ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Victoria

PAST & PRESENT OF TYPHOON SHELTER, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣), Hong Kong

Despite staying in nearby Tai Hang (大坑) for five years and have regularly taken walks in the adjacent Victoria Park (維多利亞公園), we hardly cross the busy Gloucester Road to visit Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter (銅鑼灣避風塘). Only twice during evening walks did we cross the footbridge from the park to get a closer look at the yachts and fishing boats. Two years ago, in a late summer afternoon, I made a visit to the shelter when there was still light to project beautiful reflections on the placid water. Half an hour after sunset, feature lights of distant skyscrapers lit up one by one, both on the Island and Kowloon side. Near Tin Hau (天后), I walked out to one of the concrete bases of Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) via a few wooden planks, to get a little closer of the boats. To my surprise, on one of the fishing boats there were two elderly making dinner on the boat deck. They seemed to have no interest in me, nor anything onshore. It seemed that the boat deck was their living room and kitchen, and the typhoon shelter, their safe haven in the city.

Typhoon shelter (避風塘), a cove separated from the sea with a breakwater and a narrow passageway, can be found in a number of places in Hong Kong. The shelters protect fishing boats and yachts from stormy weather, especially during the typhoon season. In the old days when fishery was still a vital industry for Hong Kong, many fishermen would actually live on their boats. Apart from the time out in the sea, the fishermen would call the typhoon shelters home. Most of these fishermen were known as Tanga (蜑家) or simply the “boat people”. Often referred as “sea gypsies” in the past, the boat people were a group of nomadic people who spent most of their living on boats. They were originated from a minority ethnic group in Southern China over a thousand years ago. Throughout centuries, the boat people spread along the coastal regions and river deltas in China. They had their own customs, rituals, beliefs, cuisine, and dialect. Due to the decline of fishery, poor living conditions, and high illiteracy rate, the boat people of Hong Kong have largely relocated onshore in 1990’s by the colonial government. As descendants of the boat people assimilated into mainstream Hongkongers, their unique culture has gradually faded, except some of their cuisine that still appear on restaurant menus as ”Typhoon Shelter style” dishes.

The city’s first and probably most famous typhoon shelter is Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. Situated at the eastern limit of the historical Victoria City (維多利亞城), the name “Causeway Bay” is literally derived from the bay with a causeway going across at present day’s Causeway Road (高士威道). The Chinese name “Tung Lo Wan” (銅鑼灣) refers to a bay that shapes like a bronze gong, a percussion instrument dates back to about 200 BC in China. The former shoreline can still be traced from the alignment of Tung Lo Wan Road (銅鑼灣道), the street that separates Causeway Bay and Tai Hang. In 1880’s, the heavily silted bay was reclaimed up to Causeway Road. Beyond Causeway Road, the city’s first typhoon shelter was established in 1883 to serve the surrounding fishing communities. In 1953, another massive phase of land reclamation converted the 30 hectare typhoon shelter into probably Hong Kong’s most well known park, Victoria Park, and pushed the typhoon shelter further north to the present location. Construction of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel (紅磡海底隧道) in late 1960’s and the Central-Wan Chai Bypass in 2009 further defined the boundary of today’s typhoon shelter. Today, not only does the typhoon shelter offer protection to boats of the former fishermen and adjacent Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (香港遊艇會), it also becomes a popular retreat for anyone who seeks a moment of serenity from the sometimes suffocating shopping scenes of Causeway Bay.

