Kusu Island is an outlying island to the south of mainland Singapore. The island’s name means ‘Tortoise Island’ or ‘Turtle Island’ in Chinese. The island is popular with devotees who flock to the Da Bo Gong Temple yearly for a pilgrimage.
Many different versions of a legend have been passed down regarding Kusu Island. One of the more famous versions involves a Chinese sailor and a Malay fisherman who have been shipwrecked. They then came across a giant tortoise which was so huge that it could carry both survivors on its shell. Thus in order to save the two men, the tortoise turned into an island and eventually both men were brought to safety. To remember the noble sacrifice of the tortoise, give thanks and to pay respects, a temple and some shrines were built on the island.
The island began as two outcrops on a reef and it was only in 1975 when the land around the island was reclaimed, that it became the larger plot of land of 85000 square metres that it is now. Before the reclaimation, the island was used as a burial ground for immigrants who had passed away while under quarantine at the nearby Saint John’s Island.
Another story behind the name of the island is that before Kusu Island was reclaimed, the island was said to look like a turtle from afar. The two ridges that made up the island appeared to look like the head and back of a turtle thus giving the island its name.
Sights and Activities
One of the more popular sights on the island is the Da Bo Gong Temple which was established in 1923. The temple houses two deities, the Goddess of Mercy and the God of Prosperity. The former is regarded as ‘the giver of sons’ and is popular with women while the latter is known for conferring prosperity, cure diseases, calm the seas and avert danger. Up to 100000 devotees flock to this temple during the months of October to November for the annual Kusu pilgrimage to offer thanks and pray for good health, peace, happiness, good luck and prosperity.
Another sight that is worth visiting is the group of three kramats or holy shrines of Malay saints. These shrines were erected in honour of a faithful and devoted man named Syed Abdul Rahman and his family. Located on a hilltop, visitors would have to climb 152 steps to reach the shrines. The shrines are popular with childless couples who would pray for children.
Some other sights on the island are the wishing well and the Tortoise Sanctuary, which is home to large number of tortoises. Other than religious purposes, Kusu Island also has some good beaches and lagoons which are relatively quiet and peaceful and are ideal spots for an afternoon picnic.
Overnight stay on the island is not permitted although visitors can stay at the nearby Saint John's Island.
A daily ferry service by the Singapore Island Cruise operates to and from the Marina South Pier. Fares cost S$15 for adults and S$12 for children. A one-way trip takes about 15 minutes. The island receives many visitors during the Kusu pilgrimage season, which is during October and November, so it is best to check the ferry website frequently for changes or book in advance if you plan to visit during the pilgrimage season.