ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Southern District

TAI TAM COUNTRY PARK (大潭郊野公園), Hong Kong

Occupying about one fifth of area of Hong Kong Island, Tai Tam Country Park is one of the more accessible hiking destinations in the city.  The park is famous for its four reservoirs.  Built in 1888, 1904, 1907 and 1917 respectively, the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘), Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir (大潭副水塘), Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir (大潭中水塘) and Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (大潭篤水塘) served as the major water sources for Hong Kong Island in the early 20th century.  These reservoirs are surrounded by a series of green hills, including Mount Parker (柏架山), Mount Butler (畢拿山), Violet Hill (紫羅蘭山), and Jardine’s Lookout (渣甸山).  A series of hiking trails wind through the hills and pass by the reservoirs, making the country park a popular hiking destination in Hong Kong.

DSC_8917One of the trailheads begins at Mount Parker Road, at a densely populated area of Quarry Bay and just a stone throw away from Taikoo Place, a busy business district in East Hong Kong Island.

DSC_8922 The country park provides a decent view for the adjacent residential developments.  Built in 1989, the five 34-level towers of Mount Parker Lodge (康景花園) present some of the most typical private residential developments for the city’s middle class.

DSC_8924Looking over to Taikoo Place, the 69-storey One Island East Tower rises above the densed residential neighbourhood of Quarry Bay.

DSC_8931.JPGOpposite to Quarry Bay and Taikoo Place, the second highest peak of Hong Kong Island, Mount Parker, is marked by the observatory station.

DSC_8934To the south we were treated with the scenery of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir and Tai Tam Bay.

DSC_8936As we reached the lookout of Mount Butler, we were treated with the view of Quarry Bay, Taikoo Place and the distant Kai Tak runway and East Kowloon.

DSC_8941A series of four water bodies make up the group of Tai Tam Reservoirs.

DSC_8943Looking west we could see the silhouette of Wanchai and Central in the haze.

DSC_8957Completed in late 1980s, the 18-tower Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is a luxurious residential and service apartment complex right by the country park.

DSC_8958We walked from the lookout of Mount Butler down to Wong Nai Chung Gap.

DSC_8959Soon we came to a lookout over Tai Tam Reservoir.

DSC_8964Looking northwest through Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), the valley in the middle of Hong Kong Island, we could see the International Commerce Centre (ICC) and East Tsim Sha Tsui across Victoria Harbour.

DSC_7192Constructed between 1883 to 1888, the Reservoir Dam and Valve House of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘) were among the first phase of reservoir construction in Tai Tam.

DSC_7169The original dam was 30.5m high and 122m long, connected to a network that brought water through tunnels and aqueducts all the way to Central.

DSC_8974On our way down to Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), we passed by a former granite quarry.

DSC_8970The old quarry is now occupied by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Depot where the police deals with explosives.

DSC_8985Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is famous of its surrounding scenic views, and also its occasional break-ins.

DSC_8992We exited the country park near Wong Nai Chung Gap.  So we came to the historic Wong Nai Chung Reservoir (黃泥涌水塘).  Built in 1889 as Hong Kong’s third reservoir, Wong Nai Chung Reservoir has been used as a boat park for 30 years from 1986 to 2017.

DSC_8997Wong Nai Chung Reservoir is one of the six pre-war reservoir groups in the city.


BRIEF TASTE OF MOUNTAIN AND SEA, Pottinger Peak (砵甸乍山) to Shek O (石澳), Hong Kong

When we are short of time but still want to have a brief getaway from the city of Hong Kong, we often hop on a bus to Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a relatively new residential district at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island for a short hike over Pottinger Peak to the cozy surfing beach of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) and Shek O (石澳).  The hike takes a little over an hour, and is relatively simple, involving two sections of stepped path, one going up the Pottinger Peak and one descending down to the beach.  No matter how many times we have walked this route, it was always a pleasant surprise to reach the top of the Pottinger Peak and have the first glimpse of the turquoise water south of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2899The trail begins in Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a residential neighborhood at the eastern tip of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2917Looking north during the ascend to the Pottinger Peak, the Victoria Harbour outside of Junk Bay (將軍澳) is busy with cruise ships and boats of all sorts.

DSC_2919Looking down from the uphill trail, the residential area of Siu Sai Wan looks quite densely populated.

DSC_2924 croppedWatching beautiful butterflies hopping between flowers is a pure delight.

