Some disused granite quarries in Singapore have been given new leases of life. Last week I wrote about the 2 quarries-turned-lake-parks in Bukit Batok. A stone’s throw away (ok maybe a little farther) are the 3 quarries of Bukit Timah Hill which have also been repurposed. After many years of coughing up granite to provide for the building and development of the country, the quarries now rest peacefully providing serene spaces with tranquil views instead.
The quarries, with their imposing cliff walls and sometimes deep lakes are not to be trifled with however as they are still places of raw nature where danger lurks. Perhaps that is why these beauties have been cordoned off to be admired from afar – from the safety of viewing platforms.
Singapore’s geology is abundant in granite, and quarrying activities began as early as the beginning of the 1900s. In the 1960s to 1970s there were an estimated 20-25 granite quarries supplying much-needed granite to feed the post-independence building and construction boom.
To extract the granite, dynamite charges were embedded in the hills to blast off granite chips which are used in the making of concrete. People living in the vicinity of any granite quarry in those days would undoubtedly recall the loud periodic booms. Although clay and sand were also excavated from the quarries, granite was the most commercially viable.
The hilly areas around the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve were home to several active granite quarry sites – Bukit Batok, Bukit Gombak, Bukit Panjang, and the then Bukit Mandai. At the base of the Bukit Timah Hill alone were 3 granite quarries: The Dairy Farm Quarry, the Singapore Granite Quarry and the Hindhede Quarry.
The quarries ceased operating in the 1970s to 1980s. Except for Dairy Farm Quarry which was filled with earth, the other 2 quarries were left as craters which gradually filled with ground and rain water. With its sheer cliff walls and rocky outcrops, the Dairy Farm Quarry site became a popular spot for rock climbing, and the area around it for mountain biking.
The Hindhede Quarry, close to the primary forest of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve became a secret haunt for picnickers, nature lovers and adventure seekers. Thrill seeking rock climbers would venture to climb the cliff walls above the lake which is said to be some 10 stories deep and extending 18m below sea level, while daredevils were not afraid to dive off the cliff and swim in the waters. The quarry was declared off-limits in 1997 however as its rapidly rising waters became a cause for safety concerns. It reopened as a proper nature park in 2001, although sadly the quarry cliff and lake can now only be appreciated from afar, from the safety of a lookout platform.
The Singapore Quarry, after a period of rehabilitation allowing vegetation and wildlife to return, recovered enough from the destructive quarrying activities to reopen in 2009 as a freshwater wetland park, complete with a viewing platform as well.
The Dairy Farm Quarry is not officially open to the public, although rock climbing groups had until recently been accessing the site regularly for their activities.
Dairy Farm Nature Park: Dairy Farm Quarry and Singapore Quarry Wetland
Both the quarries are located within the 63 hectare Dairy Farm Nature Park, so named as it used to be a real dairy farm – with cows and all – owned by supermarket chain Cold Storage. Opened in 2009, the flat terrain park is accessible to all and offers a mix of road trails and forest trails. The forest trails are popular with mountain biking enthusiasts as they extend into the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as well.
There are 2 easy road trails from the main entrance into the park – one to the Wallace Education Centre, a learning lab set up in what was a cow shed before for students to learn about nature and the environment. The other road trail heading in the opposite direction leads to the Dairy Farm Quarry and the Singapore Quarry Wetland.
Part of the Wallace Trail is currently closed due to soil erosion, according to NParks (Singapore’s National Parks Board). The road branching off to the Dairy Farm Quarry is also closed (there is a barrier), although I don’t know if it has always been closed or whether this is in reaction to the rock-climbing accident in September. Best to give the Dairy Farm Quarry a miss, or else enter at your own risk.
The Singapore Quarry Wetland is probably the main attraction of the park now. The wetland has allowed life to reappear in the quarry and you will see many fish and turtles in the lake. There are also rare species of birds and loads of dragonflies inhabiting the new habitat. A spacious viewing deck at the side of the lake includes a sheltered hut and allows visitors to admire the beauty of the cliff walls, albeit from a distance. It is a pleasant relaxation spot and a favourite of bird watchers too, although one wonders if it would have been possible to extend the deck a little further along the shores of the lake to allow visitors to experience more of the wetland.
A highlight of the walk to the wetland for us was spotting this unusual bird on the trail – the majestically named Greater Racket-tailed Drongo – so named because of the 2 “rackets” on its long tail.
Hindhede Nature Park: Hindhede Quarry
Views of the Hindhede Quarry are the key attraction of the Hindhede Nature Park. A compact park with a wooden boardwalk leading to gentle trails within the forest, it appears to have been built with the education of young children in mind. The entrance to the park is near the Visitor Centre of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill, near the large car park. Once you enter Hindhede Park just follow the well-marked path for about a 10-15 minute walk which will end at the viewing deck at the edge of the quarry lake. Although the deck offers a pretty view, one can’t help but think how different it was in the old days when visitors could physically interact with the site.
Dairy Farm Nature Park (Dairy Farm Quarry and Singapore Quarry Wetland)
100 Dairy Farm Road
The main entrance to the park is along Dairy Farm Road where there is a large car park (car park B) and toilets. Further down the road at the junction with Upper Bukit Timah Road is a smaller car park A. This is closer to the Dairy Farm Quarry and Singapore Quarry Wetland, which are on the southern end of the park along Upper Bukit Timah Road.
If you want to head straight to the Singapore Quarry Wetland you can also take the shortcut from Jalan Asas within the Fu Yong housing estate and access the road trail about half of its way in.
Hindhede Nature Park: Hindhede Quarry
End of Hindhede Road/Hindhede Drive, entrance to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
HOW MUCH TIME
Singapore Quarry Wetland
About 15-20 minutes’ walk from the Jalan Asas shortcut; double that from car park A. You will probably spend another 20-30 minutes soaking in the views and taking photos on the viewing platform, or longer if you want to relax in the quiet by the quarry lake.
About 30-45 minutes should be plenty of time to stroll in and out of the park and view the quarry lake. There are of course people who spend far longer than this, such as the retiree we bumped into at the viewing deck who says he spends all day there!
- Contrary to popular belief, Bukit Timah is not “Tin Hill” as translated from Malay. No tin was ever found in the area. Some people believe the area was actually named Bukit Temak, after the many Temak trees in the forests on the hill, and that the British settlers in the early 1800s probably misnamed it Bukit Timah.
- Granite from the Singapore Quarry was used in building the Johor Causeway in 1923.
- The world’s largest granite quarry is the Rock of Ages in Vermont, USA. It is 50 acres large (approx. 20 hectares) and its 475 foot (145 m) high walls resemble a mini Grand Canyon but made out of granite.
- Check out the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Visitor Centre where there is an interesting mini-exhibition about the flora and fauna of the nature reserve. The exhibition hall is open from 8.30am to 5.00pm daily.
- The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is very popular with visitors so the car park fills up very early on weekends.