Hong Kong has over 200 outlying islands, and only a handful are inhabited. North of Sai Kung Peninsula (西貢), at the intersection of Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) and Long Harbour (大灘海), the small Grass Island or Tap Mun (塔門) lies across the South Channel from Ko Lau Wan (高流灣) Village in northeast Sai Kung. At its peak, about 2000 inhabitants lived on the Grass Island. They were mainly farmers or fishermen. Today, only about 100 residents stay on the Grass Island, mainly as shopper or restaurant keepers to serve the influx of tourists during weekends and holiday, when the island would turn into a large camp ground for leisure seekers from all around the city. Simple seafood eateries, a ferry pier, a Tin Hau Temple, an abandoned school, unique rock formations, old village homes, and a few stores catered for weekend tourists, Grass Island is a getaway destination for anyone who is willing to venture this far out from the city.
From Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung, we took a local ferry out to the Long Harbour (赤徑海) heading towards Grass Island.
Other than a newer cluster of buildings built in 1964 with a charity aid from New Zealand, most village homes on the Grass Island are located near the pier.
Near the pier, we stopped by a simple eatery for lunch. The local squid is really fresh and delicious.
Sea urchin fried rice is a popular dish in many fishing villages in Hong Kong.
We also ordered the fresh catch-of-the-day: two small sea bream caught in the morning.
A few dragon boats were lying around a small waterfront area.
During Tuen Ng Festival, there would be a dragon boat race at the Grass Island.
A small trail off the main street of the Grass Island led us to a popular open area above the eastern shore of the island. The space is crowded with camping tents, kite-playing visitors and feral cattle.
The sloped open lawn seemed had endured heavy foot traffic throughout the years. The silhouette of the iconic Sharp Peak on the Sai Kung mainland provided the best backdrop for Grass Island. In a clear day, the water should have been blue and Sharp Peak lush green.
From the hilltop overlooking the open lawn, we followed a off the beaten trail that winded through dense woods for half an hour and eventually arrived at the rocky beach of Che Wan (車灣). This was probably the most difficult hike on the island. Our aim was to seek for a seaside rock called the Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋).
The Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋) is one of Grass Island most famous natural feature. It is frequented by hikers as well as visitors who come for fishing.
Back to the top of the lawn, we followed another footpath down the east coast of the island. Along the path, some visitors set up tents and picnic areas, some went for fishing at the rock beaches, some braved the cliffs for rock climbing, some continued to fly their kites on the windy slopes. The Grass Island is truly a small leisure paradise for all.
Another well known rock feature was the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石). Two similar stone cubes, one sitting on top of the other, resemble the Chinese character of the surname “Lui”.
Looking at the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石) from afar, it was hard to imagine how the stacking rocks were formed in the first place.
The entire day was cool and grey while we were on the Grass Island. The wind was a little strong, and so as the waves.
Ko Lau Wan(高流灣) at Sai Kung Peninsula seemed pretty close from the southern tip of the Grass Island. The sea was a little rough in between, in the 400m wide channel of Tap Mun Mouth (塔門口).
The utilitarian New Village of Tap Mun was erected in 1964 by a charity from New Zealand. The houses are still occupied today.
After the New Village, we were getting close to the pier again.
We could see the incoming ferry while on our way walking to the pier.
As we boarded the ferry, the sea and the fish farming areas seemed calm and relaxing.
After half a day on the small and remote Grass Island, it was time for us to return to Wong Shek Ferry Pier in Sai Kung.
On the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) at a place called Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) in the area of Lam Tsuen (林村), 148 hectare of organic farms, botanical gardens and mature forests terracing up to the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) reveal over half a century of efforts by the Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場). Established in 1956, Kadoorie Farm has always stood at the forefront of Hong Kong’s agriculture, experimenting on new techniques and providing agricultural aid to farmers in need of support. In 1951, the Kadoorie brothers (Horace and Lawrence) established the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) in an attempt to help the sudden influx of Mainland farmers into Hong Kong during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940’s. They picked Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) near Lam Tsuen (林村) to establish an agricultural facility engaging in experiments on profitable and effecting farming and animal breeding, and training the new farmers with their developed techniques. Today, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (嘉道理農場暨植物園) diversifies their effort to promote organic farming, sustainable living, nature conservation and education. They also run extensive rehabilitation program for wild animals in Hong Kong.