From Wan Chai, Gloucester Road winds along the waterfront to Causeway Bay, where Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter lies outside the shopping district and Victoria Park. [2022]
Today, Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter begins from the bullet-like vent tower (left in photo) to the east, stretches in front of the overpass of Island Easter Corridor (centre in photo), and ends at the entry of Cross Harbour Tunnel (far right in photo) and Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (just out of photo to the right). Beyond the typhoon shelter lies Victoria Park (greenery in centre of photo), and the skyline of Tin Hau (left), Tai Hang (middle) and Causeway Bay (right). [2020]
Opened in 1972, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel remains as the busiest vehicular harbour crossing among the three available today. Beyond the tunnel entrance marks the western end of the typhoon shelter. [2022]
Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter begins immediately behind the Cross Harbour Tunnel and Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. [2020]
While fishing boats dominated the typhoon shelter back in the 19th century, the yacht club has become the main user of the shelter in recent years. [2022]
Fired everyday at noon, a Jardine Matheson staff would fire the Noonday Gun (怡和午炮) at Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, creating a small tourist spectacle passed down as a tradition since 1860’s. East Point, the area that encompasses today’s features such as the Noonday Gun, World Trade Centre, SOGO, Fashion Walk, Windsor House, Lee Garden, Hysan Place, and much of what we would consider as central Causeway Bay, was the former headquarters of Jardine Matheson. Due to series of land reclamation, the gun has been relocated a few times. [2022]
The typhoon shelter extends east to Tin Hau, where the elevated highway Island Eastern Corridor starts. [2021]
The Tin Hau (Mazu) Temple Boat is one of the largest feature boat in the typhoon shelter. [2021]
Looking west to the yacht club and the skyline of Wan Chai and Central beyond, Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter is a pleasant spot for watching sunset. [2021]
Below Island Eastern Corridor, Sunset beyond the skyscrapers of Wan Chai and Central. [2022]
Further away from the yacht club, more boats of the original fishing people would be seen. The skyline of Kowloon can be seen beyond Victoria Harbour. [2020]
A small group of former fishermen still prefer to live on their boats. [2020]
Some face-lifting works are being done at the sidewalk along the typhoon shelter. [2020]
As evening approaches, a tranquil ambience would fallen upon the typhoon shelter, despite the busy traffic on the overpass. [2020]
The typhoon shelter offers a much needed tranquility for the city dwellers in Hong Kong. [2020]
The typhoon shelter has become a tourist attraction in recent years, as well as one of the last places other than Aberdeen to get a sense of how the former boat people once lived in Hong Kong. [2020]
Other than a tourist attraction, “typhoon shelter” has now been known as a cooking style, usually seafood dishes with lots of fried garlic, chilli and green onion. [2014]
Postcard of East Point (now Causeway Bay) from 1900, showing the former Kellet Island, Jardine Matheson’s buildings in East Point (now SOGO and Causeway Bay MTR Station) and East Point Hill (now Lee Gardens) at the centre, and beyond, Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter (now Victoria Park). [Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain]
Occupying the site of the former Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, Victoria Park is the most popular public park in Hong Kong. Equipped with tennis, football, basketball, handball, volleyball, swimming, running, rollerskating and fitness facilities, the park receives more visitors than the numbers of Hong Kong Park and Kowloon Park combined. [2020]
The park is also the city’s main venue to host events, from New Year Fair to Mid Autumn Festival celebrations, and from political rallies to demonstrations. [2020]
The 19 hectare park serves as a communal backyard for the surrounding neighbourhoods, including Tin Hau, Tai Hang, and Causeway Bay. [2020]
In 2013, a modern aquatic centre was built to replace the former outdoor pool, where I took my first swimming lessons as a kid. [2014]
At the park entrance sits a statue of Queen Victoria. Cast in London in the 19th century, the statue was originally erected in Statue Square in Central. During WWII, the statue was transported to Japan to be melted. Luckily it was retrieved at the end of the war and was relocated to Victoria Park in 1955. [2020]
Apart from recreational activities and social events, Victoria Park is also a convenient pedestrian link between Causeway Bay and Tin Hau. [2020]
Beside the activity areas, there is also a peaceful side in Victoria Park, where people come to sit down for a chat or rest under the shade. In the midst of the city’s main shopping and commercial district and upscale residential neighbourhoods, Victoria Park is essentially the Central Park of Hong Kong. [2020]
During our years in Tai Hang, Victoria Park was our favorite place to take an evening stroll after supper. [2019]

RUNNING BELOW THE SKYLINE, Central (中環) – Wan Chai (灣仔) Promenade, Hong Kong

In 1997, the first Standard Charter Hong Kong Marathon attracted 1,000 runners. As love for the sport grows universally, the annual event in Hong Kong has gained popularity and attracted about 70,000 runners (pre-pandemic) from around the globe, defying the humid conditions to run in the subtropical heat. Despite the dominance of East African runners in the race, local participants have increased in both numbers and results in recent years. In fact, the sport has become so popular in Hong Kong that more and more running related shows are broadcasted on television, and more and more sports equipment shops have popped up in busy commercial neighbourhoods in recent years. Runners are everywhere: on sidewalks and waterfront promenades, or in parks and on trails in the countryside.

Some run for health benefits, while some run just to loosen up their minds after a long day of stress. For people who have had enough time sitting in air conditioned offices, doing an evening run is a decent alternative for going to the gym. For a city as dense as Hong Kong, it might be surprising to find that pleasant running routes are never far away. For residents on the Island side, many choose Bowen Road in Wan Chai, or Lugard Road at Victoria Peak, while on the Kowloon side, West Kowloon Art Park or Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade are the obvious choices. In recent years, the government put efforts to transform the once out of limits harbourfront areas on the north shore of Hong Kong Island into public promenades. These promenades have become instant hits for local runners. Harbourfront scenery is particularly pleasant between Central Piers and the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai when the urban skyline lit up after dusk. With such amazing backdrop, there should be no excuse for anyone not to put on their running shoes and headphones, take in the lovely views and seaside breezes, and burn some calories.

