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.
Completed in 1978, High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) is the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of volume. Situated at the southeastern end of Sai Kung Peninsula, High Island Reservoir is surrounded by some of the city’s most scenic country parks and pristine beaches. Designated as an UNESCO geopark, the coastal areas near the East Dam (東壩) of the High Island Reservoir is filled with hexagonal volcanic columns unseen anywhere else in Hong Kong. 140 million years ago, catastrophic volcanic eruption covered much of the area in layers of tuff. The tuff cooled throughout time and gradually solidified to form rock. The hexagonal columns were formed from contraction during the cooling. Today, remnants from the highly active volcanic era become one of the most spectacular natural sights in the city. Equally impressive at the East Dam are the concrete dolosse blocks at one side of the Dam along the coast. Each dolos block weights up to 20 tons. They are used as wave breakers to protect the dam against the rough sea. To complete the beautiful picture, there are also sea caves and stack islands dotted around the coast, and the azure sky and boundless South China Sea.
From Sai Kung Town, the taxi ride to the East Dam, the furthest point of High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), takes about 45 minutes.
The spectacular High Island Reservoir East Dam separates the buffer lake of the reservoir and the boundless South China Sea. Known as Po Pin Chau (破邊洲), the magnificent stack island outside of the East Dam is famous for its tall volcanic columns on one side of its cliff.
The concrete East Dam structure that separates the two sides of blue water is really photogenic.
The dolosse blocks pile up on the seaward side of the East Dam, creating a chaotic yet beautiful barrier. Walking on the dam, we could hear the waves but weren’t be able to find an open view of the sea unless we climbed on the dolosse blocks.
Once we climbed on the dolosse blocks, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the powerful waves hitting against the coastal volcanic hexagonal columns.
We climbed down the dam, sat on one of the step and had a quick picnic lunch.
Looking inland, we could see the inner East Dam that separating the buffer pool with the main reservoir above. The massive dam structure looked to us as if merged with the adjacent natural landscape.
Sea caves are common features near the East Dam.
At the East Dam, natural volcanic hexagonal columns appear side by side with the manmade dolosse blocks.
To explore a bit of the surrounding coastal landscape, we decided to walk further into the trail heading to Fa Shan (花山) and Pak Lap (白臘). The trail was not very well defined, but we managed to find our way in the hill of shrubs reaching waist height.
Our goal was to at least to have a closer look at the cliff of volcanic columns of the stack island of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).
The coastal landscape in the area was truly spectacular. Some like to explore the area by sea kayaking.
Passing by the stone beach of Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘), we saw a few hikers watching the powerful waves.
Some visitors didn’t mind to get wet and chose to explore by boat.
Finally, we reached the closest lookout overlooking the magnificent Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).
The stone columns of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) appeared like a gigantic church organ.
We then found our way down to the Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) to get a even closer look and even touch of the volcanic columns.
All cliff sides at Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) were covered with stone columns.
After the hike out to Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) and Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣), it was already late afternoon by the time we returned to the East Dam.
Instead of calling a taxi, we decided to walk back out to the main road where we could take a public bus. The route led us to go along a little over half the perimeter of High Island Reservoir and took about two hours.
Beyond the haze we could see the Sharp Peak or Nam She Tsim (蚺蛇尖) in a distance, a popular challenge for hikers in Hong Kong.
Soon the full moon was up over the tranquil water of High Island Reservoir.
The scenery of High Island Reservoir was serene and calm.
We enjoyed a few minutes of perfect sunset when we reached the West Dam (西壩). Beyond the West Dam was Port Shelter Sea (牛尾海) and a series of islands. The closest island was Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲).
As the sun gradually set, we picked up our pace of walking. Known as the Maclehose Trail Section 1, the trail surrounding High Island Reservoir was long but relative flat and easy. By the time we reached the bus stop at Tai Mong Tsai Road it was almost dark.
At the northeast extent of the New Territories where Mainland China is just a stone throw away, vacant houses and abandoned farmlands reveal a forgotten past of the rural communities situate at what is now known as the Plover Cove Country Park (船灣郊野公園) and Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園). One of the largest villages in the area is Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩), a famous Hakka village dated back to 400 years ago. At its peak, Lai Chi Wo had more than 200 houses and over a thousand inhabitants. As the city rapidly urbanized, most residents of Lai Chi Wo either moved to urban areas, or overseas. Today many houses in the village had been vacant for years. Behind the rusty gates, broken windows and crumbling walls, rotting furniture and old housewares lay on the dusty floor. Yet in recent year or two, some people from the city turned to farming. They move to Lai Chi Wo and re-cultivate some of the abandoned farmlands.
Despite situated far from the city at the northeast border of Hong Kong, we didn’t particularly start our hike early. By the time we reached Wu Kau Tang Village (烏蛟騰), it was already early afternoon. From Wu Kau Tang, there were a number of hiking trails heading into Plover Cove Country Park. We headed east to another village, Sam A Village (三椏村), right by the coast of Yan Chau Tong or Double Haven Marine Park. Like most villages in the area, Sam A has passed its prime long ago. Today, only a few villagers return to Sam A during weekends to run their restaurants and shops serving hikers and tourists. At Sam A, we stopped by Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) for lunch. Only open in weekends, Yuan Hing serves good Hakka dishes and tofu dessert. The restaurant was fully packed, and a number of dishes were already sold out when we got there.
