Saturday, February 26, 2011

MacRitchie Reservoir Park – Singapore

Wiki Shot
I was in Singapore a while back, and spent a Saturday morning on a day hike at MacRitchie Reservoir Park.  The city / state / country of Singapore has a population of about 5 million in 270 square miles.  To compare size and population, New York City has about 50% more people packed into about 15% more land, but Singapore is still a pretty busy place. 

Nearly one quarter of the country is nature preserve, and MacRitchie is in the central catchment area – a series of reservoirs roughly in the center of the country surrounded by primary and secondary rain forest.

This photo from anther blog on
Canoe Racing at MacRitchie reminded
me of the day I was there.
MacRitchie Park, in the middle of the city, acts as an entrance to the 1100 acre central nature preserve area.  A beautiful park, it’s built for strolling by the water, exercising on the fitness trails, fishing and just taking a break from the big city. It hosts cross county running races and canoe or kayak races.  This day, it reminded me of the regional high school track meets my children ran in – groups of kids standing around, team colors dotting the hillside around the reservoir.  A few groups were running or stretching, other groups were just hanging around, planning their races and watching - boys watching the girls, and girls watching the boys.  The largest group was milling around where the race results and schedules were posted at the pavilion, the only place other than the starting line that the teams seemed to mingle.

                            MacRitchie Trail Map                 Bukit Timah Trail Map

A hike through the rain forest sounds wild and untamed, but this is Singapore where everything is just so.  Some of the trails around the reservoir are paved or planked, with interpretive signs here and there to highlight and explain the plants and animals in the area.  Moving off into the forest, the trails are clearly marked, and well maintained.  Once I got away from the crowds at the races, I had the place to myself - just a few other hikers and walkers, and a handful of runners jogging the trails. There was nothing but the birds in the trees, something rustling in the underbrush, and the occasional monkey running across the trail. 

The trail takes a zigzag route through the forest.  It’s an easy walk, up and down a few gradually rising hills.  And the forest is incredibly beautiful, green and lush just like the image that springs to mind when you say rainforest. 

It was nearly and 2 ½ miles into the hike as I passed signs pointing toward the Ranger Station.  The clear sky was starting to cloud over with thunderheads rolling in for the daily shower.  I got to the station just as the rain came.  That was the weather while I was there – hot and sunny until around , then a 20 minute downpour.  And then the sun comes out again.  I waited it out with the rest of the crowd who stopped here to take cover.  

Just after the Ranger Station, the trail forks in two with a turn north up hill toward the HSBC Treetop Walk - an 820 ft suspension bridge that connects the two highest points in the reservoir area.  Height? As much as 80 feet above the forest floor.  The bridge lets you walk above the forest, looking down at the variety of trees and bushes.  Afraid of heights, and wobbly bridges?  Don’t take the trail cutoff – traffic is one way only (though I didn’t notice any traffic cops). 

The Treetop Bridge - high above the rainforest

The view towards Upper Peirce Reservoir to the north

The trails continue on after the Treetop Walk, and can turn south back toward the park entrance for a nice 7 mile loop hike.  I turned north and followed the sign posts for the Nature Preserve.  This part of the hike followed a wide swath cut though the forest and was nothing special, but the scenery was spectacular:

After following the pipeline or utility corridor, the trail broke out onto Rifle Range Road, past a few factories and the Sing Tel satellite station rising out of the forest (shades of James Bond and GoldenEye).  Note that this is a bad place to stray off the trail.  There are army installations nearby, and those big red signs tell me they don't want unexpected visitors.

The road crossed over the Bukit Timah Expressway, took me around a rifle range and then met up with the trails from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a 400 acre preserve that contains some of Singapore’s last primary rain forest.  I picked up the red blazed trail to the main entrance of the preserve. 

I stopped for a snack at the park's Visitor Center, and then took a short walk around the picnic area.  There were "Don't Feed the Monkeys" signs everywhere.  It didn't seem to stop the monkeys or other visitors.  All in all, it was an eight or nine mile hike.  I picked up another bottle of water at the gift shop, and hailed a taxi back to the hotel.  The driver thought it was way too hot for a long hike, especially for someone not used to the sun (I think he meant me).  I was a little warm but otherwise OK.  Though a dip in the hotel pool later did feel really good.


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