The iconic skyline of the northern shore of Hong Kong Island forms the backdrop of the waterfront promenade between Central and Wan Chai. [2020]
From Central Piers, the curvilinear Convention Centre at Wan Chai waterfront is just 1.5km away. [2020]
In recent decades, the business district has extended from Central all the way to Wan Chai. [2020]
From Central Piers, the waterfront promenade passes by the Harbourfront Event Space to Admiralty (金鐘), the commercial neighbourhood between Central and Wan Chai. [2020]
Leaving Central Piers and the setting sun behind, the promenade heads east along Victoria Harbour. [2020]
The towering Two International Finance Centre (2IFC) dominates the skyline. [2020]
In front of the government’s headquarters in Admiralty, construction work was underway to provide pockets of recreational spaces for children and families. [2020]
A runner passed by the neon light artwork on the construction hoarding in Admiralty. [2020]
In 2021, the recreational areas in front of the government headquarters opened to the public. [2021]
All these recreational spaces enjoy views of Victoria Harbour and the distant skyline of Kowloon. [2021]
Leaving Admiralty behind, the promenade arrives at the public spaces adjacent to the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. [2020]
In a clear day, the Convention and Exhibition Centre offers fantastic views of the skyline of Central and Admiralty. [2020]
There are plenty of spaces to chill out near the Convention and Exhibition Centre. [2021]
Many runners would take a break at Convention Centre to watch the sunset. [2020]
Red skies would appear occasionally over Victoria Harbour. [2020]
From Wan Chai, spectators may notice just how narrow Victoria Harbour has become (Central of Hong Kong Island at left and West Kowloon Art District at right). [2020]
The magical moment would appear just after sunset when the skyline of Central and Admiralty begin to lit up. [2020]
The view of sunset and urban skyline from Convention Centre is breathtaking. [2020]
A few would test their luck on fishing during sunset. [2020]
Many come to photograph the sunset and Central skyline at Wan Chai Promenade. [2021]
The Convention and Exhibition Centre (香港會議展覽中心) New Wing was completed in 1997 and hosted the Hong Kong handover ceremony. [2021]
The sculpture at Golden Bauhinia Square (金紫荊廣場) adjacent to the Convention and Exhibition Centre was a gift from China for the handover ceremony in 1997. [2021]
Responsible for search and rescue, the Government Flying Service has one of their helipad outside of the Convention and Exhibition Centre. [2021]
In 2021, the Wan Chai Promenade extends eastwards to Causeway Bay. [2021]
On the newly reclaimed land, temporary public spaces have been constructed along the Harbourfront of Wan Chai. [2021]

INSTAGRAM PIER, A Short-lived Paradise in Shek Tong Tsui (石塘咀), Hong Kong

On 28th February, 2021, joggers, dog walkers, photographers, and fishing enthusiasts in Shek Tong Tsui were shocked to see their beloved Western District Public Cargo Working Area (西區公眾貨物裝卸區) had been closed off to the public. Several times voted as one of the most favourite public spaces in the city, the government freight pier was more commonly known as the Instagram Pier, thanks to its high popularity on the social media throughout the past decade. Extended westwards into the Victoria Harbour, the pier was famous for its unrivaled sunset views, along with its rustic cranes and construction materials for selfie backdrops, and handsome reflections of sunset skies in water puddles after rain, an effect that prompted netizens to name the pier “Mirror of the Sky” (天空之鏡). The magnificent open space has become an Internet sensation since 2010, but not until 2015, when the MTR extended to Sai Wan (西環), that a much larger influx of outsiders and oversea visitors, especially the younger generation, had arrived at the pier to chill out under the western sun.

For the local community, the pier had served as their collective backyard since the 1990’s. They would hang out at the loading and unloading area, to jog, fish and walk the dog. It was the sense of freedom and spatial openness (a rarity in Downtown Hong Kong) that made the pier such a unique public space for the community. In November 2014, the Marine Department put up warning notices at the pier to dissuade the public from entering the pier. The notices had make little impact on altering the common perception that the pier was a leisure space available for all. Since then, the authorities had made a few proposal to erect railings and partially converted the pier into a “proper” park. The government’s intent had met with fierce objections from the community. While the government’s main aim was to reduce liability (if any accident happen) and establish a higher degree of control, what the community and visitors truly appreciate about the pier was the vast open space and unobstructed views, the freedom to use the space in any way one could think of, and the lack of unwanted street furniture, eyesore decorations, and flimsy exercise equipment that might not last for a few months.

Between 2010 and 2021, the Instagram Pier has left its unique mark in the story of Shek Tong Tsui. Not only was it the most visited attraction in the neighborhood, it was also the perfect spot in town where one could idly spend an afternoon to simply do nothing without interference from another human being (not even a park caretaker). It was also one of the most interesting spots in Hong Kong for people watching: strangers mingling with strangers, couple taking wedding shots, students sitting in a circle having their first sip of beer, girls learning skateboard with her boyfriend, man practicing guitar by the sea, unleashed dogs chasing one another, photo enthusiasts lying on the floor just to make the perfect shot of reflection out of a water puddle, women in fancy dresses climbing up and down the shipping pallets, scaffolding bamboo and construction materials to make all sorts of weird posts for selfies… Of course, such freedom would lead to issues with safety, hygiene and garbage to deal with. For the authorities, a public space should be finished with pavers, bounded with handrails and walls, equipped with park benches and flower beds, and spaces clearly defined for specific functions. For many, on the other hand, the Instagram Pier had represented almost the opposite: a stress-free and causal open space with little regulations and no specific facilities, just good views and emptiness. Recently, the pier has another layer of political consideration: a possible springboard for exploring the next potential land reclamation, connecting the west of Hong Kong Island to the distant Lantau Island via bridges and artificial islands. Even if the land reclamation doesn’t go ahead and the pier gets renovated and reopened as a public promenade in the future, we can pretty much assume that the space would be properly paved and fully equipped with railings. The floor would be flattened, leaving little chances for water puddles. For photography enthusiasts, the “Mirror of the Sky” at Sai Wan has officially become a story of the past.