Linked by 9 km of roads and 8 km of trails, various highlights of the Kadoorie Farm spread over the slope of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山).
One of the big highlights at the lower section of Kadoorie Farm is the “Eco Garden” (生機園), exhibiting different types of self sufficient and compact farming in a community scale.
The garden presents natural and organic ways to maintain soil’s nutrients and insect control, and the best combination of vegetables for each season.
Other than its freshness and taste, the organic vegetables such as the purple cabbages are also beautiful.
Spherical bird scarers are hung over a cluster of rainbow chards in the Eco Garden.
A wavy fence separates the Eco Garden with the other terraced farms and botanic gardens.
Other than organic farming, more innovative planting techniques are also examined at the Eco Garden. Some farming techniques that requires less space or soil may suit urban living well.
At the Piers Jacobs Wildlife Sanctuary, native mammals such as a Barking Deer or Muntjac (麂) have been rescued as an orphan and raised in the sanctuary.
The wild boar is also another rescued orphan at the sanctuary. Both wild boars and barking deer can be found in the forests in and around Kadoorie Farm.
In the old days, pig breeding was an important work at the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA). Today a few Da Hua Bai Pigs (大花白豬) are kept at the farm for educational purposes.
Amphibians and reptiles are both vulnerable groups of wildlife in Hong Kong due to habitat loss. Kadoorie Farm has a few of the native species at the Amphibian and Reptile House and Reptile Garden.
Interesting pavilions and artworks are all over the farm, including a dragon boat pigeon house.
And also the fish mosaic at the Cascade Garden near the Chicken House.
As the farm terraces up the hillside of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), the view to the surrounding landscape becomes more spectacular.
The Butterfly Path winds up the hill through dense forests and open terraces, following part of an old trail which led the locals up the hill of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) for a religious blessing.
In order to preserve the natural feel, there is minimal modern safety infrastructure provided at the Butterfly Path.
9 km of roads circulate up and down the Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), going through some densely forested areas, the habitat for some native species in Hong Kong, such as the barking deer.
… and the wild boar.
At 550m above sea level, the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is the highest point in Kadoorie Farm. For centuries, farmers came up to the summit to seek blessings from the goddess of Kwun Yum.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) allows visitors to have fine view of the New Territories and even Shenzhen on a fine and clear day.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is at 1812 ft, or 550 m.
Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is sandwiched between Tai To Yan (大刀屻) to the north and Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) to the south.
Heading downhill, visitors can either take a shuttle bus or walk down a winding road.
Along the downhill road, sounds of monkeys can often be heard. Occasionally visitors may spot monkeys jumping from one tree to another.
Known as the “backyard” of Hong Kong, Nam Sang Wai (南生圍) is an area of tranquil wetlands north of Yuen Long (元朗). The “Wai” in “Nam Sang Wai” refers to “gei wai” (基圍), an old method mainly for shrimp culture introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940’s. Bounded by man made embankments, gei wai is a shallow pool in a mangrove wetland with 10 to 30 cm of water collected from the Deep Bay (后海灣). The shrimp farmer would use a water gate to control the amount of incoming water from Deep Bay. The sea water would also bring in juvenile fish and shrimps. The shrimps would then feed on the organic matters from the mangroves. Gei wai shrimps (基圍蝦), usually steamed, has became a local delicacy throughout the years. The gei wai method has been mostly phased out nowadays. The former gei wai pools and fish ponds of Nam Sang Wai have became a semi-manmade wetland where visitors enjoy the serene waterways, reed clusters and pockets of grasslands, and learn more the wetland ecosystem. It also offers a network of pleasant footpaths winding through waterways and pools, providing the perfect venue for an afternoon stroll, wedding photos, and even filming set for movies, TV shows and music videos.
The passenger boat at Shan Pui River (山貝河) is the last public passenger boat service in Hong Kong operated entirely by hand.
The first impression of Nam Sang Wai for most visitors is its overwhelming serenity of water networks.
The footpaths at Nam Sang Wai are lined with beautiful Red Gum Trees (赤桉樹).
Some old houses in Nam Sang Wai are abandoned, and are sometimes used for filming local movies.
The boardwalk by the old fish ponds are popular spots for photos.
The large lawn at Nam Sang Wai is equally popular for couples, families and pets to hang out.
