Asia Family Traveller
Island hopping in Hong Kong
Where to head this summer
As a long-term resident of Hong Kong, I’ve spent many a day happily ensconced on a junk, splashing through Sai Kung’s Inner Port Shelter seeking out sand and seabreezes. But these nautical jaunts usually occurred in the shoulder season, during the months when we weren’t jetting off to seek out beaches in other exciting corners of the world.
As the pandemic continued to bite last year, Hong Kongers were faced with the reality that they would be spending an entire summer confined to home base. There would be no Greek islands, no Spanish costas and no long weekends in Southeast Asia. The best we would be managing in the summer of 2020 was a night in a tent on Tai Long Wan.
Boat companies went into overdrive offering to whisk weekenders to the city’s farthest flung, non-gazetted beaches as residents sought a little light relief from lockdown.
And as things stand, it looks like the summer of 2021 could be a similar story. Sure, lots of exotic international destinations have opened up since last year, but for Hong Kongers, a trip overseas currently means an expensive and lengthy stint in hotel quarantine on their return home.
But no matter, forget the Maldives, fancy cruise ships and swanky golf resorts, Hong Kong offers all of this and more, right on our doorstep.
It's time to set sail Hong Kong-style. And if you don’t have a private yacht at your disposal, don’t worry, everywhere on this itinerary can be reached via a hike, a bus, a scheduled ferry or a speedboat ride.
KAU SAI CHAU
The jumping off point for our cruise is Sai Kung. Blessed with plenty of convenience stores for last minute provisions, restaurants for a post-trip cocktail and a pier crammed with sampans and speed boats for hire just in case you don’t have your own yacht, the New Territories fishing town is the perfect departure point.
Pack your golf clubs and make your first port of call Kau Sai Chau, one of the closest islands to Sai Kung New Pier. Forget tee-ing off in tropical Thailand, the 18-hole Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course is all you need this summer.
Hong Kong’s only public golf course, Kau Sai Chau was opened in 1995 and occupies the northern half of the island. It also boasts a clubhouse and driving range.
Perfect your swing as you enjoy stunning views over Sai Kung’s sparkling Inner Port Shelter and the emerald green mountains beyond. Tee times should be booked online prior to departure.
A scheduled ferry service powered by ‘Solar Sailor’ boats links Sai Kung Town with the golf course’s ferry pier and from there a connecting bus service to the club.
Next stop is for a seafood lunch at High Island, or Yau Ley. Technically, it’s not really an island and if you’d rather stick to terra firma, it can be accessed by foot from Sai Kung Country Park gates at Pak Tam Chung. It’s a reasonably easy hike on tarmac roads and then downhill to Pak A and Tung A villages, then following the meandering waterfront past Tin Hau Temple at Leung Shuen Wan and on to the little seafood
restaurant at Yau Ley. If you’re sailing over, moor up in front of the restaurant.
Gorge on fresh seafood and cool off with a postlunch dip in the ocean. The restaurant is set between the pier to the front and a small sandy beach to the rear. Book a table overlooking the beach and you’ll be set for a relaxing afternoon as the kids hurl themselves off the village jetty. Who needs Bali’s beach clubs when you’ve got a bucket full of ice-cold Tsing Tao, Spotify and a plate of black pepper squid?
Yau Ley Seafood Restaurant’s convivial owner can arrange round-trip speed boat pick-ups from Sai Kung New Pier.
There are worse places to drop anchor than in sheltered Ung Kong Wan on Bluff Island, a short cruise from Yau Ley. This area is zoned as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a small section of reef can be snorkelled just metres from the beach; the area is marked by yellow buoys and motorised craft are not allowed inside this zone to protect the corals.
It’s an uninhabited island and there are no tourist facilities such as refreshment kiosks or public conveniences.
Bluff is part of the Ung Kong Group of islands and its coastline is studded with hexagonal volcanic rock columns and magnificent sea arches.
If you want to stretch your legs, head away from the beach and up a narrow trail through the bush - it’s a steep climb but the views from the top are magnificent, with the petrol blue, roiling South China Sea to one side and the aquamarines of the protected Port Shelter to the other.
Bluff is popular with junk trips, otherwise it’s possible to jump on a speedboat or sampan from Sai Kung.
After pulling anchor at Bluff, sail northeast passing between Town Island and the mainland and head out into the open ocean. Hug the coast to the left, passing Pak Lap Wan and then the great dolosses that mark the edge of High Island Reservoir. Round the next headland and you’ll be able to pull into Long Ke, one of Hong Kong’s most stunning bays.
Speedboat operators spent much of last summer passing off Long Ke Wan and neighbouring Tai Long Wan as ‘Hong Kong Maldives’, and they’re not far wrong. Why fly to Male when you can moor up in crystal clear-ish waters along a huge stretch of Hong Kong’s finest sands?