The waterfront of Shek Tong Tsui has long been used for cargo docks and rice warehouses since the early 20th century. [Photograph by Mitchell Eleanor, around 1912-17. Image courtesy of E.G. France, University of Bristol Library Mi01-002 (www.hpcbristol.net), CC BY_NC_ND 4.0]
At the Instagram Pier, loads of building materials such as concrete blocks and scaffolding bamboo are often piled up by the side, waiting for transport to their next destination. [2020]
The enormous pile of bamboo was one of the favorite backdrop for people to take selfies. [2020]
Since MTR extended to Sai Wan, more outside visitors had arrived at the pier during weekends and after work. [2020]
The pier was frequented by runners and joggers. [2020]
At the pier, every visitor could easier find a spot to do his or her own thing. In many cases, the pier might be a much more desirable location than one’s tiny flat for certainly activities, such as playing music for a girlfriend. [2020]
A ladder was a handy tool to take portraits with the sea backdrop. [2020]
Sunset on a fine day would draw the crowds to the pier after work. [2020]
To the southwest, the buildings of Kennedy Town and Mount Davis were bathed in the golden sunlight. [2020]
Across Victoria Harbour, Stonecutters Bridge (昂船洲大橋) and the container port at Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi form a distinct scenery from the northwestern waterfront of Hong Kong Island. [2020]
The sunset over distant Lantau Island west of the pier was always the biggest draw for the crowds. [2020]
Without balustrade or benches, watching the sunset at the Instagram Pier was a perfect thing to end the day for any couple. [2020]
Young visitors loved to take selfies at the pier and post the images onto social media, spreading the words about the Instagram Pier throughout the city. [2020]
Not everyone came to the pier for selfies, some came for a “picnic”. [2020]
The Instagram Pier was one of the best spot in town for people watching. [2020]
Each group visitor would find their own spot to chill out. [2020]
Not park benches or planters, all there was is open space for people to wander. [2020]
Or hideaway spots away from the bustling and sometimes tiring urban scenes of Hong Kong. [2020]
The combination of the peaceful harbour scenery and the rustic pallets and container boxes offer an interesting contrast. [2020]
Finding a place in Hong Kong city centre that allows one to enjoy solitude is no easy thing. The Instagram Pier was a unique exception. [2020]
Even after sunset, visitors would come to the pier to chill out after dinner. [2020]
Without any regulations of what were prohibited at the pier, visitors basically would use the space for whatever they could think of. BMX cyclists were common users of the pier. [2020]
The lamppost guards were popular for seating and selfies taking. [2020]
Skateboarding was a perfect fit for the rustic ambience of the pier. [2020]
Dog owners chatted while their dogs mingled and ran away. [2020]
Every ten metres or so there would be someone fishing. [2020]
The Instagram Pier would certain remain as a collective memory for the local community for years to come. [2020]
Probably once serving as the most causal open space in town, the Instagram Pier would live long in people’s memories. [2020]

***

While the Instagram Pier was closed down indefinitely in 2021, the adjacent Central and Western District Promenade has opened in the same year to the public. The ambience reflects quite a different story from the Instagram Pier, from rustic and cool environment preferred by the youth, to kid-friendly and orderly catered for the kids and elderly.

At the new promenade, cute figures would take the place of scaffolding bamboos and container boxes to serve as selfie backdrop. [2021]
3D painting on the floor also offers another feature for selfie takers. [2021]
From Shek Tong Tsui, the new promenade extends eastwards to Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan.
Probably the most interesting feature at the new promenade is the set of concrete drainage tunnel where kids can enjoy themselves by crawling in. [2021]
Fixed exercise facilities are provided at the new promenade targeted for the elderly. [2021]
Not quite spectacular as the one at the former Instagram Pier, visitors could still watch the sunset at a lookout fully protected by railing. Quite a different experience. [2021]
One thing hasn’t changed: as long there is access to the sea there will be someone fishing. [2021]
As long as there is space to roam freely, the dogs would always be happy, and so as their owners. [2021]

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.