Nam Sang Wai is a hotspot for both migrating birds and local waterfowls.
Beyond Shan Pui River (山貝河), the urban and industrial developments of Yuan Long seem like they may one day encroach into the wetland territories.
The peaceful water of Nam Sang Wai remains like a flawless mirror.
As a natural system to purify the surface runoff of the city, wetlands are essential in the entire water cycle of the city.
As villagers move out of the rural areas, some old stores and houses in Nam Sang Wai are gradually crumbling into ruins.
A handful of occupied houses remain in Nam Sang Wai.
Though most of them are in need of restoration.
Like pets in other rural areas of Hong Kong, the cats and dogs in Nam Sang Wai also lead peaceful lives.
A number of village homes built on stilts can be founded along Shan Pui River (山貝河).
Such serene and picturesque setting are great for photography and sketches.
After a long and relaxing stroll in Nam Sang Wai, the small man-powered boat at Nam Sang Wai Pier is always around to bring visitors back to the city’s side.
Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), which literally means “horse excrement island”, is a tidal island off a traditional fishing village Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) at the northeastern New Territories near Tai Po (大埔). Facing the Tolo Channel opposite from the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖), Ma Shi Chau belongs to the UNESCO Geopark network in Hong Kong. The remote tidal island is famous for its unique rock formation and outcropped strata dated back to the Permian Period (280 million years ago).
Ma Shi Chau is accessible via Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡). A short hike on known as Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail will bring visitors to walk along the southeast coast of the island. Along the coastal areas, unique and colourful rock formations are visible everywhere. Millions of years ago, Ma Shi Chau was a basin in which surrounding waters continuously to deposit sediments such as sand and gravel. Over the years as water level changed and so as the kinds of sediments accumulated. Sedimentary rocks were formed after the process of lithification. Vaults and folds are also visible on Ma Shi Chau as tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities transformed the rock surface. Like many parts of Hong Kong, granite is also present at Ma Shi Chau as a result of magma intrusion during the Jurassic Period. Other than rocks, views of the Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) to the north, and the new town of Ma On Shan to the southeast across the Tolo Harbour (吐露港) are equally impressive.
Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) is a small fishing village inhabited mainly by former boat people (fishermen families who lived on their boats in typhoon shelter).
From Sam Mun Tsai, a short walk brought me up to a hill dotted with graves. On the high point, fish farming nets in the waters of Plover Cove.
The trail continued to wind through the ridge of a hill dotted with graves.
The trail then went downhill to the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡), a natural sand bar that originally would be submerged in water during during high tide. Over the years, villagers put boulders and sediments on the sand bar, so that it would be exposed above water even during high tide.
Today, the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is a convenient venue for a leisure stroll and water activities such as sea kayaking.
The Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is also the gateway to the Ma Shi Chau Special Area, part of the Hong Kong Geopark.
On Ma Shi Chau Island, there is a short trail called Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail (馬屎洲自然教育徑) bringing visitors to a number of coastal woods and rock beaches. Giant Golden Orb Weaver, one of the largest kinds of spiders in the world, are quite common in the woods. Some of these are about the size of a human palm.
Visitors are usually fascinated by the rock formations when arriving at the first open coastal area.
Vaults and folds are visible at Ma Shi Chau due to prehistoric tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities.
Many of the outcropped strata and rock formations are colourful and eye catching.
Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.
Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.
Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.
To the northeast of Ma Shi Chau across the Plover Cove (船灣海), the 2km dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) is only a few hundred metres away.
To the southeast across Tolo Harbour (吐露港), the new residential developments below Ma On Shan (馬鞍山) look like a bunch of toy blocks.
Construction of the new town of Ma On Shan began in 1980s, including private residential developments and public housing estates.
Fishermen may still test their luck in the Tolo Harbour.
In late afternoon, Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) north of Ma Shi Chau looks gorgeous.
Under the shadow of Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺), the tiny island of Yeung Chau and the fish farms in the Plover Cove (船灣海) look like a peaceful picture.
Just a stone throw away from Lau Fau Shan, to the north of Tin Shui Wai New Town (天水圍) stands the 61-hectare Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園). Created as an ecological mitigation area to compensate for the loss of wetland in the new town construction, the Wetland Park is doubled as a tourist attraction with facilities including recreated wetland reserve for waterbirds and other wildlife, boardwalk circuits over the mudflats to offer a close encounter with the wetland habitats, and a visitor centre hosting exhibitions on wetland’s biodiversity.
