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.
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.
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.
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.
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!