A flight of steps leads visitors down to the swimming shed from Victoria Road. [2020]
A small shrine dedicated to the local deity wishes everyone a safe visit. [2020]
The birdeye’s perspective from the shed offers a picturesque view of the swimming deck below. [2020]
The swimming shed is simply a metal shelter that houses an office, as well as changing and shower facilities. [2020]
A tank of goldfish at the resting area enhances the causal charm of slow living at the shed. [2020]
From the swimming deck, Victoria Road is nowhere to be seen. The two metal sheds seem to be the only manmade structures in the area. [2020]
Some visitors prefer venturing out to further from the deck to the adjacent rocky shore. [2020]
Most swimmers usually visit in the morning, while selfie takers would come in the afternoon to chase after the sunset. [2020]
Since becoming an IG hit, many young visitors come to Sai Wan Swimming Shed for photo opportunities. [2020]
Quite often, swimmers and selfie takers would rub shoulders on the swimming deck. [2020]
Across the Sulphur Channel (硫磺海峽) is Green Island (青洲) and its lonely lighthouse. [2020]
There is an ambitious land reclamation proposal to link up Hong Kong Island with Lantau Island (大嶼山, distant mountain silhouette), via the small islands of Green Island (青洲), Kau Yi Chau (交椅洲), and Peng Chau (坪洲). Such proposal may lead to disastrous effects to the natural environment. [2020]
Sunset Peak (大東山) and Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) on the distant Lantau Island is the third and second highest peak in Hong Kong. [2020]
At low tide, the pebble beach below the deck would become accessible. [2020]
As number of swimmers (mostly elderly) continues to dwindle, it would be no surprise if Sai Wan Swimming Shed is demolished once again in the near future to make way for other developments. [2020]
For certain, walking down the wooden steps into Victoria Harbour is quite a different experience than entering a public swimming pool. [2020]
At times when the marine traffic is light, swimming in the open sea just a few minute bus ride from Kennedy Town Station offers a sense of isolation and tranquility as if a quick meditation session in the nature. [2020]
Braving the waves of Sulphur Channel between Green Island and Hong Kong Island may soon become memories of the past, but images of the sunset panorama would live long on the Internet. [2020]
Most visitors will leave right after the sun is gone, leaving Sai Wan Swimming Shed in peace once again until early next morning, when swimmers return for a whole new day. [2020]

VICTORIA HARBOUR (維多利亞港), Hong Kong

Before the pandemic, Hong Kong was a highly popular tourist destination in Asia, ranked among the top cities in the world for the number of international visitors. Just like many tourist cities around the globe, tourism in Hong Kong has suffered enormously during the pandemic. The numbers of foreign visitors have plummeted, and the once crowded sights across the city have been largely tourist free. Despite the loss of tourist activities, this situation is prompting the return of Hongkongers to places they would normally avoid before the pandemic. Apart from popular museums, beaches, amusement parks, and shopping centres, waterfront promenades along Victoria Harbour, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui at the tip of Kowloon Peninsula, has always been packed with tourists before the Covid. Just like our childhood years, today we can once again wander freely on the Avenue of Stars or linger in the shadow of the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower without bumping into aggressive tourist groups. At night, the undulating reflections of neon lights, LED billboards, and glittering building facades in the water provides the perfect foreground for the skyline of Central, backed upon the silhouette of Victoria Peak. For decades, this postcard perfect Harbour panorama has served as the impeccable visual representation of Hong Kong’s prosperity and vibrancy, illuminating the legend of a city that never sleeps. Beyond the charming skyline on both sides of the water, the busy Victoria Harbour has much more to offer than just its visual glamour.

In Feng Shui, the traditional Chinese practice that harnesses the energy of surrounding environment, the element “water” is often associated with wealth and fortune. For Hong Kong, this water element can be definitely identified as the Victoria Harbour. From founding of the trading port, to the establishment of Far East’s finance and servicing hub, Victoria Harbour, the 41.88 km2 stretch of sea between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, has always played a vital role. The Harbour is indeed where the story of Hong Kong begins. Known for its deep and sheltered water, the natural landform of the Harbour was one of the main reasons why Hong Kong was chosen by the British in 1841. Since the mid-19th century, the British put a great deal of effort to establish Hong Kong as their subtropical metropolis in the Far East and commercial gateway into China. The Harbour and its waterfront developments have been at the centre stage of Hong Kong’s evolution every since. To sustain population and economic growth, major land reclamation projects have never ceased to transform the urban extent of the city ever since 1840’s. More office towers, residential complexes, hotels, shopping centres, government buildings, museums, convention centre, stadiums, cruise terminals, promenades, piers, etc. would be erected after each reclamation scheme, redrawing the urban coastline at least once in every generation.

For many neighborhoods in the city, Victoria Harbour is always just a few blocks away. Exploring the everchanging waterfront areas is an interesting way to understand the past, present and future of Hong Kong. Our next series of posts will do exactly that.

