Mum-and-kids island hopping trip

Posted by ~Summer~ on November 05, 2019
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It has been decades since I visited Kusu Island or St John's Island so during the September holidays, I decided to bring the kids on an island hopping trip. Yup, it was going to be a mum-and-kids day out - I guess I was finally feeling brave enough. Haha. It was going to be their first visit to the Southern islands and I was pretty sure it would be a day of fun for us to remember.

Taking the ferry made us feel like we were going on a holiday, even if we were technically still in Singapore. The kids would always choose to go to the upper deck because it was a treat to be able to see the beautiful vast ocean, feel the sea breeze and listen to the peaceful sound of the waves. Right, not that peaceful because of the incessant chattering when you have kids but it was still a very enjoyable ride for us.

Even though the railings were secure and there were ropes tied all around to prevent anyone from slipping down, do always keep an eye on the younger ones when you are there, especially if you have a toddler. You are free to walk around, take photos or just gaze and admire the scenery when you are on the open deck and that was something we loved.

It took us about half and hour to get to St John's Island, which was going to be our first stop for the day. We were going to be on a 1.5-hour guided tour and even though there was plenty of walking around which could get a little tiring for the kids, I found it to be really helpful as our guide introduced us to the island's history as well as many of the significant events that took place here. For instance, we learnt that St John's Island acted as a quarantine station for cholera cases in the 19th century. It was also where our third president Devan Nair was detained by the British and the site of Raffles' anchorage in 1819. The tours are free but you will need to register for them in advance as they are usually very popular and capped at 45 participants each time. More information can be below in the tips section.

It was the first time we heard and saw a Mickey Mouse plant up close. Yup, that's the nickname for it because the Ochna serrulata (commonly known as the small-leaved plane, carnival ochna, bird's eye bush or Mickey Mouse plant) has two bright red sepals which is said to resemble the face of the cartoon character.

After a lot of walking and climbing of stairs, the tour also brought us to the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre which was very much welcomed because... got aircon ley! This is where the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery is located so even though we didn't make it to the Sister's Islands, we still managed to learn its marine life and saw some pretty coral displays too.

What the kids enjoyed most was the aquarium tanks and viewing pool because they would get so excited every time they spotted a fish swimming by. It was a good chance for them to take a break from all the walking too. If you need a toilet break, this is the place too because after this, there will be more walking and exploration as we were going to venture closer to nature.

It was a hot and sunny day but I guess that would be better than a rainy one, right? The kids were all sweating profusely and since we didn't bring our buggy that day - it was a wise decision considering the rough terrain and steps we were scaling - that meant we had to carry all our barang barang which consisted of our lunch, snacks, drinks, ponchos, change of clothes and all the other necessities. Fwah, I brought along the hubby's military bag that day and I felt like a military soldier too. Let's march on!

The second part of our tour was the more enjoyable one for the kids because they were able to come up close with nature, learn about plants and flowers and even try to spot fruits, insects and animals along the way. They held sea almonds and learnt how to play games using the casuarina flowers too. Basically, you just have to make a break along the flower, put it back together (it stays!) and let your friend guess which is the point that is broken. So simple yet so fun and the girls played it over and over again. Those were the days when iPads and smartphones are unheard of and growing up, kids had a device free childhood - like me. My wish is that my kids will always appreciate the simplicity of life and understand that it doesn't take much to be happy.

The big girl has a knack for spotting bugs in the wild and I love seeing how she has the patience to sit down and wait for them. She requested to use my camera to take some photographs of them and I gladly obliged. In fact, she aspires to be an entomologist someday and even if I'm not a fan of creepy crawlies, I hope she knows that I will always support her to pursue her dreams. Some of the insects and animals we saw here included mudskippers, grasshoppers, ants and even bees too.

Well, that was all for St John's Island and I was surprised to hear the kids saying that they had a good time and wished they could stay on more. Well, we still have the second half of the day, right? Let's move to our next destination!

The journey from St John's Island to Kusu Island takes only around 15 minutes but it makes for a good, quick lunch break too. I was so glad that we decided to bring along chicken, roasted pork and char siew rice - I woke up early to steam and pack them nicely lor - because we were really starving by then. Most of the other people on the ferry were eating just finger food while we were tucking into proper lunches but I think it was important so that we had more energy to go on, right?

It's been so long since I came to Kusu Island yet it seemed like nothing much has changed over the years. I did see that they are building a food court there now but it is still in the midst of construction. We had about 3 hours of free and easy time here so there was ample time for us to walk around, explore, play and just relax.

