With travel restrictions, more flock to Singapore islands for leisure

Chew Hui Min

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Passengers, many holding picnic mats and cooler boxes, streamed from the packed ferry to the St John’s Island jetty last Sunday morning, taking selfies and videos of the island as they landed.

Most headed to a causeway linking St John’s and Lazarus Island, which was already dotted with anglers. In a sheltered bay, free divers and scuba divers were practising and conducting courses.

The day trippers continued on to grassy areas and the beach on Lazarus, where they jumped in the water or enjoyed picnics with friends and family.

At one stretch of the beach, Ahmad Taufik Mohtar, 33, and his extended family set up three tents and were well equipped for a day at the beach with swim gear, fishing rods and food.

“We planned this trip because I think we are running out of places to go in Singapore,” he said.

“At least we Singaporeans have a chance to wander around and learn new things or new areas.”

Passengers disembark at the St John’s Island jetty. PHOTO: CNA

With travel still restricted, residents in Singapore have been flocking to the outlying islands on their days off.

Ferry services told CNA demand for their services picked up significantly and more people are visiting the southern islands such as Kusu and St John’s.

Ryden Fang of Singapore Island Cruise and Ferry Services said since the start of Phase 2, ridership rose 20 to 30 per cent on both weekdays and weekends.

“To cope with the demand, we increased our ferry frequencies, deployed additional ferries to and hired additional manpower to act as safe distancing ambassadors/ushers at the pier,” he said in an email.

Marina South Ferries said they have about 50 per cent more business than before the circuit breaker.

“Now we see a lot more Singaporeans rediscovering Singapore,” said Managing Director Eric Wong.

“Mondays and Fridays see a substantial increase in traffic now (as) people are clearing leave domestically.”

He said while the slightly older or religious people would head down to Kusu Island, the younger crowd head to Lazarus Island and St John’s Island.

There are also more adventurous visitors going to Sisters’ Island to snorkel at the marine park.

During the Kusu pilgrimage season, which is from October 17 to November 14, those who want to visit the island must make a reservation.

The number of visitors is limited to 500 people a day, and the capacity has been reached on weekends, the Singapore Land Authority has said.

MORE VISITING PULAU UBIN

There has also been an uptick of business for shops on Pulau Ubin, which comes as a relief for Ubin shopowners after they had to shut for the “circuit breaker” due to COVID-19.

Koh Bee Choo, who runs Comfort Bicycle Rental and Trading, said business has gone up about 30 per cent on weekends. She has also seen slightly more people on weekdays.

When CNA was there on a Thursday morning, there was a continuous stream of cyclists renting rides from her shop near the jetty.

Koh, who has lived on Pulau Ubin for five decades, said she hopes this continues as she wants more people to enjoy nature and the outdoors.

“I’ve seen more Malaysians visit, I think because they can’t go back home,” she said in Mandarin.

A van driver, who asked not to be named, said his vehicle had more bookings for tours and rides around the island to see its sights, such as the Pekan Quarry and Chek Jawa. A seafood restaurant CNA visited also said that the number of customers on weekends have gone up about 10 to 20 per cent.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said there has been a significant increase in visitorship across Singapore’s nature reserves, gardens and parks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Pulau Ubin, there was an increase from 5,700 visitors in April to 39,000 in September. In past years, the island sees around 20,000 visitors in September, said a spokeswoman.

NParks said with an increase in visitorship, it encourages visitors to be socially responsible and to keep green spaces safe for everyone.

“We urge everyone to play their part by putting on masks when not engaging in strenuous exercises or consuming food, drink or medication, and observe a safe distance of at least one metre from other visitors, for their own safety and for those around them,” it said.

“Visitors should also keep to groups of no more than five people, and not intermix between groups.

“On Pulau Ubin, we encourage visitors to refrain from crowding around the main village and jetty area and move to open spaces where possible.”