British, American and Dutch ships and Chinese junks sailed through the calm waters of Victoria Harbour in 1855, under the shadow of the majestic Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. [Painting by unknown painter, Public Domain]
165 years later, Victoria Peak has been dwarfed by the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Throughout history, Hong Kong has always been a gateway of the Far East for the West. In the past 180 years, uncounted vessels have passed through Victoria Harbour. [Photo of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon Peninsula beyond, taken by Felice Beato, 1860, Public Domain]
Taking in the business district of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsular across Victoria Harbour from Victoria Peak (太平山) has always been one of the most popular panoramic views for tourists. [Photograph by Denis H. Hazell, 1925, University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: Bk09-05, CC BY_NC_ND 4.0]
Today, the iconic panorama from Victoria Peak (太平山) is dominated by the closely packed skyscrapers and the splendid bend of Victoria harbour. The serenity of the Harbour during the pandemic was a rarity in the city’s 180 years of history. [Photo taken from Lugard Road, Victoria Peak, 2020]
After several rounds of land reclamation, the coastline of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have gone through dramatic transformations. The width of Victoria Harbour has been drastically reduced in the past century and a half. [Display about land reclamation of Hong Kong Island since 1842. Photo taken at Wanchai (灣仔) waterfront promenade, 2021]
In the mid 19th century, the extent of the city’s commercial district was limited to Central (中環) on Hong Kong Island. [Photography by John Thomson, 1868/1871, Public Domain]
While Central (中環) and Sheung Wan (上環) continue to serve as the city’s central business district, the panoramic skyline of Hong Kong has dramatically expanded along the north shore of Hong Kong Island, and the waterfront of Kowloon Peninsula across the Harbour. [Skyline of Central taken in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The northwestern limit of Victoria Harbour is dominated by Kwai Tsing Container Terminals (葵青貨櫃碼頭), once the world’s busiest container port between 1992 to 2004. Serving as the biggest intermediary trading hub between China, Southeast Asia and the West, international logistics means big business in Hong Kong ever since the 19th century. [Kwai Tsing Container Terminals taken at the waterfront of Sheung Wan, 2021]
Before WWII, the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭) at Victoria Harbour in Sheung Wan (上環) was one of the busiest trading ports in Asia. The pier has long disappeared after land reclamation, but the century-old trading companies and shops selling all kinds of imported dried seafood, spices, herbs, and food merchandises survive to the present day. [Photo taken at intersection of Eastern Street and Des Voeux Road West, 2021]
From West District to North Point, a 5.5km promenade along the north coast of Hong Kong Island is set to open at the end of 2021. [Photo taken at Admiralty Waterfront, 2021]
The western end of Victoria Harbour is marked by the District of Kennedy Town (堅尼地城) on Hong Kong Island (left). Beyond the Kennedy Town and the small islands of Green Island (青洲), Kau Yi Chau (交椅州), and Peng Chau (坪洲), the ridges on Lantau Island (大嶼山) form a distant backdrop for the Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The reclamation land of West Kowloon is split between the 17-venue West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區), the high-end residential and commercial development of Union Square and the High Speed Railway Station. [Photo taken at Sai Ying Pun Waterfront, 2021]
Since 2014, the 60m Ferris wheel known as Hong Kong Observation Wheel in Central offers visitors a new vantage point to enjoy the scenery of Victoria Harbour. [Central Piers and HKOW as seen from Admiralty Waterfront, 2021]
The parabola gesture of the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) marks the southern tip of Kowloon Peninsula. [Photo taken at Wanchai Waterfront, 2021]
The Ocean Terminal Deck offers the perfect place to take in the iconic skyline of Hong Kong, especially after dusk. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
For a fare less than 0.50 USD, the Star Ferry offer the most pleasant way to enjoy Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The 88-storey, 415m International Finance Centre (IFC) on Hong Kong Island (left), and the 108-storey, 484m International Commercial Centre (ICC) in Kowloon (right) tower above the tranquil water of the Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Wanchai waterfront, 2020]
A number of typhoon shelters dot around Victoria Harbour, offering safe refuges for fishing boats and yachts during typhoons. [Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣) Typhoon Shelter with skyline of Central beyond, 2020]
The West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區) is finally taking shape after 20 years of planning and construction delays. In a few year’s time, a few more cultural venues would be constructed below the 108-storey ICC. [Photo taken from Tai Hang, 2018]
The northeastern waterfront of Hong Kong Island is dominated by the vehicular expressway Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊). [Photo taken from Hung Hom Waterfront, 2020]
The waterfront of Eastern Kowloon stand the new business districts of Kowloon Bay (九龍灣) and Kwun Tong (觀塘), and the former airport runway of Kai Tak (啟德). [Photo taken from North Point Ferry Pier, 2021]
Between Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門) and Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), the narrow passage of Lei Yue Mun marks the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken from Devil’s Peak in Lei Yue Mun, 2020]
The best moment to appreciate the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour is the magic moment at dusk. [Photo taken from Red Incense Burner Summit, 2020]

STAR FERRY (天星小輪): Nostalgic Journey in the Victoria Harbour (維多利亞港), Hong Kong

In 1888, the same year when Peak Tram began operating up the slope of Victoria Peak, “Kowloon Ferry Company” was also established for managing the first regular steamboat services between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island. Soon, the company expanded to a fleet of four ferries, and was renamed to “Star Ferry Co Ltd” (天星小輪), the name that is still in use today. Named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime” and topping the list of “Top Ten Most Exciting Ferry Rides” by the Society of American Travel Writers, it is no doubt that Hong Kong’s Star Ferry has been on the radar of international travelers for quite some time. For about HK$4 (US$ 0.50), anyone can enjoy a moment of peace crossing Victoria Harbour. In the past century, as a series of land reclamations have shortened the distance between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island, piers in Central and Wanchai have been moved numerous times, and ferry rides across the Harbour have become shorter. No matter how short the ride has become, the star ferry experience still offers some of the most rewarding views of Hong Kong’s skyline. To have a moment of relaxation, we always prefer taking the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side when time allows. The ride is particular lovely at sunset and night.

