Sembawang does not typically come to mind as a great place to have an outdoorsy day out.
It has long been seen as a quiet suburban town tucked away in the north, bounded by the Strait of Johor and the towns of Yishun and Woodlands.
But nestled within the estate are little gems such as Sembawang Hot Spring and Sembawang Park - home to one of the few natural beaches left in Singapore.
With other offerings including revamped playgrounds, water play areas and cycling trails, the estate offers many options for a weekend of outdoor fun for the whole family.
Housewife Soumya Sanagavarapu, 34, moved into her five-room HDB flat in Sembawang Close 10 years ago.
"There were few bus services in the area and not many families. My children found the playgrounds boring too," she says.
These days, however, her son, six, and daughter, seven, demand to go to the playground in Canberra Park, near their home.
Upgraded to the tune of $2.2-million, the 1.5ha park re-opened in March last year and now houses a variety of swings, including one that seats five to six people at a time.
"My children love the swings and will play on them until they are tired," says Mrs Sanagavarapu.
With several property launches in recent years, Sembawang is expected to become more populated and lively.
Two new executive condominium projects - The Visionaire and Parc Life - were launched in April. The Visionaire is by Qingjian Realty and will be at Canberra Drive, while Parc Life is by Frasers Centrepoint Limited and will be next to Canberra Park.
In April, a Jalan Kandis condominium site near Sembawang Park attracted nine bids from developers.
Mr Ong Teck Hui, national research director of global real estate services group Jones Lang LaSalle, says of the keen interest in the site: "Although it is not near transportation nodes or amenities, it is still attractive because it is in a predominantly landed housing estate surrounded by greenery."
Last month, Build-to-Order (BTO) projects were launched in Sembawang. At the next BTO launch in August, there will be flats offered in Sembawang too.
Apart from residential developments, Sembawang will be part of the upcoming North Coast Innovation Corridor, which aims to attract international research and development investors and creative start-ups.
Residents in the precinct will also enjoy being a part of the North-South Corridor, the first expressway here to have dedicated bus lanes and a cycling route.
It is targeted to be ready in 2026.
With the new corridor, bus passengers travelling from towns in the north such as Sembawang could have journeys to the city shortened by up to 30 minutes.
While some residents are looking forward to the developments, others are content with what their estate already offers.
Housewife Sarah Tan, 35, who has three children, has been living in a four-room HDB flat in Sembawang Crescent for the past eight years.
"There are two shopping malls, a beach, cycling paths and enough playgrounds to keep my three children occupied. We're happy here."
With hoardings still surrounding this park, it may be hard to locate it.
But go towards the sounds of children shrieking with excitement across the road from Block 325 Sembawang Crescent and you will soon locate the 1.5ha adventure park.
Apart from an amphitheatre, BBQ pits, bicycle and fitness stations and cycling and jogging paths, the park also has a large playground that houses the most number of swings in Singapore.
Called the Swings of Differences, these are inclusive contraptions that cater to different age groups and abilities.
There are smaller swings for toddlers as well as those for children with disabilities, which have seats with full back support and a lap bar for safety.
When The Straits Times visited earlier this week, the swings were in high demand, with children waiting their turns.
Housewife Wendy Ching, 31, is at the park every evening because her two-year-old son Levin loves to play on the swings.
"This park didn't have much for kids in the past, but after the revamp, it's a lot more fun," she says.
The park was officially opened in 2006, but underwent a $2.2-million upgrade in 2014.
Construction took more than a year, with equipment supplied by local company CT-Art Creation and made mostly by Playworld Systems, a manufacturer of fitness and playground equipment in the United States.
It re-opened in March last year.
The park's playground is said to be Singapore's first inclusive one, with wheelchair-friendly features such as a ramp and handrails and panels with bells and drums to cater to the visually handicapped.
Sembawang park connectors
Whether you walk, jog or cycle, these green corridors are a great way to explore the neighbourhood and its flora and fauna.
