PULAU UBIN also called UBIN ISLAND, is a small island (10.19 sq.kms) situated in the northeast of Singapore, to the west of PULAU TEKONG. The name PULAU UBIN literally means GRANITE ISLAND in Malay, which explains the many abandoned granite quarries there. To the Malays, the island is also known as PULAU BATUUBIN or GRANITE STONE ISLAND.
The rocks on the island were used to make floor tiles in the past and were called JUBIN, which was then shortened to UBIN. The island is known as TSIOH SUA in the Taiwanese Romanization of HOKKIEN, which means STONE HILL. The highest point is at 74metres and known as PUAKA HILL.
Granite quarrying supported a few 1000 settlers on PULAU UBIN in the 1960s, but only about a 100 villagers live there today. It is one of the last rural areas to be found in Singapore, with an abundance of natural flora and fauna. The island forms part of the UBIN-KHATIB Important Bird Area (IBA), identified as such by Bird Life International, because it supports significant numbers of visitors and residential birds, some of which are ‘threatened’.
Legend has it that PULAU UBIN was formed when three animals from Singapore ( a frog, a pig and an elephant) challenged each other to a race to share the shores of JOHOR. The animals that failed would turn to stone. All three came across many difficulties and were unable to reach the shores of JOHOR. Therefore, the elephant and the pig together turned into PULAU UBIN, whilst the frog became PULAU SEKUDU or FROG ISLAND.
PULAU UBIN first appeared on the map in an 1828 sketch of the Island of Singapore as PULO UBIN and in Franklin and Jackson’s map as PO.UBIN. Since the British founding of Singapore, the island has been known for its granite quarries, on the island, supply the local construction industry. The granite ‘outcrops’ are particularly spectacular from the sea, because their ‘grooves’ and ‘fluted sides’ create ‘furrows’ & ‘ridges’ on each granite rock slab. These features are captured in John Turnbull Thomson’s 1850 painting —— GROOVED STONES on PULO UBIN near Singapore.
The granite from PULAU UBIN was used in the construction of HORSBURGH LIGHTHOUSE. TONGKANGS ferried the huge rock blocks ( 30 by 20ft) from the Island of PEDRA BRANCA, the site of the Lighthouse, in 1850 & 1851. Later, the granite was also used to build the Singapore-Johor Causeway. Most of the quarries are not in operation today and are being slowly recolonized by vegetation or filled with water. Apart from quarrying, farming and fishing were the principal occupations of the inhabitants of the island in the past. In the 1970s, as the granite quarries closed down and jobs dwindled, residents began leaving.
PULAU UBIN is one of the last areas in Singapore, that has been preserved from urban development, concrete buildings and tarmac roads. PULAU UBIN’S wooden house villages and wooden jetties, relaxed inhabitants, rich and preserved wildlife, abandoned quarries and plantations and untouched nature make it the last witness of the old KAMPONG Singapore that existed before modern industrial times and large-scale urban development.
The Singapore Government’s development projects on the island, in the last few years, has been controversial and debate has been able to find its way through government-controlled media. Their main idea is that the East-West Line could be extended to PULAU UBIN from PASIR RIS. Although the government has highlighted the area for future development, the island is unlikely to be urbanised, because many foreign tourists visit PALAU UBIN and it has become a tourist attraction.
Though recent government action has been limited to widening the paths for bicycles, building shelters for trekkers and other facilities for the growing number of visitors, it is already discreetly changing the face and nature of PALAU UBIN from “untouched” to “planned”, and paving the way for further developments.
In 2007, the Singapore Government decided to reuse the Granite Quarry in PALAU UBIN, because Indonesia might restrict export of granite to Singapore. The future of the island is in the hands of the government, which may postpone its development in order to concentrate on re-developing existing space on Singapore Island and nearby PULAO TEKONG. For now, PULAU UBIN is a haven as a former rural way of life and will most likely disappear with its last KAMPUNG Generation.
There are a few tarmac roads, but most roads are gravel. There are a number of minibuses, jeeps and motorbikes, all bearing PU (for PULAU UBIN) numbered plates. Schools visit PULAU UBIN for overnight school trips. Although the locals try to keep the island un-urbanized, they need some small boosts of money to support them.
One of the popular tourist attractions on the island is CHEK JAWA. A previous coral reef 5,000years ago, it can be said to be virtually unspoilt, with a variety of marine wildlife, such as sand dollars, cuttlefish, sea squirts, octopuses, sponges, sea hares and starfishes. A boardwalk runs through the mangrove, allowing visitors to observe the plant and marine life at close range. During low tide, a limited number of people are allowed to walk on the tidal flats.
PULAU UBIN is home to one of the best mountain-bike trails ——- KETAM MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK, which was built in 2007. The trail is approximately 8km long and features a wide range of terrain ranging from open meadows to thick jungle. There are numerous steep but short climbs and descents. The trail is well-marked with signs indicating the difficulty level of each section.. Rental bikes can be used, but most bikers bring their own bikes. By cruising around the island, one can stop by beautiful lakes and other natural spots. It is a great break away from the big and busy city of Singapore.
This is truly a SECRET OASIS and the RUSTIC SIDE of Singapore.