Hong Kong – Sai Kung and Double Haven
In Hong Kong, there are plenty of beaches and inlets, with spectacular shorelines for boaters to enjoy. But beyond the junk boats and popular spots, there lies a hidden highlight – Tolo Harbour and the quiet reaches of Double Haven
A purple beach came into view. I was now convinced that cruising Hong Kong by yacht is a must, as if I ever needed more encouragement. This was a stretch of Hong Kong that even our Hong Kong guests aboard the HAWC 11 hadn’t seen nor heard of. Yet, there it was, on the inside stretch of the approach to Double Haven, along the eastern shores of the Plover Cove Country Park.
Little wonder that one of Hong Kong’s resident superyachts, the 51-metre Feadship Double Haven, was so named. Yet, this area, located beyond the entrance to Tolo Harbour, had no boats or yachts in sight, apart from our own.
We started our trip out from the village of Sai Kung, where innumerable junks were awaiting their charges to head into the much-visited bays and coves along Sai Kung West Country Park. Our vessel was the sturdy and economical HAWC 11, an 11-metre hydrofoil assisted catamaran. We were to cover over 100 nautical miles as we explored the reaches beyond Tai Long Wan, the fantastic beach known to so many surfers and campers. The weather was perfect, with a mix of clouds and sun and clear skies – the summer monsoon weather that makes Hong Kong a brilliant place to be for the outdoors.
Heading first through Inner Port Shelter, we moved along with the junks, which made a steady parade out to their destinations. Already pleased we had a boat that could cruise at 30 knots comfortably, we knew we’d need this to break past the wakeboarding crowd. The fact that these areas are already crowded in summer on a Monday morning was enough to give pause – consider the weekends in summer as Hong Kongers try to beat the heat and enjoy the sun. As we pushed on, every little bay and beach was taken with at least five or six junks at anchor.
After a 15-minute run, we arrived at Bluff Island, with its sandy, west-facing little beach, flanked on either side by the granite columns that permeate this part of Hong Kong’s coastline. This is a place to be visited by sea, and you’ll find yourself having a hard time not being glued to your camera. A path from the pleasant little beach on Bluff Island leads up to the top of some high cliffs that face east, providing a spectacular view of the area.
These high cliffs are part of a system of granite rocks that were once part of a volcanic caldera that existed some 140 million years ago, during a period of intense volcanic activity. The caldera, which forms when a volcanic mountain collapses, is an estimated 20 kilometres wide, with its southeastern rim located underwater in Mirs Bay.
Aside from the narrow inlets with sandy shores, there are no places to anchor out here, as you are exposed to potentially large swells and turbulent seas, especially during the winter monsoon months. Summer is the time to visit, when the seas are generally calm and the winds are from the south.
Heading north, you continue to find spectacular cliffs and granite formations, most of which are now located within Hong Kong’s own geo-park. Constant wearing and erosion by the sea have created a number of sea arches, some of which you can paddle through by kayak. Others have formed into intriguing shapes, including one known as “Little Taiwan”, as its outline, as viewed from the north, resembles an outline of the island.
Finally, you get to Long Ke Wan, which is almost the last stop for junk boats. Two pretty beaches with good anchorages are here, though during summer months, you will have to put up with some crowding. September and October may still offer fine conditions with less crowding. Both beaches are pleasant and thanks to a headland, the bay itself is quite protected, particularly the area around the smaller of the two beaches.
Beyond this, there is Tai Long Wan, Hong Kong’s most photographed beach. The main beach is divided in two by a rocky headland. There are also two small beaches, one at the northern end of the east-facing bay, and another, Sai Wan, at the south. A very few junks or yachts may make it this far, even in the most popular days of summer. A good anchorage here is only possible during the summer monsoon months. In the winter, the place becomes popular with local surfers. A small restaurant on the south side serves noodles and beers, but those coming out in their yachts will want to stick to their provisions. But in the summer months, this would be a spectacular and splendid place to anchor for a weekend. The whole area is dominated by Sharp’s Peak, which rises steeply up from the beach. There is a path that ascends the peak from Tai Long Wan, but good hiking boots are required for this route. The view is tremendous.
Sai Kung’s Tai Long Wan is where most boaters end their adventures (if they go that far). Around the north headland of Tai Long Wan, you are greeted by a vista that reminded me of the bays of Moorea in French Polynesia. Sharp’s Peak from this angle resembles the steep and ravine-laden hillsides of old volcanoes that have been eroded over the millennia. At the base of Sharp’s Peak is a tiny beach, Nam Sha Wan, which is uninhabited and isolated. If a private anchorage in Hong Kong is what you’re longing for, this is a good choice. During a visit in the summer monsoon, you’d be well protected on this lee shore, but the winter monsoon would be trickier.
