SHARP PEAK (蚺蛇尖), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong
One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation. At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers. The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong. At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination. During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak. Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.
Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).
After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began. A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.
Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.
Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.
The trail was exposed with hardly any shade. Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.
It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.
Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.
There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.
After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak. The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.
From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.
Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).
Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣). The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.
The descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.
The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.
Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).
The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.
Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山), a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.
After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.
The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.
Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.
There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.
Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.
The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.
Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).
At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.
Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.
Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most. The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.
In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus. We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.
CLEAR WATER AND SEAFOOD COVE, Clear Water Bay (清水灣) and Po Toi O (布袋澳), Hong Kong
South of Sai Kung and east of Tseung Kwan O, the lush green Clear Water Bay Peninsula (清水灣半島) separates Junk Bay (將軍澳) and Port Shelter (牛尾海). With its natural and relaxed setting, uncounted opportunities for outdoor activities, and a number of low dense residential neighborhoods, Clear Water Bay (清水灣) is popular among expats and anyone who loves nature. Clear Water Bay (清水灣)‘s two beaches, High Junk Peak (釣魚翁) country trail, the cove of Po Toi O, sleepy villages and the surrounding turquoise water make it a great alternative for outdoor adventures to the more popular Sai Kung. With just a bus ride away from Kowloon, Clear Water Bay offers the opportunity for a quick dose of nature for Hong Kong’s city dwellers. It was rather late by the time I get off the bus at the second beach of Clear Water Bay. I chose to enter the High Junk Peak country trail at Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤) and do a short hike to the fishing village of Po Toi O (布袋澳).
I entered Clear Water Bay’s High Junk Peak Country Trail at the Tai O Mun Road (大坳門路) entrance. The Chinese name of High Junk Peak is 釣魚翁, which means “Fisherman” or a Common Kingfisher (釣魚翁鳥). In reference to the Kingfisher bird, a sculpture is erected at the trail entrance.
On the slope of Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤), a visitor was having fun with his remote controlled mini-plane against the scenic backdrop of Clear Water Bay.
To the west of Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤) is South East New Territories Landfill (新界東南堆填區) and the new residential developments at Lohas Park (日出康城) and Tseung Kwan O (將軍澳). Completed in 1993, the South East New Territories Landfill is pretty much filled up. Waste disposal and running out of landfills is one of the city’s toughest and most urgent issues needed to resolve.
Looking east, the view opened up to Clear Water Bay Club and Steep Island beyond.
Atop the hill above Po Toi O lies the golf course of Clear Water Bay Country Club.
Eastwards beyond Clear Water Bay stand a number of islands close to the shore. Beyond that is the vast open sea until Taiwan.
Because of There are many fish farms in the area.
In a distance, the mighty High Junk Peak (釣魚翁) stands proudly over Clear Water Bay. It is one of the three treacherous Peaks (the others are Sai Kung’s Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) and Tuen Mun’s Castle Peak (青山). It is also considered to be one of the three sharp peaks of Sai Kung, with the other two being Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) and Tai Yue Ngam Teng (睇魚岩頂).
From above, the tranquil Po Toi O (布袋澳) is a lovely fishing village. Referring to its physical appearance, Po Toi O’s name literally means a fabric sack.
The fish farms and the village of Po Toi O (布袋澳) look neat below the Clear Water Bay Country Club.
Founded in 1266 by Lam Tao Yi (林道義), the Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay (佛堂門天后古廟) is Hong Kong’s oldest Tin Hau temple.
Fish farms are still in operations at Po Toi O, a popular village for seafood meals.
The village of Po Toi O is one of the places in Hong Kong where a laid back atmosphere dominates.
In Po Toi O, two heritage buildings stand out from the rest: the Hung Shing Temple (1663) and Kung So (公所) in 1740.
There are two seafood restaurants in Po Toi O.
The village homes at Po Toi O are simple houses made of bamboos, timber, and metal sheets.
At the village exit, a large neon sign of “Seafood Island Restaurant” is erected near the minibus station.
A REMOTE LEISURE PARADISE, Grass Island (塔門), Hong Kong
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.
CLEAR WATER & FINE SAND, Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong
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.