Known as the “Succession Walk”, an elevated winding boardwalk takes visitors out to the water pond to closely appreciate various types of aquatic plants.
Different types of waterlilies are some of the highlights of “Succession Walk”.
At “Wetland at Work”, visitors can learn more about the crops produced from wetlands, such as the rice from rice paddies.
Following the boardwalk deeper into the park, visitor arrives at the “Mangrove Boardwalk”.
At “Mangrove Boardwalk”, there is a good chance to have close encounter with some of the inhabitants of the wetland mudflats, such as the Bluespotted Mudskipper and Common Mudskipper.
Able to breathe through their skin, these amphibious fish are quite active on the mud, actively skipping around to defend their territories. Staying in mud burrows allow them to keep moist and maintain their body temperature.
Another type of common inhabitant at the mudflats is the Fiddler Crab. The male uses its small claw to feed and the big claw to defend.
Little Egret are common in Hong Kong, and can be seen in all seasons at the Wetland Park.
The boardwalk of Wildside Walk takes visitors to the far end of the park, where a few types of tranquil pools await both the visitors and dragonflies.
At some pools, algae completely covers the water like a soft green carpet.
The pattern on the algae looks like an abstract painting.
After a loop of the wetland reserve, one can return to the modernist Visitor Centre for further information. The building is one of the few in Hong Kong extensively using exposed architectural concrete.
The lobby where visitors arrive is always busy.
One of the exhibit highlights is Pui Pui, a Salt Water Crocodile caught at Shan Pui River in 2003 when it was a juvenile. It is believes that Pui Pui was an abandoned illegal pet from the area that had grown too big to handle. Hong Kong Wetland Park became Pui Pui’s permanent home in 2006.
Other wetland wildlife on display includes freshwater fish.
Looking out of the Visitor Centre, one can fully appreciate the extent of the wetland reserve, a common type of ecosystem that once dominated large areas of Northern New Territories.
The modernist concrete architecture matches well with the peaceful landscape of the wetlands.
It is pleasant to appreciate the serene wetlands from the upper level of the Visitor Centre before leaving.
For 700 years, oysters have been farmed in the water of Deep Bay/ Shenzhen Bay (后海灣) near the sleepy village of Lau Fau Shan (流浮山). Situated in the Pearl River Estuary where fresh water constantly enters the bay, Deep Bay/ Shenzhen Bay is a perfect site for oyster farming. Today, Lau Fau Shan is the last remaining site in Hong Kong that oyster cultivation still exists. Generations of oysters and oyster sauce consumption have put these molluscs an important part of cultural heritage of, not just Lau Fau Shan villagers, but Hong Kong citizens in general. In fact, the oyster species cultivated in Lau Fau Shan is known as Crassostrea hongkongensis, which is named after the city itself. Oyster farming has gone through a gradual decline since 1980’s, partly due to climate change, ocean acidification and deterioration of local water quality, and partly due to stronger competition of foreign oysters in the local market in recent years. Apart from oysters, Lau Fau Shan is also best known for its seafood restaurants and the romantic sunset over the tidal flats. Standing by the waterfront, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道) or Shenzhen Bay Bridge and the myriad of highrise constructions over at the Shenzhen side stretch along the horizon, while on the Deep Bay’s southern shore in the sleepy village of Lau Fau Shan, time seems to have stood still in the past few decades.
Coming all the way to the northwest corner of Hong Kong, we entered the village of Lau Fau Shan and immediately stopped by a small eatery by the main street. Trying the fried or grilled oyster at one of the several simple eateries offers a pleasant alternative to the more upscale seafood restaurants along Lau Fau Shan Main Street.
The special attraction of Lau Fau Shan is indisputably the oysters.
Similar to Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun, Lau Fau Shan is also well known of its seafood restaurants.
Some seafood restaurants look quite traditional and casual.
There are a few shops in Lau Fau Shan specialized in making oyster sauce. Inevitably oyster sauce has became one of the most popular souvenir of the village.
Along the main street, two workers were busy opening the harvested oysters for sale.
Along the main street, different types of dried seafood were sold.