The 1.6km Canberra-Sembawang Park Connector links Canberra Link to Tuah Road via Sembawang Road and runs along private residential estates to join Sembawang Park.
Part of the route is a nature way, which is an ecological bridge between areas of high biodiversity.
Look out for trees and shrubs planted to mimic the structure of a natural forest and plants that have been selected to attract butterflies and birds.
Interesting trees along the way include the Singapore durian, a forest tree which can reach about 40m in height, and the endangered seashore mangosteen.
More greenery awaits in the Simpang Kiri Park Connector, which starts at Yishun Avenue 2 and runs along Sembawang Road.
The 3km route passes the scenic Sungei Simpang Kiri, a canal flanked by lush vegetation and filled with interesting creatures.
In the canal, horseshoe crabs are commonly found and the stretch also teems with water birds, such as elegant white egrets and brightly- coloured kingfishers.
Underfoot, watch out for the brown shells of apple snails, which are freshwater snails unique for having both gills and lungs.
Sembawang Park and beach
Located at the end of Sembawang Road, this seaside park has one of the last few natural beaches in Singapore.
Popular with families, anglers and kayaking and camping groups, it is also a favourite spot for bird-watchers. Eagles, kites, kingfishers, orioles and white-bellied sea eagles have been spotted in the area.
After a two-year upgrading exercise completed in 2013, the park now boasts a large children's playground modelled after a battleship, with adventure play equipment including a rock climber, tunnels, a suspension bridge and a caged tower that leads to a spiral tube slide.
Other amenities include a fitness area, petanque court and an extended beachfront promenade.
In late 2014, a dog run about the size of 21/2 basketball courts was built at the park.
There is also Beaulieu House, a restaurant which overlooks the Johor Strait. Set in a colonial-style mansion, it serves a mix of Chinese and Western fare.
A short distance away are two other dining venues: Woody Family Cafe, which offers Western fare and Peranakan-inspired fusion food, and biker-themed restaurant Handlebar.
Sembawang Hot Spring
This is the only hot spring in mainland Singapore, and admittedly, it does not look like much.
It is basically a couple of taps channelling hot water from deep within the ground.
Still, many people come with buckets to fill with spring water, which is rich in minerals and believed to be good for health. Some come for the fun of boiling eggs in the water, which is about 70 deg C.
Whether you are here to soak your feet or cook some eggs, it could make for a diverting short trip - but you have to bring your own basins, pails and towels. There are no toilets on site.
The spring is located near the junction of Sembawang Road and Gambas Avenue, along Jalan Ulu Sembawang. It can be accessed by entering a gate along Gambas Avenue and walking down a path for about 100m.
A deserted brick house, believed to be part of a former bottled drink factory, marks the site, which was discovered in 1909 by Chinese merchant Seah Eng Keong.
Facilities are non-existent at the moment, but some developments may soon spring forth.
In April, it was reported that the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) has agreed to return to the State the land that the hot spring is on.
Ms Kartini Omar, National Parks Board's senior director of parks development, said the agency is working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore Land Authority and Mindef on the feasibility of using the area as a park.
Sembawang Shopping Centre Splashpark
Get wet at this rooftop water playground on the third floor of the mall, which features 13 water features, including water shooters, jets and three slides that link it to the dry play area.
Suitable for children between the ages of three and 12, the water play area is open daily from 11am to 2pm and 5 to 8pm. Entry to the 1,100 sq m park is free.
There are changing rooms with toilets and shower facilities.
Free shuttle buses to the mall run from Yishun and Sembawang MRT stations. For more information, call 6757-8000 or go to www.semba wangsc.com.sg
For a dining option outside the mall, check out You Huak Restaurant (22 Jalan Tampang), a popular zi char eatery known for its white beehoon or bai mi fen.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2016, with the headline 'All abuzz in Sembawang'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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