Nestled within the western edge of the Central Catchment Area of Singapore is a hidden gem, the Chestnut Nature Park, which opened to public since April 2016.
Free parking is available at the park’s car park, which opens from 7am to 7pm daily. The car park does get crowded on weekends and cars will spill out onto Chestnut Avenue, so it is best to head there early before 8am.
Chestnut Nature Park is a biker’s paradise, with pump tracks for training and dedicated mountain biking trails without having to share space with the hikers.
A bike rental shop located beside the car park provides convenient access to bikes and biking gear.
If worried about trail conditions, a helpful trail meter will give an indication whether it is safe to proceed.
For the less adventurous like us, we dare only venture along the hiking trails, which would provide more than enough excitement for one morning. The Southern Hiking Loop (2.1-km loop trail) around the smaller southern area of the park is a good choice for a gentle start to the day’s hikes.
The trails are well-marked by sign-posts at regular 100-m intervals, so we couldn’t ever dream of getting lost. The trails – Sunbird Trail, Drongo Trail and Munia Trail – are aptly named after the birds that we might encounter during our forest expedition.
Indeed, while ambling along the Drongo Trail, we had the pleasure of meeting the Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus)…
…a curious fellow burdened with two long tail extensions that he has to lug around as he goes about his daily routine.
Other than fallen tree trunks, we have to keep a lookout for the cannonballs that hang loose all over the park forest.
We proceed with bated breath as we climb up steps…
…and clamber across boulders…
…before we heave a sigh of relief as the sign of the nearest rest stop appears.
These “huts” scattered around the park provide convenient resting area, shade from the sun, and the chance to spot threatened bird species.
The final 2.1-km sign-post marks the end of the Southern Hiking Loop, and the trail ejects us back onto Chestnut Avenue.
On the north side, the loopy 1.5-km Nature Trail brings us on a pleasant tour through old kampong ruins and exotic vegetation of fig trees and durian trees.
The sprawling network of branches of the majestic trees along the Nature Trail provide a shady playground for the Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) to frolic in.
Next, we’ll conquer the Northern Loop Trail. We have been warned by various blogs that the Northern Loop Trail is not a loop. But it is sort of a tiny loop at the end, in the sense of a lasso loop.
The trail starts off as a nice and spacious tarred road, which soon transforms into a gravel trail and eventually a dirt track.
On the forest floor, the chance of spotting the Common Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata) is fairly high. His brown-bronze body gleams in the sun as he slinks among the dense leaf litter thinking that he’s doing a good job blending in.
We have to watch our step as we go – we wouldn’t want to trample on a snake such as the Blue Malayan Coral Snake (Calliophis bivirgatus), one of the deadliest snakes known to man.
He has a flaming red head…
…and a matching red tail and underside…
…which he uses to warn predators to stay away, although ironically these bright colours tend to attract us foolhardy humans to go near him and poke our camera lenses into his face, instead of running away like any intelligent creature ought to do.
A bite from one of these venomous snakes can result in rapid destruction of muscle tissue, plunging blood pressure, and loss of sensation, eventually resulting in death faster than you can say “call an ambulance!”
Another murderer in the forest to look out for is the Yellow Assassin Bug (Cosmolestes picticeps), who is known to stab his prey violently with his long proboscis and mortally wounding them, which explains his name. I almost got assassinated in the forest as one of these murderous bugs came charging at me from nowhere, but he managed to avoid collision at the last second and landed on a leaf instead.
If we happen to still be alive after the short 1.2 km walk on the Northern Trail, we will see an imposing observation tower that beckons visitors to come up for a look.
At the top of the tower, we can spy on the monkeys walking down below…
…or cruising through on wheels…
…or swinging in the trees from branch to flimsy branch…
…or simply sitting idle…
…and taking turns to pick each other’s nits.
From such a great height, we can also spy on the birds weaving in and out of the trees enjoying their juicy breakfast, including the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans)…
…the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis)…
…the Oriental Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis)…
…the Olive-winged Bulbul (Pycnonotus plumosus)…
…or the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), a pretty songbird whose melodious singing can often be heard in the forest.
If the voice of the Yellow-vented Bulbul is like the high trilling of the flute, the call of the Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) must be like the rich resonant sound of the clarinet.
Back at the bottom of the observation tower, there appear to be several trail options branching ahead. Some of them look like biking trails but some seem to be ambiguously marked.
To complete the Northern loop trail, follow this dark creepy trail with a large signboard standing prominently at the trail opening.
For a short distance, the trail is shared between bikers and hikers. We have to constantly remind ourselves to keep a lookout for the bikers and give way, if we don’t want to follow the fate of the squashed bugs under the soles of our Merrell boots.
At some point, the trail branches off again into separate tracks for bikers and hikers. Follow the “hiking only” sign and we should mostly be fine.
The hiking trail seems overgrown, probably due to the sparse number of hikers traversing this deep into the forest.
At times the trail seems to disappear under the thick layer of leaves.
Keep your eyes peeled for the pretty pink star-shaped fruit of the Simpoh Ayer, which is scattered all over the forest and brightens up the otherwise drab forest foliage.
At the end of the creepy forest hike, the rest-stop looming ahead is a much welcomed sight.
The Bangkit Shelter, popular among bikers and hikers alike, marks the turning point of the Northern Loop Trail.
We could press on ahead along the trail that goes under the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) and connects to Zhenghua Nature Park. Or, we could head back to complete the loop trail, which will lead us back to the observation tower and then along the same route back to the start/end point.