In 1888, Indian Parsee businessman Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala established Kowloon Ferry Company and operated the first regular ferry service between Hong Kong and Kowloon, taking bread, cargo and passengers with his steamboat Morning Star. In 1890, three more boats, Evening Star, Guiding Star and Rising Star joined the service. Upon retirement, Mithaiwala sold his ferries and company to another British-Indian businessman Sir Paul Chater’s (遮打), one of the first business mogul who was responsible and involved in establishing many large corporations in Hong Kong, including Hongkong Land (置地), Hongkong Electric (港燈), Dairy Farm (牛奶公司), Kowloon Wharf (九龍倉), etc. In the 20th century, the fleet of Star Ferry continued to grow as different generations of ferry piers were erected in Central, Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui. Today, the Star Ferry has eight boats in total, with an average age of 58 years old. Since the completion of Cross-Harbour Tunnel in 1972 and the Harbour crossing Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in February 1980, Star Ferry is no longer the main means of public transportation between Hong Kong and Kowloon. It does, however, carry a sense of history and collective memory of the bygone era. For both locals and tourists, the ferry also offers arguably the best way to enjoy the skyline of Hong Kong. Taking the MTR or driving through the Cross Harbour Tunnel, one can hardly notice the famous harbour.

“Night Star” [Photo: Gordon Arthur Richards Collections, University of Bristol Library (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1920’s]
Built in 1963, the second generation Night Star (夜星) was painted in the colourful dragon motif to promote Brand Hong Kong, Asia’s World City. [Star Ferry near Admiralty, 2020]
As of 2020, there are eight boats in the fleet, serving the two main routes in Victoria Harbour. [View from Ocean Terminal towards distant skyline of Causeway Bay and Tin Hau on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Both of the two main routes depart from the pier of Tsim Sha Tsui in the Kowloon Peninsula, where the Clock Tower, Museum of Art, Cultural Centre, Planetarium and Ocean Terminal Retail Complex make up one of the most popular tourist area in the city. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, Cultural Centre and Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Night Star (夜星) usually serves the route between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Wanchai on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Sailing in the Harbour during sunset is a relaxing way to enjoy urban Hong Kong, away from crowded streets and busy traffic. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Wanchai on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The decades-old ferry offer an open experience to take in the sea breeze and scent of the ocean. [Star Ferry, 2020]
For Hongkongers, the wooden seat on Star Ferry is part of their collective memories of the city. [Star ferry, 2014]
In summer, the front end of the boat would sometimes come with air conditioning. [Star ferry, 2014]
Everything from the lacquered timber to the metal window pulls have been around since the mid 20th century. [Star ferry, 2020]
Taking the Star Ferry would allow passengers to experience the busy boat traffic of Victoria Harbour. [Star ferry, 2020]
As Central Pier 7 and 8, the Star Ferry Pier in Central is the fourth generation. It was part of the Central and Wanchai Reclamation project in the 2000’s. Despite the controversy of mimicking the past, the Edwardian building design was based on the historical second generation pier at Ice House Street from the 1910’s. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Every Sunday, the upper deck of the pier would house the city’s largest organic farmer’s market, selling local produces from New Territories and Outer Islands. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2014]
Star Ferry occupies Pier Number 7 at the Central Piers in Hong Kong Island. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Despite much controvesy, the building was built based on the historical second generation pier. [Wanchai Star Ferry Pier, 2021]
The present third generation Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui was built in 1957. Built in style of Streamline Moderne, this pier once echoed the now demolished Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, the third generation Star Ferry Pier in Central. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
The 1950’s Star Ferry Pier and Clock Tower of the former Train Station have become icons of Tsim Sha Tsui. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Watching the decades old ferry docking at the pier is a relaxing sight in Tsim Sha Tsui. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Signifying the arrival of Kowloon, the passageway connecting to the ferry platform hasn’t changed much during the past half a century. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
It is a pleasant surprise that Tsui Sha Tsui Pier can survive so many decades in the fast changing Hong Kong. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
After so many years, it is interesting that a passageway taking no longer than a minute to pass through actually leaves a lasting memory in my mind. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
After leaving the ferry, a flight of steps leading passengers away from the ferry platform. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
The pier at Tsim Sha Tsui is a tourist attraction to photograph the skyline of Hong Kong Island. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2021]
The Tsui Sha Tsui waterfront is particularly lovely during sunset. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]

PEAK TRAM (山頂纜車): The Oldest Public Transportation in Hong Kong

On 27th of June 2021, the fifth generation Peak Tram made its last trip up the Victoria Peak. The service would then be shut down for an extensive upgrade, laying new tracks and introducing larger funicular trains in the next six months. From the 30-seat wooden train operated by a steam engineer in 1888, to the upcoming 210-seat fully computerized and universally accessible aluminium train, the Peak Tram is about to enter its sixth generation in 133 years. The Peak Tram is, in fact, the oldest funicular system in Asia, and the first public transportation system in Hong Kong. We would occasionally hike up the Peak via Lung Fu Shan Country Park and descend by taking the Peak Tram to Kennedy Road Stop, where we would walk through the Botanical Gardens to return home. It was a 7-minute treat of lovely scenery from 28m to 368m above sea level every time we hopped onto the peak tram and sat on those inclined seats at the maximum of about 27 degrees. Before the pandemic, riding the peak tram was almost a compulsory activity for all foreign tourists. Today, the funicular is popular with local visitors during weekends.

