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Island hopping in Hong Kong

As Hong Kongers face a second summer of hotel staycations and hot hikes, Carolynne Dear sets sail for the island-strewn coastline of the New Territories.

Lazy days on the water in Hong Kong's New Territories.

Forget the Maldives, the Aegean or even the Spanish Costas, Hong Kong's bays and beaches offer all you need for a super summer holiday. And what's more, all you need to access them is a fully-charged Octopus card - and a bottle of sunscreen.

This is your guide to holidaying Hong Kong-style. If you have a private yacht at your disposal, what could be nicer, but if not, don't worry, everywhere on the itinerary can be reached via a hike, a bus, a scheduled ferry or a sampan ride.

The jumping off point for our island-hopping odyssey is Sai Kung. Blessed with plenty of convenience stores for last minute provisions and a pier crammed with sampans and speed boats for hire, the New Territories' fishing town is the perfect departure point.

Kau Sai Chau & Yim Tin Tsai

Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course is Hong Kong's only public golf course.

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.

Alternatively, head to Yim Tin Tsai, or 'Little Salt Field', an uninhabited island which is connected to Kau Sai Chau via Jade Bridge. The island was settled by members of Shenzhen's Hakka Chan in the nineteenth century and boasted 500 inhabitants at its peak. Primary industries were farming the six acres of salt field and fishing. Explore the island's rich Hakka history, the restored salt pans, the UNESCO-listed St Joseph's Chapel dedicated to the island's patron saint (the village was baptised as Catholic in the late 1800s) and the heritage centre. There's also a disused school and a Girl Guide campsite.

Day tripper

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. There's also a ferry from Sai Kung Town that sails direct to Yim Tin Tsai.

High Island

Catch of the day at High Island (photo courtesy Nitty Gritty Images).

Stop for a delicious al fresco seafood lunch at High Island, or Yau Ley. Technically, it’s not really an island and if you’d rather stick to terra firma, this popular swimming spot 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 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, moor up in front of the restaurant. Sampans and speedboats can be hired from Sai Kung Town.

Gorge on fresh seafood and cool off with a post-lunch 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 beer, a plate of black pepper squid and Spotify? Bliss.

Day tripper

Yau Ley Seafood Restaurant’s convivial owner can arrange round-trip speed boat pick-ups from Sai Kung New Pier. Sampans are also available - ask the 'sampan ladies' on Sai Kung seafront.

Long Ke Wan

A day on the water at lovely Long Ke Wan (photo courtesy Nitty Gritty Images).

Sail out of the Inner Port Shelter 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 Malé when you can moor up in crystal clear 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?

Day tripper

You can access Long Ke by private speed boat from Sai Kung New Pier. Long Ke is a popular junk stop if your driver is prepared to go a little further than Clearwater Bay.

Tai Long Wan

Bobbing around at Tai Long Wan (photo courtesy Nitty Gritty Images).

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.

Day tripper

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.

Grass Island

Fishing harbour at Grass Island.

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.

Day tripper

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.

Day tripper

If you don’t have private water transport, there’s a public mini bus that runs out to Hoi Ha from Sai Kung Town.

Crooked Island

Hong Kong's Double Haven Harbour and Crooked Island.

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 mainland 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.

Day tripper

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.

This feature first appeared in the Spring print edition of Asia Family Family Traveller magazine. For more great travel inspiration in Asia Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Middle East, follow our Facebook Page.

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