The “Southern Ridges”. Don’t you just love that name? If you’re imagining a long thin mountain range or even the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians however (thank you John Denver), erase that mental image and replace it with gentle forest-clad rolling hills instead. In any case, the Southern Ridges is a great name for a hilly walking trail, never mind that this is Singapore where our highest point is only 164m high – and it’s not even on this walk.
Launched in 2008, the Southern Ridges is a smart tactic by Singapore’s city planners the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to better package and market some of the existing nature assets in the south of Singapore. Take a few beautiful but under-utilised hill parks – Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Kent Ridge Park, link them together with some architecturally delightful bridge connectors – Henderson Waves and Alexandra Arch, add in some elevated walkways for interest and pizzazz – Forest Walk and Canopy Walk, throw in a flower garden – Hort Park, and voila, you have a spanking new integrated trail, one that offers expansive views of the south of Singapore. Brand it with an ingeniously evocative name – the Southern Ridges, and you have a sure-fire winner.
Clever marketing aside (yes I am a marketing professional and tip o’ the hat to my peers), the Southern Ridges is a great way to get some exercise and get out and experience the green lungs of Singapore.
As I’m beginning to realise, the good people at the URA and National Parks Board (NParks) are fond of segmenting their nature trails. The Southern Ridges is no different, and the 9-10km trail is broken down as such:
Marang Trail (<1km): The trail starts off at Marang Road hence the name. At the start of the trail interestingly are some old Muslim tombstones that were forgotten until they were discovered by trekkers in 2008. These neglected graves probably belonged to the residents of a Kampong Marang that existed many decades ago.
Start your hike up the well-marked path and trudge up the steps through the secondary forest. You will catch a glimpse of some “black and white” colonial bungalows on the way up, large houses built in the 1920s by the British in the mock Tudor style of the time. When you emerge from the forest you will have reached Mount Faber Park.
Faber Walk (<1km): This section of the walk takes you around Mount Faber Park at the top of the hill. The “Mount” in Mount Faber is clearly a bit ambitious since the hill is really only 105m high. The park nevertheless is a popular tourist destination, and you will see many tour buses plying the route stopping occasionally for the obligatory photo op at vantage points. There are panoramic views of Singapore and the southern coastal islands to be had, and visitors can also take a rope-way or cable car to Sentosa island.
One of Singapore’s oldest parks, Mount Faber Park was a popular romancing spot for local couples in the old days (that means some 20 or more years ago) when it was less developed, darker and quieter. There are now up market dining options at The Jewel Box at the hilltop park for today’s more sophisticated courting couples.
Start your descent down the west side of the hill on the trail and you will pass by the Danish Seamen’s church. An old mansion completed in 1910 and previously known as the Golden Bell Mansion, the house is now on Singapore’s conservation list (the features and façade of the house must be preserved). The church began leasing the property in 1984.
Henderson Waves (274m): The busy Henderson Road intersects the ridge, so a high overhead pedestrian bridge called Henderson Waves was constructed to link Mount Faber Park with Telok Blangah Hill Park across the road. When you get to the edge of Mount Faber Park you will see the wavy steel and timbre-decked structure, which reaches a height of almost 78m above sea level. Henderson Waves is a head-turning curvilinear bridge with 7 undulating curved “ribs” that also act as sheltered alcoves. The bridge is specially lit using LED lighting at night, so an evening walk just on the Waves would also make for a nice cap to a simple evening.
Hilltop Walk (1km): This section of the walk takes you around Telok Blangah Hill Park, another old garden park. Although not as high as Mount Faber Park, the Terrace Gardens at the apex of the hill is still a good lookout point.
Of interest in the hill park is Alkaff Mansion, an old house built by wealthy Arabs in the 1800s. The mansion has changed hands over the years and has mostly been used as a dining and entertainment venue in recent years. It is currently home to an Italian restaurant called Alkaff Mansion Ristorante.
Along the park trail you will also pass an area known as the Forest of Giants, an ecological project consisting of a collection of over 600 tall native regional trees that can grow to over 80m in height.
Forest Walk (1.3km): At the edge of Telok Blangah Hill Park is the Forest Walk, an elevated metal walkway that zig-zags through the forest leading you out to Alexandra Road. Enjoy a slow walk down the walkway and take the time to observe the birds and trees. There is another ecological project here called the “Singing Trees”, which seeks to plant fruiting trees native to the region to attract indigenous bird life. There are 72 species of native birds in the Southern Ridges area.
Alexandra Arch (80m): Ok this is really just an overhead bridge across Alexandra Road, albeit an architecturally interesting one as it is designed to resemble a leaf. The bridge is lit with multi-colour LED lighting at night from 7pm-midnight, which should make it more interesting.