Carrying on towards Tolo Harbour entrance, we passed through the South Channel, which separates Sai Kung mainland from Grass Island (Tap Mun). At Tap Mun Village, there is a small harbour with the remnants of a fishing community that is nearing extinction. An infrequent ferry from Tai Po brings daytrippers to the island, where camping sites and views of the sea can be found. Bringing a yacht of any size is difficult here, where there is only room for the smallest motor yachts or tenders to tie up at the main concrete pier.
At one time, hundreds of small fishing and farming villages dotted the New Territories landscape, peopled with clans who had migrated south from the rest of China over 1,000 years ago. Many of these villages were abandoned as of the 1970s, as migration to the city or overseas depleted their ranks. Some villages were abandoned wholescale and a walk through them can be intriguing. One such village can be found at Chek Keng Hau, the bay that stretches to the right as you continue into Long Harbour. There is a pier nearby, on which hikers to Tai Long Wan disembark from local fishing boats.
At the entrance to Long Harbour, which stretches south from Grass Island, on the eastern shore, lies the old summer residence of the local head of the Royal Navy, stationed here during the colonial era. Though we didn’t go ashore here (apparently, this is now kept by the Hong Kong government), you can see what would have been a well-appointed place of peace for a man of war. There is no road access, but a well- tended private beach and a slipway for small launches. An access pier would allow for deeper draught vessels to tie off, and the rancher-style residence is far from prying eyes.
Passing through the channel past Grass Island and the Sai Kung headland, to your left is the entrance to Hoi Ha Wan, a marine park and nature reserve that is managed by the Hong Kong Government and WWF Hong Kong. Yachts are permitted to enter the bay, but anchoring or mooring have been limited to specific areas. Fishing is not allowed, but Scuba diving is encouraged, as there are numerous coral and fish species in the park. Yachts can anchor at three spots – two in the furthest bays towards the small pier near the Hoi Ha village, and at a spot between Flat Island in the middle of the bay and the headland on the right facing land. Depths here run around five metres or more through most of the bay.
Continuing into Tolo Harbour, we found ourselves passing a Hong Kong Marine Police station in the middle of the entrance, with a boom system set up to prevent smugglers using this quiet space for their own purposes. You can see why they might be concerned as you cruise through the channel. There are numerous little inlets and beaches, with tiny villages nestled into bays – all very private. The waters here more resemble a big lake; all very calm and quiet. The beaches are smaller thanks to less wave action, but they are there, and with a bit of scouting, there are places to drop anchor and enjoy the almost complete privacy.
At the far end of Tolo Harbour, there is Tai Po town, an uninspiring place built by people with little imagination. It’s a pity, because with Ma On Shan towering above to the south, it could well be an inspiring place. Three Fathoms Cove along the south shore offers a bit of a respite from the tower blocks, and sitting there is the One Thirty-One Restaurant, which serves French cuisine in a small standalone three-storey building. Guests have been known to fly a helicopter in and land on the grass lawn that separates the restaurant from the shoreline. A small pier has been built to handle a tender or runabout boat. Advance booking is required for this.
We docked up for lunch in tiny Sam Mun Tsai village, located along the north side of Tolo Channel and just to the west of Plover Cove. Walk through the tiny village and up Sam Mun Tsai road, and you get to the Aqua Garden restaurant, which serves decent Cantonese food, but with a spectacular view of Plover Cove. Sitting on the terrace, you’d quickly forget you’re in Hong Kong. A few small yachts have found cheeky little moorings in Plover Cove.
Heading back out of the Tolo Channel, we finally ventured into Double Haven, veering to the left around the headland and immediately entering an older, quieter world. Here, small islands and passageways abound, and in a smaller yacht or tender, you feel the urge to explore. The reddish, ancient rocks of a sandstone surface, theorized to be part of a desert plain some 400 million years ago, provide compelling scenery. This area of Double Haven is older, geologically, than any other part of Hong Kong. Here, you need a yacht to explore.
A narrow, shallow entrance into Double Haven at Hung Shek Mun should only be attempted by smaller boats, while a channel to the east offers a deeper access. Double Haven is surrounded on most sides by beautiful islands and most of it is marine park. The diving here is favoured by many local operators. Venture out of Double Haven due west to the shoreline of Plover Cove Country Park, and you can find the 400-year old village of Lai Chi Wo, once a wealthy Hakka community now abandoned.
Crooked Island, just outside Double Haven, offers more pretty bays and inlets to explore, with ancient paths and settlements scattered about. Here, you are alone. Almost no boats could be seen during our visit, despite the fact that we were now most of the way to Shenzhen. Indeed, from some vantage points in Double Haven, you can get glimpses of the Shenzhen shoreline beyond. But it doesn’t detract from this quiet little heaven, and to some extent, it almost enhances it. You have now found your private corner in a very busy part of the world.
– With special thanks to Gerhard Kutt of HAWC Marine.