DSC_2931Looking south from Pottinger Peak, the peninsula of Shek O and Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) lie right ahead.

DSC_2933A ruined shelter on Pottinger Peak has been used as a temporary shrine.

DSC_2934It seems that the temporary shrine is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

DSC_2936Walking ahead, one can clearly see that much of the seaside land between the Big Wave Bay and Big Wave Bay.

DSC_2944On the downhill route, there are several Camellia trees (茶花) by the trail. 

DSC_2947The stepped path continues to the hill adjacent to the Big Wave Bay.  The noise of the crowds and public announcement from speakers can be heard long before we reach the beach.

DSC_2948.JPGBig Wave Bay (大浪灣) is a decent little beach at the southeast of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2949The natural rock formations around the area of Big Wave Bay are quite interesting.

DSC_2955Though the beach can get a little crowded during summer weekends.  For the rest of year, it’s popular for surfers.

DSC_2967Some prefer to stay away from the crowds on a rocky slope near a BBQ site.

DSC_2985For families, small streams out to the sea can be an interesting playground with small fish and seaside creatures.

DSC_7696About half an hour of walk south of Big Wave Bay, there is a Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲), a tied island linked to the mainland of Shek O Village by a tombolo.  On the tombolo, a narrow blue bridge is built for pedestrians who wish to visit Tai Tau Chau.  The area is popular for couples taking wedding photos.

DSC_8048At one side of the tombolo, a peaceful tidal pool acts like a perfect mirror.  The colours of the rocks around the pool reveal the varying water level from time to time.

DSC_7698The coastal granite of Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) are quite interesting after so many years of natural erosion and carving by the waves.

DSC_7740Despite the occasionally scary waves at this part of Hong Kong, many still brave the danger and climb onto the uneven coastal rocks for wedding photos.

DSC_7816The waves at Tai Tau Chau are beautiful but also terrifying sometimes.

DSC_7885Like the Geoparks in Sai Kung and Northeast New Territories, the coastal rocks at Tai Tau Chau are quite unique.

DSC_8856Just a stone throw from Tai Tau Chau lies the bigger beach of Shek O, a really popular outdoor destination for city dwellers of Hong Kong.

 


OCEAN PARK (海洋公園), Hong Kong

With 7.6 million admission recorded for year 2013-14, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park is considered to be the biggest theme park in Asia.  Since 1977, the Ocean Park had been attracting locals and tourists with its amazing aquariums, zoological facilities, amusement rides, shows and entertainment attractions.  With 91.5 hectares of land, the site is defined by two main areas: Waterfront and Summit, separated by the lush green hills of Nam Long Shan.

It has been 19 years since we last visited Ocean Park.  A revisit of the park after two decades was quite interesting for us.  In the old days, the park was renowned for its amusement rides, and shows of dolphins, sea lions and the orca named Miss Hoi Wai (海威小姐); today there are exotic animals and more cool amusement rides but Miss Hoi Wai was long gone.  Back then, the park served mainly the local Hong Kongers; now over half of the visitors are from mainland China.  As awareness of wildlife conservation grew in recent years, the park has also included educational interpretation for visitors.  However, as documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish which reveal the cruel reality of marine theme parks, visiting a place like the Ocean Park has become a controversial matter. There are increasing concerns over keeping wild animals in captivity while advocating wildlife conservation through its funded programs and educational interpretation throughout the park

We spent the entire day wandering around Ocean Park, first at the lower Waterfront area checking out the splendid underwater world of the Grand Aquarium and the rare mammals including giant pandas, red panda and golden snub-hosed monkey from the Chinese Province of Sichuan pavilion and the Giant Panda Adventure pavilion.  We then took a short cable car ride over Nam Long Shan to arrive at the Summit Area, where the distant scenery of Deep Water Bay and Aberdeen were equally impressive.  Up on the Summit, amusement rides and wildlife exhibitions scattered upon several platform levels.  We managed to see a number of wildlife exhibits before dusk, ranging from marine animals like jellyfish and sharks; freshwater fish like Yangtze sturgeons and Amazonian pirarucu; penguins, seals and walrus from the Arctic and Antarctic, etc.  We took the relatively new Ocean Express funicular back down to the Waterfront area, where we made a brief visit to the children friendly Whiskers Harbour and enjoyed the last moments of the Symbio, a show that featured a 360 degree water screen, lighting effects and fireworks at the Lagoon by the  park’s main entrance.

