ coffee shop and filled up on The Tarik, noodles and roti prata.  Kota Tinggi’s drainage system was overflowing in the heavy rain by now, so parts of the main street were flooded.

We were both getting a little cold by now, so were happy to get to the room and get our of our wet cycling gear and warm up under the hot shower.

That evening we ventured next door to the Chinese restaurant ‘Korfu’.  We had black pepper crab, cereal prawns and scallops with broccoli. Very nice food and together a bottle of Tiger beer cost 70 Ringgit.

Teh Tarik in Kota Tinggi

Teh Tarik in Kota Tinggi

Day 4 (70km) – Koto Tinggi to Tanjung Belungkor

Stephanie has a head cold this morning from being wet for the last two days.  We walked across the road from the hotel and had Roti Canai (Malaysian version of Singapore’s ‘Roti Prata’) which was delicious, washed down with the Roti Canai’s compulsory companion – a mug of hot, sweet,  smooth and frothy ‘teh tarik’ (tea sweetened with condensed milk, evaporated milk and sugar).

Roti Canai in Kota Tinggi - delicious!

Roti Canai being made in Kota Tinggi – delicious!

We set off at 9:15am on the bikes. It was overcast but not raining so perfect cycling conditions. Well that is until the heavens opened up after 45 minutes and we were nearly drowned for the next two hours.  It rained so hard the rivers over flowed their banks and spilled across the road.

By now we were quite used to cycling in the rain, however I was uncomfortable when it gets so heavy that its hard to see more than a few metres. And this morning the route on road 92 which we were travelling had almost no shoulder to cycle on.  Traffic was the heaviest we encountered so far and the cars splashed torrents of water over us as they whizzed past.  The drivers by and large were respectful however and gave us room as we snuck along the verge in the pouring rain.

Enjoying a wee break from the rain on day 4

Enjoying a wee break from the rain on day 4

At the top of one hill I stopped to allow Stephanie to catch up.  It was raining so hard and was getting dangerous with the speeding cars and lack of visibility.  I was concerned she would be nervous and miserable.  To my delight as she approached I saw a huge grin on her face.  This was the grin of someone who was enjoying the pure pleasure of the adventure that only comes from throwing yourself headfirst into unpredictable and trying situation’s, and learning you can not only cope but thrive. It lifted my spirits to see this change in her.  At the end of the day however she told me she actually wasn’t smiling at all but grimacing due to her bum hurting so much! So much for my theory.

Getting close to the finish line

Getting close to the finish line

We rolled the last few km into Tanjong Belungkor at 2pm.  We had ridden 70km for the day, 260km in total for the 4 day trip.

We took the 3:30pm ferry back to Singapore and were happily back enjoying the comforts of home by 5pm.  Our aching bums and sunburnt limbs the only physical reminders of a fun, healthy, reasonably environmentally friendly, low-cost way to spend some quality time together.

For me this trip also proved that I don’t need to spend $100,000  and travel to the most extreme places on earth to have an adventure – you can do it from home in a few short days and not very much money.  The whole trip cost us S$220 each!

We made this short video of the trip – Enjoy the video and thanks for reading!

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