Pre-pandemic, the beach remained relatively empty and it was possible to enjoy a summer barbecue mid-week in splendid isolation. However, despite the fairly arduous hike in through Sai Kung Country Park, desperate times call for desperate measures and on my last visit there were paragliders landing amongst the sunbathers, hordes of children leaping around in the shallows on surfboards, kayakers, paddle boarders and possibly most of Hong Kongers enjoying a sunny afternoon away from the city. And who could blame them?
You can access Long Ke by private speed boat from Sai Kung New Pier. Long Ke is a popular junk stop if your junk driver is prepared to go a little further than Clearwater Bay.
TAI LONG WAN
The next bay along from Long Ke is the infamous Tai Long Wan, or Big Wave Bay. On the east coast of the Sai Kung Peninsula, the silky, three kilometre stretch of sand is actually made up of four beaches, Sai Wan, Ham Tin Wan, Tai Wan and Tung Wan. Sai
Wan and Ham Tin Wan both offer simple beachside dining - think noodles, fried rice, steamed veggies and a drinks fridge.
The aquamarine bay stretches luxuriously out towards the South China Sea as surfers ride the waves foaming onto the sand. You really could be in Thailand, or any other southeast Asian island idyll for that matter.
If you’re sailing to Tai Long Wan, don’t forget to stash your kayaks and paddle boards, or hit dry land and challenge yourself to a climb
up nearby Sharp Peak, one of Hong Kong’s toughest climbs.
Or head along the beach and follow the signs to Sheung Luk stream and its ‘secret’ waterfalls for a freshwater dip.
You can hike into Tai Long Wan from Sai Wan pavilion in Sai Kung Country Park or pick-up a speedboat from Sai Kung Town.
Sail along the coastline north and then turn westwards and you’ll eventually hit Tap Mun, or Grass Island.
Grass Island falls under Tai Po District and is occupied by just 100 or so residents. But it’s most well-known for its feral cattle population that grazes happily on its grassy slopes.
The great views and green meadows make for a fabulous picnic spot and there are also a handful of seafood restaurants as well as some smaller tea restaurants on hand. There are a couple of eating spaces at Tap Mun Ferry Pier and a few more in the New Fisherman Village.
The island also boasts hiking trails and an impressive 400 year old temple. Rumour has it that the altar is connected by a hidden tunnel to Tap Mun Cave on the opposite side of the island.
There’s a scheduled ferry service to Grass Island from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier (near University MTR station) or a kaito service from Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung Country Park (catch a bus or taxi from Sai Kung Town or the Country Park gates at Pak Tam).
HOI HA WAN MARINE PARK
Translated as ‘Bay Beneath the Sea’, Hoi Ha is worth a visit as it boasts a diverse array of water-based nature systems, including mangroves and coral beds with 60 species of hard coral and 120 types of coral fish.
The large, protected bay with sandy beaches is a short cruise from Grass Island in Sai Kung Country Park West.
Hoi Ha is one of six natural marines parks found in Hong Kong. The others include
Yan Chau Tong Marine Park in Plover Cove Country Park, Shau Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park north of Lantau Island, Tung Ping Chau Marine Park in Mirs Bay, The Brothers Marine Park south of the Gold Coast and Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve off Hong Kong Island.
The sheltered bay at Hoi Ha is ideal for kayaking - boats can be hired from a handful of shops in the village or down on the beach. Snorkelling gear can also be rented, but in these Covid times it’s probably wise to bring your own. Find out more about the marine life at the Hoi Ha Marine Life Centre and then swim out to the designated coral and marine life zones to view it in real life.
If you don’t have private water transport, there’s a public mini bus that runs out to Hoi Ha from Sai Kung Town.
The Hong Kong equivalent of heading to the North Pole, a trip to Crooked Island, or ‘Kat
O’, is the farthest north you can sail before entering Chinese waters. It’s part of Hong Kong’s North District in the northeast corner of Plover Cove Country Park.
From Hoi Ha, you would sail north across Mirs Bay, skirting the coast of Plover Cove Country Park and passing Double Island and Crescent Island before reaching Crooked Island.
This remote island is home to a few hundred people and was once a bustling fishing area. It also served as an important resting point for boats travelling between Hong Kong and mainland China.
The Kat O Geoheritage Centre is open on weekends and public holidays and contains lots of information about the island’s geography and cultural history. There’s also a nature trail through the villages and up to a pagoda, passing ancient temples and ancestral halls along the way.
Speed boat operators at Wong Shek Pier offer return trips. Otherwise, there’s a scheduled ferry service that runs between Kat O and Ma Liu Shui Pier near to University MTR station on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It takes one hour and 45 minutes. There’s also a kaito service from Sha Tau Kok Public Pier inside the Frontier Closed Area. However, using this route you would need a closed area permit. Check pandemic-related restrictions before leaving home.