The Peak Tram has always been a means of transportation for leisure. At 552m above sea level, the Peak is the perfect retreat from the summer heat. In 1881, Alexander Findlay Smith, who worked for the Scottish Highway Railway before, convinced Governor John Pope-Hennessy to operate a funicular route between the south of Murray Barracks (now Admiralty) and Victoria Gap on the Peak. He hoped the new transportation system would boost visitor numbers to his prestige Peak Hotel. Apart from hotel visitors and tourists, the Peak Tram also served the wealthy expatriates who lived on the Peak. Findlay Smith soon put the Peak Hotel and Peak Tram onto the market. At the end, the hotel and funicular landed in the hands of Hongkong Hotel Company, the current owner of Peninsula Hotel Group. Before 1920, the funicular was the only means of transportation connecting the Peak with Central, the downtown of Hong Kong. It has been 83 years since the Peak Hotel was burnt down in 1938. Its former site is now occupied by the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場). Opposite to Peak Galleria now stands the Peak Tower (凌霄閣), another eye-catching retail complex that also doubles as the Upper Peak Tram Terminus. Below the Peak, the city’s skyline has changed dramatically in the past century. Perhaps the only thing that stays recognizable in the past 130 years is the funicular system itself.

The Peak Tram is the oldest public transportation in Hong Kong. Replacing the steam engineer of the first generation, the second generation Peak Tram was powered by an electric system. [Photo: Hagger F. Collection, University of Bristol, (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1930’s]
The first generation Lower Peak Tram Terminus at Garden Road (花園道) appeared like an European Alpine resort. [Photo taken in 1920’s, public domain]
Built in 1983, the ground floor of St. John’s Building (聖約翰大廈) has been serving as the Lower Peak Tram Terminus in the past 38 years. The 22-storey commercial tower is the fourth generation funicular terminus. [2020]
Adjacent to the funicular terminus, St. Joseph’s College (聖若瑟書院) is the earliest Roman Catholic school in Hong Kong. [2020]
In Hong Kong, buildings are always cramped together with roads and transportation infrastructures. In the case of Garden Road Peak Tram Terminus, the train platform is sandwiched between several historical buildings (St. Joseph’s College at the back, Visitor Centre of World Wildlife Fund, The Helena May main building in front right) and the flyover of Red Cotton Road. [2020]
Some say the Visitor Centre of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at No. 1 Tramway Path was once a parking depot of funicular trams. [1 Tramway Path, 2019]
The WWF Visitor Centre is home to a coffee shop, a souvenir shop and a small interpretation/ activity space. [1 Tramway Path, 2020]
Further up Tramway Path, peaceful Tram View Cafe is tranquil retreat to enjoy afternoon tea while watching funicular trams arriving and leaving the Garden Road Terminus. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2020]
Tram View Cafe is a pleasant retreat just a stone throw away from the financial district. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2020]
The Tram View Cafe present a vintage decor to engage customers. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2021]
Beyond MacDonnell Road Station (麥當勞道站), the Peak Tram climbed towards the bridges of Magazine Gap Road and May Road. [Photo taken in 1897, public domain]
Beyond May Road Station (梅道站), the funicular route continues to climb towards the Peak. [May Road Station, 2020]
The track angle varies from 4 to 27 degrees, climbing an elevation of 368m. [2020]
Where the Peak Tram bridges over Barker Road is a popular spot for filming local movies. [Barker Road, 2020]
Opened in 1888, Barker Road Station (白加道) is the only covered station between Garden Road and the Peak. The roof was added in 1919. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
Baker Road Station is a popular spot for visitors taking selfies. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
At an elevation of 363m, Barker Road Station is the second last stop before reaching the Peak. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
Taking the Peak Tram is always a pleasant way to reach the Victoria Peak. [2019]
The fourth generation Peak Trams have been retired. The next generation funicular trains will arrive in a few months’ time. Due to the increasing demand, the new trains will significantly increase the passenger capacity. [inside the Peak Tram, 2019]
The Peak Tram on the slope of Victoria Peak has been an icon of Hong Kong for decades. [Peak Tram arriving at The Peak, 2020]
At 398m, the retail complex Peak Tower (凌霄閣) now serves as the upper terminus of Peak Tram. [The Peak, 2020]
Where the former Peak Hotel stood a century ago, the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場) now welcomes visitors arriving on the Peak. [The Peak, 2020]
The third generation Peak Tram is now on display in front of Peak Galleria in commemoration of the centennial of the Peak Tram. [The Peak, 2020]