Near the waterfront, containers and air tubes for live seafood lie all over a temporary covered area.
The waterfront of Lau Fau Shan was covered with oyster shells.
Many boats just lay on mud flats during low tide.
At the waterfront, the shallow water over the mud flats looked like a peaceful mirror. Beyond the Deep Bay stood the silhouette of another metropolis of Southern China, Shenzhen.
From a fishing village before 1980 to today’s metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants, the emergence of Shenzhen is a miracle to many.
While we took pictures of mud flats and Deep Bay, a cyclist emerged from nowhere and stopped for a moment at the waterfront. Beyond lay the 5.5km Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道), or the Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋) linking the two cities at the Deep Bay since 2007.
The sun finally appeared behind the clouds, casting an orange tint to the drying seafood by the shore.
In late afternoon, more boats returned from Deep Bay. Some boats arrived at the pier and offloaded passengers who might have spent the entire day fishing in the bay.
The silhouette of Hong Kong Shenzhen Western Corridor (深港西部通道) or Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋) stood out along the western horizon under the late afternoon sun.
Soon enough, the sun made its daily routine down to the horizon beyond the bridge.
As the sun lowered to the horizon, the tide had also quietly returned to the waterfront of Lau Fau Shan.
The moon was already up above Lau Fau Shan. Most tourists had left except a few passionate photographers refusing to leave the waterfront despite the sun was fading fast.
As we left the waterfront of Lau Fau Shan, the lights from the opposite shore began to lit up one by one.
Just twenty minutes walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Long Ke Wan is one of the favorite beaches in Hong Kong for many. Facing east to Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) along with the four beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣), Long Ke Wan’s (浪茄灣) hexagonal stone columns, white and powdery sand and unpolluted sea water make it a popular destination for beachgoers who make the effort to the eastern edge of Sai Kung Peninsula. It is possible to reach Long Ke Wan from two different directions, both involve some degree of hiking. The easiest is to hop on a taxi from Sai Kung town centre to the East Dam of High Island Reservoir, from there it is only a 20 minutes walk to the beach. The other option is to take a village bus from Sai Kung town centre to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭). From the pavilion, it is a two-hour scenic hike to Long Ke Wan. This walk covers part of the Section 2 of MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), from Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) to Long Ke Wan. Atop Sai Wan Shan, the picturesque beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) down below with the mighty Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) as backdrop is truly one of the most iconic panoramas of Hong Kong’s natural beauty.
Much of coastal area from Long Ke Wan and High Island Reservoir East Dam all the way to the outlying islands south of the Sai Kung Peninsula are covered with polygonal stone columns.
These surreal stone formations are evidences from an active volcanic era 140 million years ago. The 20-minute walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Long Ke Wan offers great opportunity to see the coastal rock formations.
Flanked both sides by lush green slopes and back against Tuk Ngu Shan (獨孤山), Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) is a protected bay opened southeastwards to the South China Sea.
The beach of Long Ke Wan is decent in size, with fine sand and crystal clear water.
Adjacent to Long Ke Wan, the coastal scenery of rock formations and sea caves are equally impressive.
Many visitors come to the area by yachts or hired boats.
At the remote Long Ke Wan, there is no cafe or changing rooms. All there is are natural scenery of a beautiful beach.
Many visitors set up tents on the sand. There is also a popular camp site at the back of the beach.
Unlike the beaches of Big Wave Bay where the waves can become quite strong, Long Ke is usually calmer.
During the summer months, the beach is very popular among young people.
Tidal pools can be found at the rocky areas at the side of beach.
A visitor comes to test his luck at the tidal pool.
Walking north from Long Ke Wan to Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) along the MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), hikers can have another magnificent overview of Long Ke Wan from above.
On Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the view of High Island Reservoir and the outlying islands south of Sai Kung Peninsula makes one forget this is Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated city in the world.
Looking north from the top of Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the scenery of Big Wave Bay beaches (大浪灣) and Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) is the icon of Hong Kong’s wilderness.
The trail then goes downhill from Sai Wan Shan to Chui Tung Au (吹筒坳), then winds along the north edge of High Island Reservoir towards Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).
From the trail, visitors can see the West Dam of High Island Reservoir from distance.
The turquoise and green colours of High Island Reservoir always look refreshing.
From Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), there is infrequent village buses return to the pier of Sai Kung town.