16 January 2011

Kayaking to Khatib Bongsu

In the pink blush of dawn, I joined a large group of kayakers to visit the mangroves of Khatib Bongsu by sea!
This is only my second time on a kayak, the first was to Berlayar Creek mangroves. I heard the trip is 7.5kms long! I was worried I wouldn't make it there, not to mention back. But I really wanted to see the mangroves!

Huey gives a very reassuring briefing. It's only 2km to the start of the mangroves, he says. We can get there in 15 minutes and spend most of the time exploring the 3km of waterways there. Sounds doable, I try to encourage myself.
We gather at the break of dawn!
And then we're off! A truly colouful flotilla.
Indeed, it didn't seem too long before we got to the edge of Khatib Bongsu! And the sun was hardly rising yet in a nice cloudy sky.
Further ahead of us is Pulau Seletar, which lies near Khatib Bongsu. Some of the more energetic and experience kayakers in our group even visited there during this trip!
As we approach the river mouth, there are already signs of familiar mangrove and coastal plants! We paddle in to get a closer look.
Almost there!
We even stop now and then and Andrew hops out to take a closer look at some of the intriguing plants on the shore. Andrew is particularly intrigued by the Beach gardenia (Guettarda speciosa).
In just this short stretch there are also
Ximenia
, Ceriops, Xylocarpus
species.
Then we enter the calm waters of the river surrounded by mangroves! There were a lot of Mangrove cannon-ball trees (Xylocarpus granatum), and all the usual common mangrove trees. Special mangrove trees seen include the Dungun (Heritiera littoralis). But it was hard to check on all the trees as there were so many of them!
It's amazing to see so many different kinds of mangroves
without even getting my booties muddy!
There's even a large clump of Nipah palms (Nypa fruticans).
It is blooming too!
I wonder whether these yellow flowers must grow tall enough
to get above the highest tide line before they bloom?
An awesome sight: a gianormous Jejawi fig (Ficus microcarpa) right next to the water's edge!
It was so close to the water, this bunch of fig branches was right in my face.
We easily explored the many disused prawn ponds here, sliding past now open sluice gates into calm pools.
In the middle of some of the ponds were many rather tall mangrove trees! We slide up to them without trampling on anything! In some parts, the water was clear enough to see the bottom. Alas, I didn't see any seagrasses on this trip.
The different kinds of mangrove roots are so obvious when the water is high!
Knee roots, prop roots and buttress roots!
There are lots of little streams shaded by overhanging mangrove trees which form a green tunnel.
The kayaks get through even narrow and shallow streams for an easy and trudge-free look at my favourite mangrove trees.
Moira kindly points out the Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator) clinging onto a tree branch right over our heads! Thanks Moira!
We slide by an area full of mud lobster mounds! Tree climbing crabs (Episesarma sp.) were everywhere. But too fast for me to photograph.
Andrew and I are enthralled by the curtains of Mangrove wax flowers (Hoya sp.) that drape the tunnels. Unfortunately they were not blooming, otherwise it would have been super marvellous! Other pretty climbers seen included Jeruju (Acanthus sp.), Common derris (Derris trifoliata) and Wild jasmine (Clerodendron inerme).
Andrew spotted this Drongo which he says is unusual to spot near mangroves. Also herons, sea eagles and other birds. We also get close up views of spiders and (unintentionally) red ants carting off a dead cotton stainer bug - it was only Andrew's furious back paddling that saved me from a faceful of ants. We looked and looked but failed to find any pit vipers. Sigh.
The Drongo has strange tail feathers!
It was awesome to see families kayaking with us, with young kids and even a 17-month old baby! Bravo!
Halfway into exploring the river, two boats roared in and proceeded to zoom up and down the mangrove-lined river for wakeboarding.
Tucked in a corner in the middle of the water was a floating house.
All too soon, it was time to head back. Alas, the wind had picked up resulting in very choppy splashy water when we left the calm river. I paddled very hard but we didn't seem to make much headway. I also wished I had wind-shield wipers for my glasses. But bit by bit, we made our way back.
Eventually, everyone made it back. Hurray!
Thanks to Moira, who bravely and kindly organised us weeks before the trip, fed us wholesome food before the trip and made sure we all made it there and back. And took lots and lots of photos of us while we were out there. Afterwards, she remarked "34 paddlers on the water today, pengsan!" Thank you Moira!
Thanks also to Huey and his team for getting all those kayaks delivered in a lorry to our starting site. Getting us fitted in life vests, giving tips on how to paddle and making sure we were all safe and sound during the entire trip. We look forward to more exciting kayak adventures which even lame mud-trudgers like me can survive.
My special thanks to my long-suffering kayak buddy, Andrew! Who cheerfully kept us going, and going in the right direction, spotted all kinds of interesting plants and animals and saved me from being eaten alive by red ants.
Today's trip was challenging for me, but it was good to see mangroves from a different perspective.

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