Floral Walk and Hort Park (300m?): Hort Park (short for “Horticulture Park”) serves as a connector between Telok Blangah Hill Park and Kent Ridge Park. Billed as a “Gardening Hub” and a gardens showcase, Hort Park is a lush park with many “themed” gardens such as the Water Garden, Balinese Garden, Edible Gardens and a Butterfly Garden. The park currently seems to be in a state of transition however with many patches of the garden out-of-commission and in various stages of being re-worked. The Butterfly Garden for instance is shut.
Apart from the showcase gardens the main building at Hort Park offers seminar rooms and an open lawn for events such as meetings and weddings. There is also a restaurant – a French bistro called Vineyard, and a café called The Plant Story that retails gardening supplies and conducts workshops as well. When we visited there was a gardening workshop being held for some kindergarten kids who really seemed to be having fun learning about how things grow.
The official NParks guide lists the distance through the park as 300m, however this doesn’t seem correct, unless you are a crow – and fly. The park is 23 hectares large, so take the time to wander around and admire the gardens instead.
The driveway to Hort Park from the bottom of Alexandra Arch is labeled as Floral Walk. Truth be told I didn’t really notice any flowers on the way in and think this is a bit of a stretch to try and label this segment a “Floral Walk”.
Canopy Walk (280m): At the exit at the back of Hort Park you will see signs directing you to the Canopy Walk. Follow the road up the hill and along the way catch sight of NPark’s huge Pasir Panjang nursery in the background, the place where they propagate hundreds of thousands of plants for replanting all over Singapore.
The treetop Canopy Walk itself is a short pleasant walk. The highlight of this portion of the walk for my friend and I was coming across a family of large birds. Pity I did not pay more attention to the information boards earlier identifying the various types of birds so I don’t know what birds they were.
Apart from the birds and forest, you will also get a close up view of the luxury The Peak condominium on the hill, where the huge apartments go for almost S$10 million.
The Canopy Walk ends at the entrance to the Reflections at Bukit Chandu war museum. If you haven’t visited this before and have the time then definitely pop in for a visit.
Kent Ridge Park: The park, opened in 1988, was built upon an original hill park. A fairly large park, Kent Ridge Park is bordered by a business technology park called Science Park (not the green kind of park) and ends at the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus on the West side.
The area, which used to be known as Pasir Panjang Ridge, is a historical site as one of the last battles of Singapore – the Battle of Pasir Panjang, was fought on this site. There is a separate war history trail in this area, the Kent Ridge Heritage Trail, which starts from Clementi within NUS, to Bukit Chandu.
There is a lookout point at the highest point in the park which is 61m above sea level, from which you will be able to see out to Pasir Panjang port and the southern coastal islands.
Alexandra Garden Trail leading to Labrador Nature Reserve: Parts of Labrador Park were enhanced in early 2012 and the Labrador Nature Park and Coastal Walk was launched, featuring the new Bukit Chermin Boardwalk and the Berlayer Creek section. The Labrador Park walk was then tacked on to the Southern Ridges trail – with Labrador Nature Reserve on the hill becoming the fourth ridge on the trail. The trail is linked by something called the Alexandra Garden Trail, which in reality is just the pedestrian walkway alongside busy Alexandra Road.
You can choose to do bite-sized portions of the Southern Ridges walk and can just jump on to any part of the trail’s distinct sections; or you can decide to do the whole trail or at least a major portion of it.
You can also start from the Kent Ridge Park side and end at Marang Trail, which might be more convenient as that is where a food centre, bus interchange, MRT station, Vivocity and HarbourFront malls are located. I opted to start early in the morning at the steep end from Marang Trail to try and catch the best views from Mount Faber before the sun rose too high.
HOW MUCH TIME
I took approximately 6 hours to do the walk from Marang Trail to Kent Ridge, including exploring Kent Ridge Park. This was at an extremely leisurely pace to allow for enjoying the surroundings, as well as detours to side paths.
- Kent Ridge was formerly called Pasir Panjang Ridge after the area it is in. In 1952, the then Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina of Greece, and her son the Duke of Kent, visited the military installations on the ridge, and the ridge was renamed in their honour.
- The Buah Keluak fruit, the blackish nut used to flavour the Peranakan dish Ayam Buah Keluak, is from the Kepayang Tree (Pangium edule), one of the featured trees in the Forest of Giants. The fresh Keluak fruit and seeds are poisonous as they contain hydrogen cyanide. The seeds need to be processed to extract the poison – by boiling the fruit, soaking it in water or burying it in ash.
- Singapore’s master planners the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) won an international award, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Award for Excellence in 2010 for best practices in land use in the transformation of the Southern Ridges.
- The paths can be extremely slippery as many parts are moss-covered, and especially when the paths are damp. I also came across quite a few small-sized leeches on some parts of the path.
- Hort Park, which is within a fenced enclosure, is open from 6am -10pm.
- NParks Guide to the Southern Ridges – an older version starting from Marang Trail and ending at the Canopy Walk
- NParks Map of the Southern Ridges – new version including Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve