Hong Kong - Sai Kung
In recent years, local marine police have been quoted as saying that pleasure boating in Sai Kung has increased 75percent in the last seven years.
At night, many bays are lit up like Nathan Road as the bright lights of the squid boats draw their catch up to the surface. Hong Kong is one of the busiest squid fishing ports in the world. Local pilots speak of how the sea looks like a city at night with the prevalence of bright squid fishermen’s lights dotting the ocean. But by day, this is a playground waiting to be explored.
Robby Nimmo looks at some of the beauty spots that are piquing the interest of boaties in this area, and talks to a local seafarer in the know.
Although there is no beach in Jade Bay, there are several moorings provided by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club for members as well as other private swing moorings. This is a very protected anchorage and close to Sai Kung’s marinas, so is very popular as an overnight mooring for boats over sixty feet.
Across the water is the typhoon shelter next to Kau Sai Chau Golf course, you can kayak in at low tide. Boaties say you can collect floating golf balls, courtesy of Hole No 3! Proof that picking up flotsam and jetsam can be rewarding in more ways than one.
The Outward Bound facility is nearby here and a recent boater tells the tale of being woken by a kayak that paddled into them at 3am one morning.
This is a bay where you wish walls, and the surrounding hills, could talk. In the mid 1990s, an enterprising local set up a Thai restaurant in the front garden of this stately Chinese building of former colonial glory. The story was that it had been a well, shall we say ‘establishment’ in the former life. The wide corridor upstairs revealed a series of rooms still containing the frames of four poster beds.
In recent years, it’s become a restaurant and bar, the latest incarnation again as a smart guest house, resplendent with pool. Sadly, this most recent venture failed, perhaps due to the location essentially making it a two-day a week business.
Says a local in the boating industry, “I heard it was built with the gold collected from an air crash on Basalt Island during 1948. There is monument to the crash on the island. Urban myth or reality? You decide!
It’s a good mooring in most conditions, and adjoining Snake Bay is a pleasant beach with a safe mooring. In fact, one Sai Kung local in the marine industry even got married here. You can hop off your boat and hike over the hill to Pak A to a restaurant there or continue around to Tung A and the temple.
Bluff Island (Sha Tong Hau)
Although the beach is a tad rocky, and doesn’t exactly offer miles of sand, the bay in Bluff (Ung Kong Wan) is a good mooring and a favourite all year round. In summer, only those who aren’t reptile-o-phobic venture through the thick pandanus and bulbous based cordylines to climb to the top where you will have spectacular views of all the area. It only takes about 15 minutes, but is well worth it. Beware the sheer drop on all sides of the top – there are no fences and warning signs, this is nature in its raw form.
From the ridge you can spot the coral over to the right shoreline or eastern side of the bay there is some great snorkelling over coral this coral if you drop anchor here, but never moor at this end or you will damage it. There are AFCD no anchor zones designated with buoys.
This is a popular spot with kayaks that look like coloured cuttle fish as they enjoy all that nature has to offer before skimming the 2.5 kilometres to Pak A for sustenance.
Look for wild boar tracks on the beach, there are at least two living here. Also, take a look at the submerged 4 -wheel drive jeep dropped in haste by smugglers in the 1990s. It has an eerie feel about it, but is popular with visitors. It’s located outside the yellow buoys close to the right or eastern end of the beach.
Possibly the largest Tin Hau (water goddess) festival in the Sai Kung area can be found in the massive temple on the waterfront of the small village of Pak A, which is connected to the mainland by the High Island Reservoir dam wall (Leung Sheung Wan). Until recently, Pak A housed the smallest school in Hong Kong. When the register got down to less than a handful of pupils, the authorities decided it was time to close up shop. The bucolic bliss of this bay never ceases to amaze.
Mega –power boats owned by the likes of local celebrities linked to the film industry and laid back locals pull up to the pontoons here every weekend, seeking sustenance in the local seafood restaurant, (Yau Ley seafood). Here the house speciality of the deep fried squid goes down a treat with the Tsing Tao beer.
If you don’t have your own boat, you can hike in from the Country Park barrier (two hours) you can pre-arrange via the restaurant for local boats to spirit you back to Sai Kung in less than half an hour.
Kau Sai Chau
Pigs might not fly but the wild ones swim to Kau Sai Chau golf course. For this reason, Manager Cameron Halliday is proud of the natural bush fence that is built around the course. Beneath the new course are some delightful bays and coves.
The beach across the channel from the Kau Sai Chau Golf pier is great for small boats and those with shallow draught when the nearby beaches are busy.
Kau Sai Chau used to be a firing range, was desecrated by erosion and explosions. Cameron Halliday describes it as “a former moon-scape. Much work has been done to improve the environment here.” The Golf course has received international recognition for its environmental works and is the first golf course in the world to have an entire fleet of solar powered golf carts.
Millionaires and Little Millionaires
If you wish to get away from the madding (and maddening) crowd, mid-summer is not the place in this bay.
However, come 4.30pm, the party junks up anchor, the loud music dissipates and this bay then takes on a chilled mood. Late autumn and winter are perfect times here too. After Boxing Day, the Sai Kung beach equivalent of Ibiza turns into Robinson Crusoe’s perfect hideaway. There are two turquoise adjoining bays where the waves lap up to the white sandy shore.
In summer time parties of rock climbers appear from nowhere in full climbing de rigeur and scramble from one side to the other, marquees are set up on the beach, private speed boats bring in their floating canine friends, resplendent in day-glo goggles and matching life jackets. Owners of RIBS charge their inflatable vessels up on the beach ala James Bond. Jet skis buzz around like mosquitoes or fast noisy ride-on lawn mowers on the sea.
If its colourful people watching you want, and you can get a position in the front row, Millionaire’s often bizarre sights are the place. Take to the water if you want to get into the atmosphere of Lan Kwai Fong sur mer, but keep an eye out for all manner of craft around you. Humans and propellers don’t mix, and it’s a good idea to never swim under water here as you won’t be visible in this busy cove.
Not recommended as a night anchorage as too exposed. Perfect for breakfast though.
Getting ashore on the main beach of Millionaires can be tricky after the winter monsoon has blown. Read the surge in your dinghy and mind the swell.
Hap Mun (Half Moon)
If you are not blessed with a boat of your own, head to the Sai Kung pier and catch a kaidoo (small sampan) to the crescent shaped beach of Hap Mun. Negotiate your price with the local seafaring Haka ladies then take your place for the low freeboard bouncy ride over to Hap Mun. As the incessant putt putt putt of the boat skims over the waves the skyline of Sai Kung will disappear behind you.
There are BBQ pits and toilet blocks here, and given its easy access, not to be recommended on Sundays or public holidays. Mid week is the best option.
Similarly, you can hike down to Trio Beach from Chek Keng Tuk in the Pak Sha Wan area. The road that leads to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and Hong Kong Marina (Chek Keng Tuk) has a series of hiking trails that lead to pleasant boating coves. You can also get a sampan back to the Pak Sha Wan Pier.
Wang Chau Island
Wang Chau Island has stunning geology. Sea arches cut through the basalt rock here. Look out for the rare White Bellied Sea Eagles. There are only seven breeding pairs in Hong Kong.
Tai Long Wan
A further sail away from Port Shelter sees boaties take in the picture postcard beauty of the five beaches that include Sai Wan’s two beaches Tai Long Wan, Ham Tin, and Tung Wan In a nor-easter, Sai Wan can become jerky on your anchor. Even more disappointing is the rubbish that can float in from Chinese waters in these conditions. The family who run the Dai pai dong (that has to have one of the best views in Hong Kong) on Sai Wan have can trace their ancestry back 500 years in this area. These gentle haka folk make fine hosts. Having worked in the restaurant industry in Wales for 22 years; they understand the yin and yang of east-west hospitality.
The simple seaside Dai pai dongs Ham Tin and Sai Wan also make these beaches popular with hikers and now the weather is perfect. It’s an easy walk down but a long climb up in the summer heat. If you moor here overnight, it is likely that you will be the only boat in the bay. Sai Wan has is blessed with rock pools and lagoons, and a waterfall hike out the back of the second beach.
Long Kei Wan
A stunning beach with a lagoon running at the back in the wet season. There’s also with a little beach around the corner. The small beach is a very narrow, enclosed cove, and can only take a couple of vessels, so take care when mooring. Long Kei Wan is of the MacLehose trail and home to a Christian Rehabilitation centre. It has no shops or cafe like Tai Long Wan or Tai Long Sai Wan, so provision well if you are hiking in or boating.
Ten years ago Tap Mun was not really on the tourist trails, and now it’s extremely popular. Despite this, while the northern area of Tolo Channel is a busy working harbour, the sleepy, grassy island of Tap Mun offers a change of pace.
This sleepy seaside island can be accessed by a regular ferry from the Wong Shek pier in Sai Kung where many Hong Kong people love to head for a seafood meal and a hike. Tap Mun was the favourite haunt of now deceased journalist and Hong Konger of the year, Kevin Sinclair, who was a big fan of Sai Kung boating and one of the early ‘gweilo’ pleasure junk owners in the 1970s.
Well known “Scouse’ Loi Lam hails from Blackpool and has the accent to prove it. He’s a fine host, Loi Lam, has a family restaurant here, the New Hon Kee seafood restaurant in Main Street. He never forgets a name or a face. Of the island’s nomenclature, Lam says, “Although the island is also referred to as ‘Grass Island’, in Chinese the literal meaning is ‘Channel Door’, referring to the days before lighthouses, when the island housed many beacons on its peaks at the gateway to the Tolo Channel.”
If you’re fortunate to own your own boat, there’s a decent beach on the north side of Sharp Peak nearby. Adds Lam, “You can see this peak from Tap Mun.”
Most boats don’t venture past Dai Tai pronounced “Dai” Long Wan area. But if you have the time, it’s worth heading ‘over the top’ around Sharp Peak and across the channel to Double Haven. Here you will find protected bays and coves and the oldest geology in Hong Kong. Double Haven is 400 million years old. Unlike the stunning hexagonal wedging and basalt caves of most of the area which is igneous/metamorphic, here you will see red alluvial sandstone.
Kat O Chau – Cresent Island and the Yan Chau Tong Marine Park
For scenery, serenity and a change of pace, it’s worth heading beyond the path of the average day tripper. There are fish farms at Kat O Chau, plus a remote restaurant. This area is very close to the Chinese boarder of Sha Tau Kok. Here you can really can see the difference between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Hong Kong is still rural in these parts and the least developed. Sam A village is a very quiet anchorage and there is a nice basic guest house to find rest and a cold beer.
Kei Ling Ha Lo Wai
Kei Ling Ha Lo Wai is 90 Km from Sai Kung by kayak or sailing boat, but just 10 minute by taxi. Sai Kung Peninsula is hand shaped … fingers are the coves and headlands, the wrist is the shortest distance from North to South or Sai Kung to Kei Ling Ha Lo Wai, or Sam Bui Jau , Cantonese for ‘three glasses of wine.’ There is an old pearl farm in this area also and a restaurant nearby.
This area is designated as a Marine Park, with several wrecks designed to grow coral. The water is clear, and all manner of marine life can be found here. For this reason, it is a better place to kayak from the shore than it is to take a motor boat here and moor it. It is also a fair distance away from the places where most boats are berthed and is the place to be ventured for a weekend or a few days on your boat, and is not recommended for day tripping. Be prepared for your phone to go onto China roaming. The locals are rightly very concerned about environmental issues here, so be ultra- sensitive to your surrounds.
Nine Pins Island
A picturesque cluster of columnar basaltic rock islands to the south of Port Shelter, often used as marks of the course for sailing races run by Hebe Haven Yacht Club. Parts of the islands are a decent place for a swim or a kayak paddle on flat water calmer days but not recommended in rough weather as a mooring.
Paul Etherington knows the Sai Kung area like the back of his hand, in fact he uses the back of his hand to explain to clients the geography of the area.
His business, “Kayak and Hike takes outdoor lovers on a very unique adventure. He will pick you up in Sai Kung in a former anti smuggling task force boat and whisk you out to one of the beaches at around 30 knots 30 km and in just half an hour. Then you can kayak through basalt sea arches and into caves; have lunch in one of the local fishing villages. Hiking can also be incorporated, as can trips further a field and personalised tours for a handful of friends, corporate days out and birthday parties for children- and the big children-are proving very popular
“The main boating spots in Sai Kung look like a big hand on the map, and cover 90 kilometres of coastline. Further a field you have gorgeous places like Double Haven and Tap Mun, the diversity of scenery and geology never ceases to amaze me even after 12 years of exploring the hills and waterways of this area.
I recommend that boaters go against the flow when it comes to beauty spots. There are plenty of beaches, bays and deserted coves in this vast area, especially at this time of year.
As many people have big, fast vessels I recommend that they try more than one destination in a day, and go further a field. Another idea is to stay overnight therefore reducing fuel costs of going out on two separate days, and thinking of the environment at the same time.
For smaller and slower vessels, I recommend going out early, or going mid week. You don’t have to go out when everyone else goes around lunchtime, and in the mid week, these are easy to find. By late October, the amount of pleasure craft in the area drops right off.
There’s nothing I like more than a muffin and a hot coffee for breakfast in a deserted bay or beach before I head to work. Like many in the Sai Kung area, are very fortunate to live just minutes from stunning beaches and coves.
Another thing to consider in winter is to combine hiking and boating. From the Country Park barrier one of my favourite hikes is to head out past the Sheung Yiu Museum in the base of the Country Park and follow the coastal trail to High Island then onto either Pak Lap beach or Yau Ley restaurant.
The government book shops have plenty of maps and books on Hong Kong area, as does the Explore Sai Kung Shop in the old town of Sai Kung near the Tin Hau Temple.
My company’s motto is ‘adventure, escape, explore and the Sai Kung area offers this in a big way. I sincerely believe it’s about the journey, not the destination. Sailors particularly really understand this.
My colleagues in the kayaking industry have rated the places we go to on my tours as among the top ten paddles in the world, some of the others being in Vancouver , New Zealand and Seattle. The water here in winter is probably warmer than the water there in summer!
Many people come out on my adventure days and some have said it’s the best day they’ve ever had in Hong Kong- and they’ve lived here for years. Others have mentioned it was one of the top 10 things to do in Hong Kong. Recently, one client and businessman made the decision to relocate here after seeing what Hong Kong really has to offer.
People don’t realise that half an hour in a car and half an hour of skimming the surface on board my “Black Mamba” that you can be in paradise that most people have to fly to in order to experience. The bays of Sai Kung are so close to the city and yet so remote.
The “Hexagonal wedging” columnar joints, arches and caves of Wang Chau are an awesome sight to behold. Here you can see the rare white bellied Sea Eagles. There are only seven pairs left in Hong Kong.
Our Feel Free kayaks are made in Thailand, designed in New Zealand and are available in Hong Kong. They are very forgiving and great for novices as they are so stable. We use the Tri Yak and Corona double kayak, which are quick but super stable and ideal for conditions found when exploring.
Sea caves might look OK to the untrained eye from the outside, but I don’t recommend them for novices unless you are on a guided adventure day with Kayak and Hike Ltd. If you do head out on your own, you need to know what you are doing. It’s best to kayak with others and always look at the conditions, watch for swell and current before you venture into a cave and study them for at least 10 minutes. The sea and wave conditions can be very deceptive. Over a three day period it can change from calm to suicidal in these sea arches.
I am concerned that the area can be abused by high impact. I am constantly amazed that boaters don’t just take their rubbish home with them rather than leave it on the beach or overflowing in the bins. Wild pigs and dogs inevitably leave it strewn all over the beach. There’s always a rice sack on every beach. I am in the habit of filling one with boater’s and hiker’s refuse. If every boat did this, the pollution would be dramatically reduced.
Hundreds of inflatable rings, lilos and foam noodles are seen blowing away in the wind ending up in the sea as a hazard to marine life; rubbish left on the beach is left to pile up on these pristine beaches. Many people don’t realise that the Government has put rubbish bins out on the island, but only clean up once a week.
More boats are coming are using the waterways here every year. We are definitely seeing more impact on the water and last summer was very busy, even midweek.
The area ceases to stun visitors and residents alike. But unfortunately promotion is a double edged sword, and high impact group tours are now affecting the waters and beaches.
Marine experts are saying that salinity in the Sai Kung area has dropped by half, due to the increased rain fall and fresh water run-off over the early summer south westerly air stream. Over the past three years. I have noticed very unseasonal water and current blown in from the Pearl River Delta and Macau. This is having a huge affect on the corals in the area. It’s important that all visitors to the area treat it with the utmost of respect. Due to climate change, and over-fishing, it seems to be that the squid seem to be the only thing reproducing.
Much of the Sai Kung area falls under the jurisdiction of the Country Park. There is a Geo Park slated for The Nine Pin group, Bluff, Basalt and Wang Chau and part of the part of Double Haven. Hopefully, this will protect the area further therefore leaving it just the way it is!
The perception of people often seems to be that the huge skyscrapers and mountain range blocks the Sai Kung area from the city. This is a huge psychological barrier for many people on the island to venture to these waterways. Many think it’s too far, too hard and too hot. Ironically many people fly overseas to destinations that offer all that is on the Sai Kung doorstep. When they do venture here, I see a look of utter disbelief on their faces and they’re inevitably gob smacked by the beauty of the Sai Kung area.”