Along the way, we passed by stone beaches and mangrove groves of the Yan Chau Tong Marine Park. Famed for its tranquil scenery and interesting rock formations, the coastal landscape of Yan Chau Tong were created by a series of prehistoric volcanic eruptions. Protected from the open sea by several islands at the outer edge of the bay, the water of Yan Chau Tong is often calm. We reached the village of Lai Chi Woo at around 4pm. Old trees, dense mangroves and giant vines greeted our arrival. At the main plaza, a huge banyan tree stood like a large umbrella. A few elderly villagers were cleaning up a vending stall in front of a former primary school building. After most tourists left with the 3:30pm boat, Lai Chi Woo returned to its half-abandoned state of serenity. We wandered for a while, and asked around for the way going to Luk Keng (鹿頸), where we could take a minibus getting back to the city. It was getting dark and we still had another 2.5 hour of hiking ahead.
We quickly confirmed the route with a villager and headed out of Lai Chi Woo. Along the way to Luk Keng, we passed by a few more ghost villages until we reached a fork path where the water of Starling Inlet separated Hong Kong and Shenzhen of China. A dessert and snack vendor was about to close his stall Old San Tofu Dessert. We ordered a bowl of dessert tofu and sat by the waterfront to finish it. From then on, it was about 45 minute walk along the waterfront to the village of Luk Keng. As it grew darker, the buildings and port across the water in Shenzhen looked bright and busy. We finally reached Luk Keng before 7pm. In the dark, we were surprised seeing a very long queue at the micro-bus station. We ended up waiting for over an hour to board the last bus of the night heading to Fanling Station.
The village of Wu Kau Tang (烏蛟騰) served as a trail-head for a number of hiking routes.
Mangrove sprouted from cracks at the coast of Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).
Interesting coastal rocks at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).
We reached Sam A Village (三椏村) where we sat down for lunch at Yuan Hing Restaurant (源興食店) .
Mangrove groves at Yan Chau Tong Marine Park (印洲塘海岸公園).
Ancient trees greeted our arrival at Lai Chi Woo (荔枝窩).
The old giant vines were fenced off from the main path.
The former primary school at Lai Chi Woo.
The prominent banyan tree at the main village plaza of Lai Chi Woo.
Traditional lanterns were hung on the branches of the old banyan tree.
Illustration of Lai Chi Woo with its rows of houses backed by a fungshui forest. A fengshui forest was believed to be a natural protection from outer harms.
Some of the abandoned houses are now occupied once again.
Farming returned to Lai Chi Woo once again.
We left Lai Chi Woo through the west gate.
Abandoned houses were common sights on our way to Luk Keng.
The delicious tofu dessert at Old San vendor.
Across Starling Inlet the skyline of East Shenzhen was clearly visible.
At last we arrived at Luk Keng at almost 7pm.
We almost forgot Hong Kong still has a considerable amount of arable land suitable for farming until we visited Ma Po Po (馬寶寶), the community farm at Ma Shi Po Village (馬屎埔) in Fanling (粉嶺). In recent months, the government’s proposal to develop rural areas and farming villages into high dense residential communities in Northeast North Territories has became a controversial topic in the city.
Hanging on the metal gate of Ma Po Po Community Farmer’s Market is a handmade signage. Ma Po Po literally means “Baby Horse”. The founders of the farmer’s market hope that everyone would treat the gradually disappearing farmland with care and love as if their baby.
Developing the north region of New Territories is a controversial topic in recent months. Many farmers, including the villagers at Ma Po Po, are facing a real risk of eviction. The Hong Kong government favors urban development over agriculture, and doesn’t seem to bother finding a balanced solution that encourages the coexistence of farming and urban development.
Wall mural depicting the snacks that once sold at this village’s grocery store. The elderly shop owner is still living in this house, but his tiny shop couldn’t stand the contest with the chain supermarkets outside the village.
Simple wall murals are common in Ma Shi Po depicting original farming scenes. Since the residential towers were built across the street from the village, sunlight exposure to certain farmlands is greatly affected. Some owners switch to growing fruit trees instead.
Raising poultry was once part of the village life. However, we were told that in recent years the government has imposed heavy restrictions on raising poultry. Today, free range chickens and ducks can only be seen on wall murals captured by the young artists.
The guide presented a bucket of soy pulp collected from a tofu shops nearby. Many types of organic waste are being collected from restaurants and markets in nearby neighborhoods to support organic farming. Ma Po Po aims to demonstrate a perfect cycle of co-existence among organic farmers, restaurants and the local communities. Not only does their collection/compost/farming cycle create some of the best produce in the city, it also indicates a strategy that partially alleviates the burden of organic waste.
The last part of the tour was to demonstrate about how the collected organic waste is turned into organic fertilizer. Removing the plastic wrap, our guide showed us a compost mount, in which dry leaves and branches were mixed with small amount of organic waste such as fish bones.
Many original farmlands and houses have been vacant or sold to large developers. Large developers then come and fence off the properties under their control. After months of neglect these lands would soon turn into overgrown wastelands. Some people have proposed to rent the abandoned farmlands from the developers while the land was left idling. Their proposals were rejected by the developers.
While exiting Ma Shi Po, we could clearly see the overwhelming residential development just across the street. Without character, memories, and living traditions, these highrise developments are efficient machines to house a population made up mainly with people from elsewhere in the city.
We brought back lots of fresh vegetables from Ma Po Po. They were definitely the sweetest vegetables we’ve ever had in recent months. Now, a visit to Ma Po Po Farmer’s Market has become our weekly ritual. People who live in the Fanling area are lucky to live so close to this terrific organic farm. We believe in balanced development. The coexistence of Ma Po Po and the surrounding neighborhoods shows us a good example of what a sustainable future may look like for generations to come.