The new extension at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve promises visitors new experiences - from walking on mudflats to crashing through the plants growing under the canopy of secondary forest.
The $29-million extension, which opened yesterday, adds an extra 31ha to the original 130ha reserve in north-western Singapore. It has more kid-friendly features, including an obstacle course and play area.
For the first time, visitors can step onto the mudflats during low tide and go up close to mudskippers and other creatures.
They can also try to spot foraging birds and insects while crossing a 150m-long suspension bridge which ascends gradually to a height of 3m. While treetop walks at MacRitchie and Southern Ridges overlook the canopy, this is the first boardwalk in Singapore that takes visitors through the mid-canopy.
A 1.3km-long coastal trail offers visitors a pano- ramic view of the Kranji waterfront and the Straits of Johor. They can look out for raptors, including the white-bellied sea eagle, hunting for prey.
While the reserve used to feature only one free guided walk which focused on the habitat of the mangrove forest, there will now be six new walks, including two for children under 12 years old.
The new walks, conducted by volunteers and students, will educate visitors on other habitats - based on the themes of sky, mud and water - at Sungei Buloh.
Special signs that are written and illustrated simply have been put up for children. In fact, the new extension hopes to instil a love for nature in them through more kid-friendly features.
A Junior Adventure Trail, near the Visitor Centre, has an obstacle course for children, allowing them to experience what it feels like to be a crab or a mudskipper in the mangrove. Duck under "prop roots", leap among "pencil roots" and cross a mangrove river on a pulley boat. To play, those under the age of 13 must be supervised by adults.
Also near the Visitor Centre is the Little Heron Deck, an area which has sculptures of mudskippers.
A gallery at the Visitor Centre features the plants and animals found in the mangroves.
A camera transmits live scenes from various areas of the reserve and projects them onto a wall in the gallery. There are also static displays with information on the mangrove habitat.
The new extension has five wooden lookout points scattered throughout. These are semi-sheltered and often slightly elevated to give visitors unobstructed views of the reserve and the sea.
The National Parks Board hopes the new extension will draw more people to Sungei Buloh and reduce the number of visitors flocking to the main reserve, which now has about 100,000 visitors a year.
Ms Sharon Chan, the reserve's deputy director, says: "Over the years, we've seen a rising number of visitors going to the reserve. With these numbers, there will be an impact on the wildlife there."
The expansion plans took into account comments from the public that the reserve is not very accessible, she says. The new extension is more accessible by public transport. A bus stop, located outside its entrance in Kranji Way, is served by bus No. 925.
The entrance to the main reserve in Neo Tiew Crescent remains. Visitors have to take a five-minute drive or a 15-minute walk from the bus stop. It is also served by bus 925.
Nature lovers and families welcome the new ecological space. Retiree and bird enthusiast Alan OwYong, 68, says: "With the new boardwalks, trails and canopy, getting around will be so much easier for the young and old."
He says there are more opportunities to get closer to different types of wildlife as the extension has different habitats with more forest cover, compared to the mainly mangrove habitat at the reserve.
Financial planner Kelvin Ang, 38, who has three children, also welcomes the new addition to Sungei Buloh. "There may be ample nature parks in Singapore, but there is a lack of kids-centric ones that introduce nature in a simple yet educational manner."
Housewife Goh Yi Liang, 42, has never taken her three children to Sungei Buloh, but plans to do so now. She says: "It's good for the young to have a little adventure in nature. The guided walks will be educational for the kids."
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
The 1.3km trail runs along the coast where the Straits of Johor can be seen and brings visitors through two boardwalks, one at the northern side of the extension and the other nearer the Visitor Centre.
These offer a scenic and unhindered view of the Kranji waterfront.
You may spot raptors, including the White-bellied Sea Eagle, hunting for prey in the sky.
Between September and March, you can also expect to see the arrival of migratory birds from as far as Siberia.
When the tide comes in, thousands of birds are often seen flying towards one of the ponds at the main reserve, where the water levels have been kept low by sluice gates for them to roost and feed.
For the first time in Singapore, visitors can step onto the mudflats during low tide to get up close with creatures living in the mud. A floating platform would lower them near the bottom of the mudflats. Visitors who do not mind getting their shoes dirty can step off the platform into the mud. The next low tide is expected to be in February next year.
Some of the creatures you can expect to see in the mud are worms, crabs, shellfish and snails. Look out for the giant mudskipper, which can grow up to 27cm long and is the largest in Singapore. It is easily recognised by the black stripe which runs from its head to its tail. It also has metallic blue spots on its cheeks.
Mudskippers are fish, but can survive out of water because they can hold water in their enlarged gill chambers and keep their gills moist.
Also try spotting the tree-climbing crab, which has a flat squarish body. Many are burrowers, digging holes at the base of mangrove trees and in mud lobster mounds. At high tide during the day, tree-climbing varieties are often seen clinging to tree trunks just above the water line. On the trunks, they remain motionless. They probably do this to avoid predators in the water, as well as airborne predators such as birds.
A 150m-long boardwalk which elevates to a height of 3m brings visitors through the understorey of a secondary forest.
They can spot birds and insects that forage and live in the mid-canopy area.
These include the pied fantail, which is named after its habit of fanning out its beautiful long tails. It has been said that the bird reveals the white tips of the tail to startle insects into movement.
Also look out for cicadas, best known for their buzzing and clicking noises. They make this sound by flexing their tymbals, which are drum-like organs in their abdomen.
Sources: NParks, wildsingapore.com