Last Updated: February 2, 2021
The word ‘travel’ has become a sort of cuss word of 2020 and even now in 2021. The nonchalance of taking short getaways to Bali or even day trips to stuff your face in JB have all become luxuries and distant dreams. The only salve to soothe our wanderlust; scrolling through our camera roll and posting #throwbacks. Yes, it’s bleak.
Naturally, we humans (Singaporeans, in particular) are adaptable. No international travel, pssshh, no biggie—domestic tourism is the way to go. Then, you realise you live within the confines of a 728km² island that’s about 170 times smaller than New York. Alas, hope is not lost because besides Pulau Ubin we have the Southern Islands of Lazarus and St. John’s that have become the hottest place ‘destination’ of late.
Right, this is arguably the easiest part. You can book your tickets online via islandcruise.com, KLOOK or buy your tickets directly at the booths at Marina South Pier. Although, I’d recommend you purchase the tickets either online or at KLOOK since you can’t be sure about the crowds and with KLOOK, the tickets come bundled with redeemable snacks. A round-trip ticket will set you back about S$15.
Like with any travel, make sure you arrive at least 20 minutes before your boat departs. You don’t want to scramble and then miss your boat (been there, done that). A short ride of about 20 minutes where you can admire a little bit of the view or take a quick nap, and you’ve arrived on St John’s Island.
First, you have to stop and admire the lush greenery, the towering trees, and barely a building in sight. Yes, hun, this is back to basics. The air already smells fresher, and there’s a cool crisp quality to the island. Granted, this isn’t Sentosa, so there is a significant dearth of facilities and amenities, but we’re all about being close to nature right?
Before we get lazing on the beach at Lazarus Island, there are other things you can do on St John’s Island. If you intend to island-hop, make sure you take note of ferry timings to plan your day properly.
You can have a picnic, and just like Henry David Thoreau, completely immerse yourself in nature. The untouched landscape has a magic-otherworldly-Narnia quality that will temporarily make you forget about the rat race back at the mainland (ooh, what a kick to say that).
Okay, so here’s the catch about paradise located just 20 minutes from us. There is no provision shop or canteen here. The same goes for a water cooler; you’ll have to carry everything, so make sure you don’t run out of water.
A little teamwork and you can have the most millennial picnic there is. I even brought prosciutto to complement my gardenia loaves—go figure. Oh, here is another thing about mother nature. She has her residents to take care of, and monkeys are greedy, opportunistic little beings that want to share more than just our DNA. The solution is to have a picnic a little more inland away from trees and remember: strength in numbers (this goes both ways).
Given the island’s pristine waters, it also serves as a research centre and a place where you can learn about our thriving marine life. The centre is right on St John’s Island, and you have to walk pretty far inland—so it’s a hike on its own. Soak up the sights of overgrown greenery, and maybe a hobbit will pop out at any given moment.
Given the COVID-19 restrictions now, the education centre can only accommodate up to 20 visitors at a single time. There are no reservations, and there are different timings— you can start to queue 20 minutes before each session. It can be quite a wait if there are many people, including families. So if you do want to visit the centre, turn on your ‘auntie’ sensibilities and go forth.
I’ve always loved learning about the ocean, especially the marine life we have here, so you know I secured a spot. Here, you’ll learn about marine life, dive trails, and little tidbits about the islands. I was pretty surprised that we are host to a relatively rich selection of marine life. From corals to sponges to fish—the nature geek in me loved every second. The craft-loving millennial was also loving the cute little yarn displays of ocean life.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Outside there are tanks with coral babies and juvenile corals for you to admire. There is also a shallow viewing pool for a glimpse into our marine life. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some of them in action.
After watching Chasing Coral, I can’t help but feel the importance of efforts like this for our environment. Plus, if you want to help you always sponsor a coral nubbin for S$200 or have a spare S$20,000, you can donate Reef Enhancing Units where these structures support new corals’ growth.
Here it is, the main attraction. The sandy shores that beckon, the off-brand Bali that we have to make do for now. To get to said beach on Lazarus Island and like many things on the island, you have to get there on foot.
You’ll have to walk across a long, winding connector between St John’s Island and Lazarus Island. It’s a rather leisurely walk, and you’ll get to see the roaring ocean that flanks the path.
The beach at Lazarus Island is C-shaped and cups crystal, clear azure waters that will put Sentosa to shame. The sand is powdery and soft while the ocean stretches on for miles and miles. The chatter of families and squeals of children don’t bother me as much as I thought, while yachts and floaties dot the horizon.
The water is nice and cool when the sun gets a little too much. By that time, most of our supplies have finished, and the load, considerably lighter. You could certainly stay till the last ferry if you have enough food, but most people would pack up to catch the 3pm timing.
Another note of warning when you’ve had your fill of the Southern Islands, you CANNOT miss the last ferry home. Unless you like camping under the stars and want a story to tell at dinner parties, otherwise, don’t miss the ferry. Of course, you can just stay at St John’s lodge for the night if need be, but let’s not let it get to that.
On the ferry home, having sufficiently soaked up enough vitamin D, I started thinking about the story of Lazarus, who was brought back to life in the Bible. Inevitably, I drew some parallels to Lazarus and myself. A little distance from the rush and humdrum of daily life and technology (blame the island’s poor reception) has revived me a little.
It’s not so much the travelling but the fact that we are still in a global pandemic with seemingly no end in sight. The news cycle is disappointing and stressful, so this little getaway might just be the respite we all need. All you need is an ice-cold beer, and paradise is only 20 minutes away.