EASTERN GATEWAY OF VICTORIA HARBOUR, Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), Hong Kong
As the tram turns into Shau Kei Wan Main Street East (筲箕灣東大街), all passengers are getting ready to hop off at Shau Kei Wan Tram Terminus, the easternmost tram stop in Hong Kong. Winding through Shau Kei Wan Main Street East where the original coastline used to be was like walking into an outdoor feast, with restaurants and eateries of all sorts lining on both sides. For some reasons, On Lee Noodle Soup (安利魚蛋粉麵) across the street from Tin Hau Temple (天后廟) is often the busiest. With so many options, it is often hard to pick a restaurant here. On the hill between Tin Hau Temple and Lei Yue Mun Park, thirteen blocks of 60-year social housing estate Ming Wah Dai Ha (明華大廈) awaits for their turn to be demolished and replaced by new highrise apartments. To the north, the foodie paradise Shau Kei Wan Main Street East abruptly ends as it reaches the overpass of Island Eastern Corridor. Beyond the elevated expressway, the view finally opens up to Victoria Harbour, where the reclaimed Aldrich Bay opens to Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter (筲箕灣避風塘), one of the several last remaining typhoon shelters in Hong Kong. Outside the causeway, Victoria Harbour enters a narrow channel to the east, with a width at times no more than 500m. Known as Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門), the sea channel signifies the eastern end of Victoria Harbour.
Despite fishery is no longer a dominant industry, the typhoon shelter is nonetheless full of boats. Right by the typhoon shelter, a historical temple known as Tam Kung Temple (譚公廟) reminds visitors that Shau Kei Wan was once a prosperous fishing village under the protection of sea deities such as Tam Kung (譚公) and Tin Hau (天后). That was exactly what the British found at Shau Kei Wan in 1841: storm shelter, fishing village, shrines of sea gods, and lots of fishing boats. Continuing east on Tam Kung Temple Road, a dozen or so small shipyards stand in between the sea and the road. These shops now serve mainly yachts for wealthy customers. Next to the row of shipyards, a monumental concrete shuttle lift tower appears out of nowhere against a lush green hill. The once essential fortification hill overlooking the harbour where guns were mounted and soldiers were stationed has been transformed into Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense (香港海防博物館). Preserving military structures dated back to 1887, the museum is perhaps the most ideal place in the city to learn about the defense of colonial Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour. At both Kowloon and Hong Kong side of Lei Yue Mun Channel, numerous defensive structures were erected at places including Devil’s Peak (魔鬼山) at Lei Yue Mun in Kowloon, the hilltop Lyemun Barracks (now Lei Yue Mun Park) overlooking Shau Kei Wan, and the former hill fortifications at Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense signified the crucial roles Lei Yue Mun played to protect Victoria Harbour. Out of all the military sites, perhaps the most interesting one is the former Torpedo Station (舊魚雷發射站). It was quite a shock to see an old torpedo on display in a vaulted cave right by the sea.
From the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan, we have loosely follow Victoria Harbour along the north shore of Hong Kong Island in the last few months. Next we will cross the harbour to the Kowloon side.
A DIP IN THE HARBOUR, Sai Wan Swimming Shed (西環泳棚), Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), Hong Kong
I first learnt about the swimming sheds from my father, who used to explore the waters of Sai Wan (西環) at the westernmost area of Hong Kong Island in his childhood. Back in 1950’s and 1960’s, sea swimming was not necessary a half day journey to a beach far away from the city. Hongkongers could instead hop to one of the ten or dozen of swimming sheds along Victoria Harbour after work for a quick dip in the sea. This swimming culture originates in 1911, when the first swimming shed was built at Tsat Tsz Mui (七姊妹) in North Point. It became a hit and soon expanded to seven sheds in the area. Taking the tram to the swimming sheds was the most popular pastime back then. A newspaper in 1929 estimated that each day there were about 5000 swimmers visiting the swimming sheds. These sheds were constructed of bamboo and timber, housing changing rooms, lockers and showers facilities, and a series of decks on stilts to enter the water. At its peak, some big establishments even had eateries, boat rentals, and arena for roller-skates. Back then, limited transportation options kept many Hongkongers away from more faraway beaches, while the water of Victoria Harbour was still relatively clean.