NATURAL vs. MAN-MADE WONDER, High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong
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.
HOI HA WAN (海下灣)– Marine Treasure Trove in Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong
Hoi Ha Wan, literally means “Under Sea Bay”, is best known for its marine biodiversity and mangrove forests. Prohibited for fishing, boating and collecting marine wildlife, the small bay of Hoi Ha Wan is a marine park frequented by divers, snorkelers and kayakers, as well as families who come for a lesson of natural science.
I came to spend a causal afternoon. Under the mid-afternoon sun, a few groups of children walked out into shallow water searching for starfishes and sea cucumbers. From the shore, I could see rock corals, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, crabs, seashells and fishes of various colours and sizes. At Hoi Ha Village, banners were hung at a number of places urging developers to stay off the Hoi Ha area.
TAI LONG WAN (大浪灣), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong’s Last Environmental Frontiers
Facing the Pacific to the east, Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) of Sai Kung has been voted by many as the number one outdoor destination in Hong Kong. At the eastern tip of Hong Kong’s territory and the east coast of Sai Kung Peninsula, Tai Long Wan consists of four gorgeous beaches, including Tung Wan (East Bay), Tai Wan (Big Bay), Ham Tin Wan (Salty Field Bay), and Sai Wan (West Bay).
In 2010, an unauthorized land excavation at Tai Long Sai Wan (Big Wave West Bay) sparked public outcry urging for proper environmental protection and land-use parameters of country park enclaves, the 70+ pieces of private or government land adjacent to or surrounded by country parks. Despite not designated as country parks, many enclaves are environmental sensitive areas with great value to the conservation of natural heritage of Hong Kong. In 2013, after great effort from environmental groups, Tai Long Sai Wan was finally incorporated into the boundary of protected country park. However, under great pressure from profit orientated private developers and anxious government for finding easy solution to tackle housing shortage, many country park enclaves are in grave danger in the near future, including Sai Kung’s Hoi Ha Wan (Jone’s Cove), the priceless marine park famous for its marine biodiversity and mangrove forest.
In 34 °C heat, hiking under the sun is not the most comfortable way to spend a Sunday. However, in exchange for the crystal clear water of Tai Long Wan, a cold beer at sandy beach, and a bowl of fresh “shan shui” tofu dessert at a village eatery, all the sweat and exhaustion really didn’t matter much. Besides, seeing the great scenery and breathing in the fresh air of Sai Kung is far healthier than spending the weekend sardining in Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui. I started the hike from Pak Tam Au bus stop, walked past the half-desert village of Chek Keng and the hill pass of Tai Long Au, and stopped by Tai Long village for a bowl of noodle and tofu dessert. I spent much of the afternoon hopping between the four beaches of Tai Long Wan. At the end of day, I walked up the steep MacLehose Trail outside Sai Wan Village for the pass of Chui Tung Au. From there, it was another 30-minute walk above the magnificent Highland Reservoir to Sai Wan Pavilion for the village-bus back to Sai Kung Town.
In many ways, hiking in the countryside of Sai Kung made me realized that every square inch of mangrove forest and coral reef left in Hong Kong is so preciously beautiful and yet so vulnerable at the same time. Not only do they are challenged by the rising sea temperature caused by global warming, but also seriously threatened by the pathetic vision and monetary greed of certain developers and governmental officials.
The sleepy village of Check Keng faces the inner gulf of Chek Keng Kau.
A bowl of “shan shui” tofu dessert at Tai Long Village came as the perfect way to cool down my overheat body.
The first glimpse of Tung Wan made me hard to believe that I was in Hong Kong.
Markings from a frequent visitor in a small rock alcove at Tung Wan.
Tai Wan offers the biggest stretch of sandy beach at Tai Long Wan.
Wooden bridge at the entry point of Ham Tin Wan.
Scenery of Ham Tin Wan.
Looming in a distance, Sharp Peak offers one of the most challenging and rewarding uphill hike in Hong Kong.
It was so hot that even a little dog preferred a dip in the water.
Because of its close proximity to the village-bus stop, Sai Wan seemed to receive the most number of visitors.