Once a millionaire’s island and wakeboarder’s paradise, Coney Island used to only be accessible by boat. From 10 October 2015, this has changed with the opening of two bridges connecting the 50-hectare island to mainland Singapore, making it accessible to the general public.
Previously known as Pulau Serangoon or Serangoon Island (it is still marked as Serangoon Island on Google Maps), the island was once owned by the Haw Par brothers of Tiger Balm fame.
The island changed hands in the 1950s when it was sold to Indian businessman Ghulam Mahmood who harboured intentions of transforming it into a resort in the style of the amusement park at Coney Island, New York.
These plans fell through and it found its way back into the possession of the Singapore government in the 1970s.
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This tranquil island, even though just one hundred metres away from Singapore at its closest point, the island has had relatively few visitors. Those who paid a visit were weekend wakeboarders coasting the island’s waters and weary Outward Bound School sea expedition kayakers in need of a rest stop.
However, now, the Casuarina-covered island in northeastern Singapore is ready to welcome more visitors to its rustic charms after a 15-month makeover.
NParks, which manages Coney Island Park, has deliberately chosen to preserve the island’s natural character and emphasized environmental sustainability in its development.
And, that is a good thing.
This means that despite being just 500 metres away from Punggol Settlement on the western end of the island, Coney Island Park still feels like a world away from urbanity.
If you are planning a visit to Coney Island Park any time soon, here are ten things you should know about Coney Island Park before paying a visit.
Coney Island from Mainland Singapore
#1 The Easiest Way to Coney Island Park is from Punggol Point Park (End of Punggol Road)
Two bridges connect Coney Island Park to mainland Singapore. The entrance closest to a car park is the West Entrance at the western edge of the island. It is only 500 or so metres from Punggol Settlement and Punggol Point Park to the West Entrance.
The East Entrance connects to Lorong Halus and Pasir Ris Industrial Drive 6.
Coney Island Park’s West Entrance.
#2 You Can Enter Coney Island Park on Foot or Bicycle
Walk or cycle on to the island. We even spotted folks on inline skates.
The 2.4 km Main Path runs the length of the island and is made of gravel and dirt. It connects the West and East Entrances of Coney Island Park together. Earth paths run off from the Main Path to the island’s Beach Areas. We wouldn’t recommend bringing prams into the island, unless you are planning to only visit the Promenade and Casauarina Exploratory areas.
Main path through Coney Island Park.
Sandy main path at Coney Island Park.
Earth side path leading to the beach areas.
#3 Stroll Along Coney Island Park’s Promenades
Promenades can be found at the western and eastern ends of the island. These paved areas provide a spot to enjoy the views of passing ships and Johor’s shoreline without having to venture too far into the island. At the West Promenade, the curious can venture down some steps for a closer look at the water’s edge.
West Promenade at Coney Island Park facing Punggol Settlement.
Steps leading down to the water.
#4 Play at the Casuarina Exploratory
Casuarinas are twiggy trees that can grow up to 20 to 30 metres tall. Coney Island Park is covered with these slender, wispy trees with distinct cone-like fruit. In fact, one could imagine that the island’s name reference these hardy, errmm…coney fruit.
Casuarina Exploratory on the western end of the island is dedicated to these trees. Created with wood from uprooted Casuarina trees, this is the closest thing to a playground you will find on the island.
Casuarina Explorer at Coney Island Park
There are wooden bridges to step across, stepping stones to hop along and little triangular log fences for adventurous ones to climb over. Plenty of fun for kids to have a go at.
Stepping stones at Casuarina Explorer
#5 The Island’s Five Beach Areas are “Themed”
Coney Island Park has five beach areas. Beach Areas A to E look out towards Pulau Ubin and are accessible via earth tracks from the Main Path.
Unlike the promenade, these small beach areas are more natural openings to the sea. They have been left uncleared and therefore are not very big. Beach Area A is the most easily accessible to visitors and you can expect to encounter fewer people the further east you go.
Each beach has been given a different “theme”. At Beach Area A, the theme is Back Mangrove Trees. Here, try spotting the endangered Dungun tree whose ellipsoid fruit that resembles the head of ‘Ultraman’.
Beach Area A, Coney Island Park.
At Beach Area B, the focus is on Beach Front Shrubs and Coastal Climbers. Look out for the endangered Pink-eyed Pong Pong with its red to pink-centred flowers.
Beach Areas C, D and E are themed Rare Coastal Trees, Coastal Hill Forest Trees and Beach Front Trees respectively.
Beach Area C, Coney Island Park.
#6 Walk the Mangrove Boardwalk
On the way to Beach Area C is a boardwalk that cuts through a mangrove forest. The forest has four designated demonstration plots which have been planted with coastal forest trees to add diversity and attract fauna to the area.
#7 Try a Spot of Bird Spotting
Some of the endangered birds that have sighted on the island include the Spotted Wood-Owl, Red Junglefowl, Grey Heron and Rusty-breasted Cuckoo. It is therefore no wonder that NParks has chosen build three bird hides on Coney Island Park. One can only hope that the increase in visitors to the island does not scare away the birds.
Bird Hide on Coney Island Park.
#8 There are Almost No Amenities on Coney Island Park
In an effort to preserve the Coney Island Park’s natural habitat, there are very few amenities on the island. The lone toilet on Coney Island Park is found at the eastern end of the island. It is run by solar power and rainwater is used for flushing and hand-washing.
Coney Island Park’s Zero-Energy Toilet
In keeping with the ideal of environmental sustainability, as far as possible, the signs, seats and even the boardwalk on the island are made from Casuarina timber from uprooted trees.
Make sure you bring along your own bottled water. There is none on the island.
A pack of plasters might be a good idea for any small scrapes you may encounter. And insect repellent too because sandflies have been reported at the beaches. It is advisable to wear long pants and covered shoes on to the island.
As there is no lighting in the park in the evenings, Coney Island Park is open from 7 am to 7 pm daily for safety reasons.
#9 You Need a Dose of Good Luck to Spot the Cow
Well, technically, the cow on Coney Island is really a bull – a single Brahman Bull to be exact. No one knows when it decided to make the island its home but it is now left to wander around freely as it pleases.
If you are looking forward to spotting the bull, don’t hold your breath. Given the size of the island and tall grassland areas, it is hard to actually spot the cow – no bull.
Even if you do, don’t attempt to go up close or provoke it. Needless to say, barbequeing of any sort is not allowed on the island!
[Editor’s Note: NParks announced on 12 October 2016 that the beloved Coney Island cow has died. It was sedated for blood and decal samples to be taken during its annual health check by veterinarians on 28 September 2016 and could not be revived after that. Post-mortem investigations showed that it had chronic underlying illnesses and was likely to have died of lung and heart complications while sedated.]
Can you spot the cow? Neither could we.
#10 Don’t Try to Enter to Haw Par Beach Villa
The Haw Par Brothers built a Beach Villa on the island when it was owned by them. After World War II, the villa was left in a state of disrepair. Today, the building is structurally unsound and the public is advised not to enter the villa for safety reasons. It is also situated within a mangrove area which is subject to rising tides.
If you are interested in visiting the villa, this is offered as part of a guided walk conducted by NParks. However, as of October 2015, the guided tours offered by NParks in November and December are fully booked. Hopefully, there will be more scheduled for the future.