As beach facilities and public swimming pools became more accessible to common people, the degraded water quality of the Harbour, and most important of all, land reclamation and waterfront redevelopment projects have basically nailed the coffin for all swimming sheds in 1970’s.
In 1988, Chung Sing Swimming Shed (鐘聲泳棚) reopened at the western end of Kennedy Town, where lush green Mount Davis slopes down to the sea. This remnant from the past, with about 20 members, has become the last operating swimming shed in Hong Kong. The membership of the swimming shed is far from its heyday decades ago. But the relatively secluded Chung Sing Swimming Shed, which commonly known as Sai Wan Swimming Shed (西環泳棚) nowadays, has been offered a second life. Photos of the lovely sunset over tranquil water at Sai Wan Swimming Shed has become an Instagram sensation in the recent decade.
DAY 70 (3 OF 4) – BEAGLE CHANNEL & ISLA H, USHUAIA, TIERRA DEL FUEGO, ARGENTINA
Named after the ship captained by Fitz Roy who took Charles Darwin on board to study natural science around the globe, Beagle Channel was one of the three sail routes where ships could go between the Atlantic and Pacific before the opening of Panama Canal. The Beagle channel is narrow, but the water is crystal clear and full of marine wildlife. Doing a cruise in the Beagle Channel is a mandatory activity for all visitors to Ushuaia. There are many tour companies in town offering various boat rides up the Beagle Channel.
After the seafood lunch at Chiko, we took a boat tour with Tres Marias. With only 10 people on board, touring the Beagle Channel on a sailboat is a unique experience unlike most of the other cruise boats that can take dozens or even over a hundred of passengers at a time. While most boats would take tourists to see the sea lions and sea birds from afar, and reach as far as the Lighthouse Les Eclaireurs, we chose Tres Marias because it allowed passengers to physically land on Isla “H”, a small island in the channel within the Isla Bridges natural reserve.
The sea was calm today. After leaving our bags in the cabin, we climbed up to the deck and sat under the boom. The trip to Isla H took about an hour. After we arrived, we got about an hour to hike around the island with our guide. The island is largely covered with small plants that can survive the harsh Fuegian winds. On a stone beach, we passed by a shell mound left by the former canoe people, the nomadic Yamana. There were also various types of seaweed and seashells all over. On the high point of the island, our guide led us to a colony of rock cormorants nesting on the cliff.
After Isla H, Tres Marias took us to a colony of sea lions on a small island. Waves were higher on our way back with water splashing onto the deck every so often. Since we were sitting at the front of the boat, we both got soaking wet as if exposed to a cold shower. Overall it was a pleasant experience to sail in the Beagle Channel. It was cold, wet, but the scenery and the wildlife made it worthwhile.
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Read more on Ushuaia in 2013 South America
Day 69.1 – Magellan Straight
Day 69.2 – Arrival, Ushuaia
Day 69.3 – Fuegian Grill, Ushuaia
Day 70.1 – Museo Maritimo, Ushuaia
Day 70.2 – Chiko Restaurant, Ushuaia
Day 70.3 – Beagle Channel & Isla H
Day 70.4 – Kalma Resto, Ushuaia
Day 71.1 – Pier, Ushuaia
Day 71.2 – Fuegian Trees, near Estancia Harberton
Day 71.3 – Penguins, Martillo Island
Day 71.4 – Estancia Harberton
Day 71.5 – Kaupe Restaurant, Ushuaia
Day 72.1 – Post Office, Isla Redonda, Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
Day 72.2 – Senda Costera & Bahia Lapataia, Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
Day 73 – Stranded in Ushuaia Airport
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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought