Nicholas Jones is bowled over by Singapore's futuristic green recreation zones

The bans on sales of chewing gum and jaywalking are well-known, but state control of everyday life in Singapore runs much deeper than that.

To promote family unity there's a $100,000 housing subsidy to encourage people to buy within 20km of their parents.

While Auckland's bus fares edge steadily upwards, travel before 7am in Singapore is free, with breakfast at Starbucks thrown in.


The flipside is government control of media, zero tolerance for drug use, which means offenders can be put to death, and brutal caning for other crimes.

That's now mechanised, our guide Suhail cheerfully explains, because the official caner went too easy on his own brother.

One byproduct of government regulation is publicly mandated green space, including vertical gardens that cover the sides of many high-rises or cascade off balconies. A work in progress, the gardens were mooted in 2005 as Singapore's premier outdoor recreation space.

Covering 101ha of reclaimed land beneath the Marina Bay Sands mega-hotel with its malls, iconic infinity pool and views, everything about the huge $1 billion complex feels futuristic - and slightly ominous - a glimpse into how future generations might experience the "outdoors".

That feeling is never stronger than in the Cloud Forest conservatory. An elevator takes us to the top of a 42-metre "mountain", enclosed by glass, with a winding path that visitors amble down to ground level. Designed to replicate the conditions found in tropical mountain regions, the sides of the mountain are covered in glistening moss, ferns and orchids, and other plants from around the world.

Mist is pumped out at regular intervals.

On one side a crowd gathers below a 30m waterfall. It feels like a lost world, or one lost and now preserved in the middle of a city.

The second conservatory is the huge Flower Dome, which covers 1.2ha and is positively chilly - by Singapore standards - at a controlled temperature of about 25C.


There are thousands of flowers, but the most impressive plants are towering 1000-year-old olive trees transplanted from the Mediterranean.

The main attraction is the grove of 18 "super trees" - man-made structures between 25m and 50m tall, shaped like a trumpet bell turned skywards or a clipped vuvuzela stuck into the ground.

Each "trunk" is covered in ferns and vines. Lighting technology extends to the branch-like canopy and is programmed for a light and music show that starts at 7.45pm each night.

Free entry means tourists and locals slowly fill the area as they wait for the show. I lie on the warm concrete and look up at the huge artificial trees, covered in plants and glowing bright purple.

Beyond is the futuristic Marina Bay Sands building, like a curved cruise ship sprouting vegetation and resting on three giant high rises. I half-expect to see two moons above it.

Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies daily from Auckland to Singapore.

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