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Peak to Peak 2015 – The movie – climbing the Dragon Horns

Instead of a lengthy blog post,  I created this short video of the awesome adventure we finished last week – Peak to Peak 2015 the  movie – ENJOY!

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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.

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!

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.

Jetty

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!

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