Singapore’s southern islands are a nice way to escape the city life for a bit – St John’s, Lazarus and Kusu Island are some of the more well-known ones as they are easy to get to, and you can even do intertidal walks at Pulau Hantu, but have you ever heard of Pulau Satumu? This is a Singapore’s offshore islands that you cannot easily visit on your own as access is restricted – I took a tour with Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority to visit Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu and here’s a guide on what you can expect to see on the tour.
Where is Pulau Satumu?
If you head in a southwest direction towards the edge of Singapore’s waters with Indonesia, you’ll find the island of Pulau Satumu at the western end of the Singapore Strait. The boat took about 1.5 hours to get from Marina South Pier to Pulau Satumu.
Pulau Satumu was apparently known as Coney Island back in the day – not to be confused with the current Coney Island in Punggol! The name also apparently translates to One Tree in Malay. Satumu is a very small island and as with many other Singaporean offshore islands, some of its land was reclaimed from the sea. The island’s main claim to fame is that it is home to Raffles Lighthouse.
About Raffles Lighthouse
Standing 29m tall, Raffles Lighthouse is quite a historical landmark. First built in 1855, it’s one of Singapore’s oldest lighthouses and is still in use today keeping ships safe as they enter the Singapore Strait. It’s the southernmost of the lighthouses.
The only lighthouse I knew about in Singapore prior to this trip was the Raffles Marina Lighthouse in Tuas, which is actually a privately owned lighthouse and doesn’t fall under MPAs governance. I didn’t even know we have a lighthouse on top of a condo block in Bedok!
The 5 lighthouses managed by the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority:
- Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu, southernmost lighthouse, 2nd oldest
- Bedok Lighthouse in Marina Parade – on top of a condo block on the mainland
- Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pedra Branca – oldest lighthouse built in 1851
- Pulau Pisang Lighthouse on Pulau Pisang – island belongs to Malaysia but lighthouse operated by Singapore
- Sultan Shoal Lighthouse – in the Jurong Island area
Fun fact: only Raffles Lighthouse and Pulau Pisang Lighthouse have lighthouse keepers, of which there are 8 people in total. 2 men are assigned to each lighthouse at any one time, working on 10-day shifts to ensure the lighthouse is in working order. It must be an interesting job but you have to be really good at being isolated because you’re really in the middle of nowhere. There is internet and phone connection though, but otherwise it’s all wide open sea and passing ships and a very small piece of land to wander around.
We got to see the 2 lighthouse keepers on duty when we visited. I hope they’re all good friends because there is literally no other soul around during your 10-day shift and nowhere to escape to.
The Raffles lighthouse Tour with MPA
Meeting point: Marina South Pier
The tour starts at 1pm but you’re encouraged to arrive a little earlier as the boat usually sets off on schedule. There is a table set up at Marina South Pier (take the North-South MRT line right to the end NS28 Marina South Pier), which is the same place where you take the boat if you intend to go to St John’s, Lazarus and Kusu Islands.
The tour group that day was quite large, over 70 people signed up! And it was a mix of Singaporeans and some foreigners, though I get the sense that these foreigners are people living in Singapore more than tourists passing through.
Overall it was quite well organised – we were given a briefing on what to expect at the sign up point and split into 3 groups using coloured bands, each following a different guide. Use the toilet before you go! There are some toilets on the island itself if you really need though.
The boat is a privately chartered boat with an open-air upstairs deck and a sheltered lower deck. They arranged it such that the different groups would swap levels so everyone would get a chance to be on the upper deck. I managed to snag a seat right up front on the upper deck on the trip there, but you can actually walk around the deck if it’s not too rocky.
The guides shared quite a lot of information and stories throughout the journey, from pointing out the southern islands that we passed by to facts about the giant tankers that would sail by, so it was quite interesting throughout. On the way back they had quizzes and some small prizes too.
Destination: Pulau Satumu
The 1.5 hour boat journey along the Singapore Strait lets you see Singapore’s busy waters and appreciate the southern skyline. It’s times like these that I truly appreciate the fact that Singapore is an archipelago – I usually say Singapore has 60+ islands, but according to our guide, we’ve reclaimed, joined and demolished many of these islands in the name of industry so the true number of islands actually is around 40+ now.
The southern islands that you’ll pass by along the way:
- St John’s Island & Lazarus Island (Kusu Island is behind Lazarus) – see my guide for more info
- Pulau Tekukor – a former ammo dump site, currently uninhabited
- Sisters Islands – once open to public, currently shut for refurbishment
- Pulau Sebarok – home to oil refineries that belong to Singapore Petroleum Company
- Pulau Semakau – Singapore’s landfill island, but it doesn’t look remotely trashy at all as the trash is incinerated and buried. I’ve heard that the biodiversity here is pretty good.
Finally, Pulau Satumu!
Pulau Satumu is pretty small, you can see almost all of it at a glance. The jetty and cove is on the east side of the island where there are breakwaters to protect the coast, while the rest of the island is grass and the lighthouse.
Since there were three groups, we rotated between exploring the island, checking out the museum and climbing the lighthouse. Raffles Lighthouse is 29m tall and 88 steps lead you to the top. Lovely view of Pulau Satumu from above and the surrounding islands as well as an up close look at the lighthouse lamp.
Raffles Lighthouse Museum
At the base of the lighthouse is a small room which serves as a mini museum of sorts for the lighthouse. They’ve stored some old artefacts like the old lighthouse lamps and news clippings about the lighthouse here. We popped in for a brief look. They had a gun cabinet in case of pirates back in the day (it’s empty now though).
Raffles Lighthouse Tour Details
The Raffles Lighthouse tour runs from 1pm to 5pm and overall I did enjoy learning about Singapore’s maritime history on this tour. It makes for an interesting way to see Singapore’s southern seas and you get the chance to visit a landmark and island that you wouldn’t normally be able to visit on your own which is quite cool. If you’re interested in Singapore’s history or just want to spend an afternoon outside for a bit, I think this tour is worth checking out.
Check out Maritime and Port Authority on Eventbrite to see their latest event listings. Raffles Lighthouse tours happen on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month. At 8am on the 1st of every month, tickets are open for tours for the following month. My ticket cost was $58.81 for adults ($62.71 after Eventbrite fees).
Looking to see more of Singapore’s offshore islands? Check out these posts here or see all my posts about Singapore.