Justine Tyerman spends an afternoon at the mind-boggling Gardens by the Bay in Singapore where she marvels at the world’s largest glasshouse and tallest indoor waterfall, and a forest of ‘Supertrees’, as part of a Singapore Airlines stopover package…
In the Cloud Forest
I stood at the summit of the cool, misty mountain within spray drift of a beautiful waterfall, surrounded by a myriad of exquisite orchids, colourful anthuriums, bizarre carnivorous pitcher plants and ferns of every shade of green.
It’s a steep ascent but I made it to the top in a few seconds, thanks to a high-speed lift inside the Tropical Montane at the Cloud Forest, an astonishing manmade mountain, waterfall and garden complex encased within one of two enormous glass domes on the Singapore waterfront.
It’s part of the extensive Gardens by the Bay built on 101 hectares of prime waterfront land at a cost of over $1b which opened in 2012.
At the summit there’s the Lost World, a collection of vegetation normally found in the tropical highlands, 2000m above sea level.
As I peered through the world’s tallest indoor waterfall at the glass dome beyond, I marvelled at the sheer genius and engineering involved in such an ambitious project.
A fine mist gathered on my hair and skin, so refreshing after the steamy 32 degree heat outside the cooled conservatory – a welcome oasis of cool on a hot, humid day.
After exploring the upper reaches of the forest, I descended by way of the Cloud Walk, a pathway cantilevered out from the mountain that allows you to absorb the full scope of the garden. There are 60,000 plants and flowers in the Cloud Forest alone.
The canopy-high Treetop Walk leads down to The Cavern and Crystal Mountain, a collection of stalactites and stalagmites and rock crystals including huge chunks of raw amethysts, and the Secret Garden where moisture-loving plants and prehistoric ferns thrive in a lush environment.
We experienced the catastrophic implications of climate change around the world within the 21st century in a virtual journey through time at Earth Check and +5 Degrees. The presentation ends with a thought-provoking challenge:
‘Gardens by the Bay use sustainable energy and sustainable practices to stay in balance with nature. What can you do?’
In Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Dome
A lower, elongated conservatory next door, houses the vast Flower Dome filled with 30,000 plants from every continent except Antarctica. Nine gardens take visitors around the world from the Canary Island date palms of the Mediterranean to the monkey puzzle trees of Central Chile, from ancient olive trees over 1000 years old to the baobab and bottle trees of Africa.
The closest plant to New Zealand is the kangaroo’s paw in the Australian Garden.
Interspersed among the flora are some impressive sculptures. La Famille de Voyageurs, a bronze by Bruno Catalano, is especially eye-catching. It depicts a life-size family of three – father, mother and child – heading away on a voyage, carrying their luggage.
Large parts of their torso are missing as if torn away, and they seem to stand with little support, giving them a floaty, dreamlike appearance. I studied them for so long, I lost the rest of my group.
At festive times of the year, the dome is a riot of colour as Orchid Extravaganza, Yuletide and Tulipmania take over.
Gardens by the Bay has earned numerous accolades. The twin conservatories won World Building of the Year in 2012 and the Flower Dome holds the distinction of being the Largest Glass Greenhouse in the Guinness World Records (2015).
Outside the domes, the choices are even more bewildering. There are the Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes, and Indian, Chinese, Malay, Colonial, Silver, Golden and Palm Gardens. For the youngsters, the Far East Children’s Gardens has a waterplay park, treehouses, adventure trail and toddler zone.
Singapore’s largest outdoor entertainment space, the Meadow, offers a spectacular backdrop for large-scale events.
Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree Grove
Perhaps the most surreal of all the sights is the Supertree Grove, a forest of towering manmade trees, home to vertical gardens with over 150,000 plants and 300 species.
You can walk beneath the canopy on a dizzying 22m-high Skyway that circumnavigates the tree trunks. Every night at 7.45pm and 8.45pm, the trees are lit in a dazzling free light and sound show. It’s mind-boggling.
Marina Bay Sands Casino & Hotel
But then again, a ship marooned on top of a three skyscrapers casino hotel is pretty surreal too. Only in Singapore…
Justine Tyerman travelled with Innovative Travel, a New Zealand-based boutique tour operator with 27 years’ experience offering travellers the opportunity to explore historically and culturally unique destinations worldwide that provide a challenge but with the security of a peace-of-mind 24/7 wrap-around service.
Getting there: Singapore Airlines has a code-share agreement with Swiss International Airlines (SWISS).
On the way to your destination, experience the sights and sounds of multicultural Singapore with a stay at Singapore Airlines’ selection of hotels, admission to over 15 tourist attractions, complimentary rides on the SIA Hop-on Bus and more. Visit Singapore Airlines’ Stopover Holiday.
Among the top tourist attractions included free in the stopover package are Night Safari (see my review), Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown Heritage Centre, Malay Heritage Centre, Indian Heritage Centre, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, MINT Museum of Toys, National Gallery Singapore, National Museum of Singapore, National Orchid Garden, Singapore Cable Car from Faber Peak to Sentosa Island, Singapore Flyer, one of the world’s largest Giant Observation wheels, Singapore River Cruise, Original Singapore Walks in cultural and historical enclaves such as Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Gelam, and the SIA Hop-On Bus.