As we exited Ocean Park, we passed by the near completed MTR station.  After new features have been added in recent years, Ocean Park is soon to go through another phase of transformations: first will come the convenience of the subway station, and second the highly anticipated Tai Shue Wan Water World, projected to be completed in 2018, almost two decades since the last water park closed its doors.  Surviving through difficult economic times and competition from Hong Kong Disneyland Park, the ever-changing Ocean Park proved its resilience and ambitions.  In 2012, it received the Swedish Applause Award, a highly regarded international prize in the theme park industry.

3A Bathed in mysterious blue light, schools of silvery fishes swim in circles in a multi-storey glass cylindrical tank.  It is visually impressive and attracts all visitors’ attention at the Grand Aquarium designed by architect Frank Gehry.

2Red panda and giant panda at the Giant Panda Adventure pavilion.

3BThe cable car which links the Waterfront and Summit areas is an attraction by itself.  The relaxing 15 minutes ride offers spectacular views of Deep Water Bay and South China Sea.

4The Sea Jelly Spectacular pavilion display over 1000 sea jellies.

1Splendid jellyfish glows under the special lighting.

5Visitors walking through the glass tunnel while a rare Chinese sturgeon swims by in front.

6“I’m FINished with fins” – A smart slogan to request people to refrain from consuming shark fins.  Such education is crucial in Hong Kong where shark fin soup is still a luxurious delicacy in the banquet menu, even though there is increasing awareness among the younger generation.  Years ago documentary such as Sharkwater has already explained the devastating consequences to the marine ecosystem on earth as the result of massive demand and consumption of shark fins

7Close encounter with sharks at the Shark Mystique.  Sharks are one of those animals often got misunderstood.

8Amazonian pirarucu in the Rainforest Pavilion.  These giant freshwater fish can grow up to 4.5m long.

9Pacific walrus at the Polar Adventure pavilion.

10The South Pole Spectacular pavilion features king penguins, southern rockhopper penguins and gentoo penguins.

11Amusement rides are popular attractions at the Summit, including the “Hair Raiser”roller-coaster.

12Partial view of the Summit area.

13At Pacific Pier pavilion, a curious sea lion interacts with a spectator by following the visitor’s hand motions on the other side of the glass.

14Ap Lei Chau, Ap Lei Pai and Lamma Island at dusk.

15[left] a moon hanging above the Ocean Park Tower with slowly rotating viewing platform; and [right[ a seahorse decoration at the Ocean Express funicular station.

16“Whirly Bird” chair ride beyond the Ocean Express funicular station.

17Trampoline performance.

18[left] Cable cars bring visitors back to the Waterfront area from the Summit area in the evening when approaching closing time; [right] the light decoration of a small ferris wheel lit up in the evening at Whiskers Harbour.

19When the kids’ zone Whiskers Harbour left alone without kids.

20 A wooden horse of a carousel in Whiskers Harbour.

21 Water, fire, light and fireworks are the main components of the 360° water screen show Symbio.


DEITY GARDEN & FU GUI SWIMMING CLUB – Ad Hoc Space Making in Wa Fu Estate, Hong Kong

Built in mid 1960s at the southwest end of Hong Kong Island, Wah Fu Estate is one of the first public housing projects in Hong Kong based on the modern housing concept  which introduces elevators in high-rise apartments  and standard facilities such as toilet,  kitchen and balcony in each individually owned unit.  In recent years, housing officials have been busy coming up with renewal proposals aiming at increasing the capacity of Wah Fu as part of the solution in tackling the ongoing shortage of affordable housing in Hong Kong.

Situated at the southwest corner of Hong Kong Island, Wah Fu Estate enjoys a dramatic seaside setting, with Lamma Island clearly in sight across the water to the south.  Along the shore lies a strip of park called Waterfall Bay Park.  Throughout the years, the park has become a prominent communal feature for Wa Fu and the adjacent Wa Gui Estate.  In addition to the facilities built by the government, there are two interesting examples of ad hoc space making within the park.

About 30 years ago, a number of Wah Fu residents began to abandon and leave their traditional deity porcelain figures on a slope in the park; some of which belonged to their deceased family members. Those porcelain figures were mostly used for either decoration or for worshiping at home. As the numbers of porcelain figures began to accumulate in the park, someone had a brilliant idea of using cement to fix them onto the ground, preventing them from toppling during typhoons. Years after years, an outdoor garden of hundreds of deity porcelain figures was created and has been used by the community as a place of worship. The porcelain figures are all facing the sea. A small pavilion was later added next to the garden.  Today this original “dumpsite” has become an interesting deity garden used by the community as a place of worship and local attraction for tourists.