First up, we came across the wishing well and couldn't help but toss a few coins and hoped that our wishes would come true.

Then we enter the Da Bogong Temple and this was where the boy and I prayed while the sisters ran off to explore. I was pleasantly surprised and thankful to see how this boy was so patient to go 拜拜 and 上香 all around the temple with me and it took us nearly half an hour to do so. He didn't complain at all but waited patiently for me and even helped me with it too. Awwww, thank you my dear!

We found the sisters at the tortoise shelter and I'm not sure if anyone is allowed to go down but since many others were doing it, we went too. We saw dozens of tortoises in the pond and also inside the shelters! Yup, it's Kusu Island after all and the highlights are the tortoises, right?

Did you know? The legend behind the island says that a magical tortoise turned itself into an island to save two shipwrecked sailors, one a Malay and the other a Chinese.

We didn't feed the tortoises because we didn't have anything suitable and I don't think we are allowed to anyway. The big girl tried using a leaf to attract them but I wouldn't encourage this as there is a chance they might just snap your fingers. Haha. But yesh, I let her try if she wants to lar, just have to learn to be careful.

There are also many tortoises inside the temple as well so if you do not wish to go into the shelter, you can admire these from a close distance too.

One of the best things for the kids was seeing that there was a beach for them to play! Sandcastle building, pebble throwing, insect spotting, seashell picking (not that I saw much) - all these are what they enjoy doing whenever we go to the beach.

A mandatory shot on Kusu Island would be one with the two tortoise statues. The hubby was telling us that he used to sit on one of them when he was a small boy so now that I see our kids riding on them, it's kind of a nostalgic and happy feeling.

We saw that there was a steep flight of stairs that led up to Datok Kong and I wanted to check it out. The girls said they wanted to stay with the tortoises so I let them. Guess who came with me then? Yes, the 3-year-old boy again! He usually wants me to carry or asks for his pram so today was really a big achievement for him! Not only did he climb more than 100 steps on his own, he did it with enthusiasm and a positive attitude too. That was when we had been out travelling and exploring for over six hours already, yeah? Kudos to you, dear Asher!

At the temple on the top of the hill, we saw people writing down their names and wishes so he said he wanted to do the same too. Happy to see that you can spell and write your name so well now!

Our last part of the day was spent with hundreds, maybe thousands, of hermit crabs on the shore while the girls waded into the water and tried to catch a fish - but failed, haha. It's not just about the result but the process of trying, right?  I guess the best part for me was seeing their happy faces and knowing that I made the right decision in bringing them for this island hopping day out. Oh, and that we all survived. Keke.

I guess that marks the end of our trip and I can't wait to bring these three out for more adventures when the year end school holidays arrive. If you haven't visited the Southern islands, do set a date to do it too and you might be surprised at what you can find.

Tips for visiting St John's Island and Kusu Island:

-> Take the train to Marina South Pier MRT station and go to exit B. It is recommended that you take the train instead of drive as it might be hard to find a parking lot.

-> Ferry tickets can be bought at the ticketing counter on the day itself and cost around $18 per adult and $12 per child (aged 1-12). The ferry makes a loop and brings you St John's Island, then to Kusu Island and back to the pier. If you are in travelling in a group or with young kids, ask for a lower price.

-> Ferry departure timings are at 10am and 2pm on weekdays and 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm on weekends and public holidays. You are advised to purchase your tickets before 3pm as the ticketing counter will be closed. Go here for more information.

-> You can't find food on either of the islands so bring along a light lunch, snacks, finger food or fruits.

-> Water bottles are a must to keep yourself hydrated at all times. You can top them up at the Marine Park Education and Outreach Centre on St John's Island or at the Da Bogong Temple on Kusu Island.

-> A free 90-minute guided tour is available at St John's Island every month. You will need to register for the tour in advance and can find the schedule here. Note that there is plenty of walking involved and you will cover a distance of 1.6km.

-> It is pretty much free and easy time on Kusu Island and there is a beach there so you might want to bring a change of clothes for the kids if they are going to play.

-> If you need to, bring along a carrier instead of stroller. It will be tough to push the buggy across the rough terrain and up the slopes and stairs, not to mention that it will be a hassle when you go up and down the ferry, which you have to do so several times.

-> Bring along caps, umbrellas, ponchos and sunblock but whatever the weather may be, don't let it dampen your spirit.

Check out more of our happenings from that day in our video below.


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