By the waterfront immediately adjacent to the deity garden stands a small shelter and a sign that says “Fu Gui” Swimming Club, another ad hoc organization established at an unofficial spot by the local  residents from Wah Fu and Wah Gui Estate.  Further into the sea, out on a coastal rock is a small outdoor shrine for worshiping Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea.  Accessible only via a series of stepping-stones, this once unofficial Tin Hau shrine has earned its official status from the government after bargaining and will stay permanently, according to the local residents.  Together with the deity garden, the Tin Hau shrine is a sacred place and is believed to protect the swimmers and the community. Worshiping at the shrine before swimming in the sea has become a ritual for the swimmers from the “Fu Gui” Swimming Club.

In contrast to the planned redevelopment of Graham Street in Central, residents living further away from the commercial core of the city seem to enjoy bigger flexibility in shaping their own neighborhood.

Image
Apartment blocks of Wah Fu Estate.
Image
Years after years, the abandoned porcelain deity figures have become a local garden and a place of worship in the community. With collaborative effort and creativity, the people created an unique identity to their own community.
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
On the day I visited the Deity Garden, I met the members from the Fu Gui Swimming Club who were preparing for the annual celebration and offering for the birthday of Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea, at the small shrine built on a rock. They happily shared with me stories behind the Tin Hau shine and the founding of the swimming club.  The shrine was built to protect the swimmers and community. The experienced swimmers acknowledge that the water between Wah Fu and the Lamma Island is a busy shipping corridor and they would not venture farther than they should.
Image
Image
Every year the swimmers celebrate the birthday of Tin Hau with rituals followed by an outdoor feast. Roast baby pork was first offered to Tin Hau at the shrine, and then shared among participants. Beer, pop and red wine were drank to wash down the roast park, chicken and other food that were offered to Tin Hau.
Image
Image


SHEK O (石澳) – Walking on the Dragon’s Back (龍脊), Hong Kong

For a city known for long working hours and bustling nightlife, hiking in one of its 24 country parks has quietly emerged as a popular alternative to shopping, karaoke, or watching a movie as a local weekend activity.

On a fine day in early April, I set out on a half day journey to hike in the southern part of Hong Kong Island.  Compared to the northern shoreline of Hong Kong Island where the downtown is located, the south is dotted with sandy beaches and hill forests.  I had a few hours’ time before sunset to do the hike, and I picked the Dragon’s Back hike in Shek O Country Park.  Recognized by some magazines as one of the best urban hikes in Asia, the Dragon’s Back Hike has become really popular among locals and tourists.  Just like many other hikes in Hong Kong, the trailhead of Dragon’s Back Hike can be easily accessed by public transportation.  In this case, the trailhead at To Tei Wan can be reached by frequent public buses from Shau Kei Wan MTR Station.

It took me less than three hours to hike from To Tei Wan to Big Wave Bay, and then another half an hour to walk from Big Wave Bay to Shek O Village.  After reaching the highest point of Dragon’s Back at 284m, the magnificent panoramic view of Shek O and the South China Sea was rewarding.  The descend journey to Bay Wave Bay was largely done in shaded paths.  By the time I reached the renounced surfing beach, the sun was about to set.  I stayed at Big Wave Bay and continued on to finish my journey at Shek O, a mere 20-minute walk from Big Wave Bay.  At Shek O, I climbed onto a rock hill adjacent to the beach to take in the scenery and watched the people enjoying themselves on the beach under the setting sun.

Image龍脊 – Dragon’s Back is a scenic trail along the ridges of folding mountainsImageNo wonder why the undulating hike along the Dragon’s Back ridge has been recognized by guidebooks and magazines as one of the best urban hikes in Asia.  The view toward Shek O Village and Beach, and the rocky islands of Tai Tau Chau and Ng Fan Chau is the biggest reward for climbing up to the Dragon’s Back.ImageImageImage
Paragliding in mid-air or surfing along the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan) – people choose different ways to enjoy themselves outside the city centre.ImageAerial view to the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan), a popular surfing spot in HK.ImageImageImageImageImage