Header image courtesy of @alvischui_ (Instagram)
We may have slacked off and let our guard down during the month of June, but now that COVID-19 has returned with a vengeance for its third wave, Hongkongers have to revert to social distancing. What better way to avoid other people like the plague than to visit some secret and completely uninhabited islands? Aside from being able to avoid the crowds that are inevitably clogging up most hiking trails (which totally defeats the purpose of social distancing), you’ll also be treated to some unsullied nature that feels miles away from urban life. Here are 10 of Hong Kong’s best secret islands for a secluded visit!
This crescent-shaped island boasts some of Hong Kong’s most unique rock formations, so it’s only fitting that it is also part of our UNESCO Global Geopark. Multiple volcanic eruptions, lava solidification, and natural compression have formed layers of stratified rock. When viewed from the water, these rather resemble mille-feuille pastry. Anyone hungry, or is it just us?
With crystal-clear waters and coral reefs, Tung Ping Chau’s waters are great for spotting marine life, so do consider bringing your diving or snorkelling gear. Hard corals can be found around the northeast of the island, with soft varieties to the southeast, though be careful not to upset the delicate biodiversity of these beautiful creatures.
Because it is Hong Kong’s eastern-most point and only a few kilometres away from mainland China, refugees trying to escape the Cultural Revolution would often try to swim the shark-infested waters to Tung Ping Chau. The island was also once home to some 3,000 fisherfolk, but because there is no regular ferry service, running water, or electricity supply, nobody has properly lived here for decades now. A hike around the place will reveal some abandoned buildings, including the remains of a colonial military camp, though much of it has been reclaimed by nature. Click here for our dedicated guide to Tung Ping Chau.
Port Island is called Chek Chau (赤洲) in Cantonese, which translates to ‘Red Island,’ and it’s not very hard to see why. As you sail towards the island, it becomes immediately noticeable that the earth is a distinctive red hue, which makes for a lovely contrast between the blues of the sky and sea, and the greens of the island’s vegetation.
Over the centuries, Hong Kong’s native igneous rocks have weathered and its sediments have mixed with gravel, sand, and silt in lower-lying alluvial plains. Ferric minerals within these rock deposits then turned into iron oxide—what is commonly known as rust—which lends the rocks and sand the coppery red tone. This natural beauty on Port Island is also known as ‘Danxia Wonder at Sea.’
Hike up to Chek Chau Teng, the highest point on Port Island, from which there is a splendid view of Wong Chuk Kok Tsui. Also worth checking out is Chek Chau Cave, though the route leading down to it can be quite steep in parts. It should be noted that there isn’t much shade on the island, so bring enough water and sunscreen, but there is also a small river which is perfect for dipping in when you get too hot. Migrating terns—a seabird under threat—have also been known to nest on Port Island during summer, so if you do come across these visitors, don’t disturb them!
Off the shore of Lung Kwu Tan near Tuen Mun lies a group of four islets named Sheung Sha Chau, Tai Sha Chau, Ha Sha Chau, and Siu Sha Chau. Collectively, these make up Sha Chau. There is a sandbar connecting the smaller Siu Sha Chau to the larger Tai Sha Chau which makes for interesting photos, especially if you fly a drone for a bird’s eye view.
Together with Lung Kwu Chau and Pak Chau, they form the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park. Due to geological luck, with the Pearl River to the west, the waters around the marine park are low in salinity with high levels of organic nutrients. This makes for a great area for marine fauna and flora to flourish, and indeed the area is known for being a habitat of the rare Chinese white dolphin.
Out at sea to Sai Kung’s southeast sits a group of four islands collectively known as the Ung Kong Islands. These are Basalt Island, Bluff Island, and Town Island, and the smallest of the four is Wang Chau, which houses a striking geological feature: a sea cave that is classed as one of the Four Sea Arches of Hong Kong.
Wang Chau Kok Cave is located on the eastern part of the island and is actually big enough for a small vessel to sail through as long as the sea is calm enough. We think swimming through it is even more stunning, as you can be fully immersed in this natural geological feat. Going a couple of days after a typhoon has hit Hong Kong will grant you some awe-inspiring sights of the waves crashing into the cave.
There’s also another cave beside it that is much smaller; while it is 40 metres tall, it only measures three metres in width, and one-metre wide at its narrowest point. This is known as Candle Cave, and while also stunning to admire, we wouldn’t recommend swimming through this one; unless you’re a very strong swimmer, it’s difficult to keep from being pushed against the rocks by the tide.
Tung Lung Chau is easily accessible but feels like worlds away once you get there, with no shortage of outdoorsy things to do. If you’re just there for a short jaunt or a leisurely day out in the sun, then hike the main paved trail from the pier to the top of the hill. This will bring you past Hong Kong’s largest and oldest rock carving—an ancient depiction of a dragon—which is said to be over 5,000 years old.
For the more adventurous, Tung Lung Chau is widely regarded as the best place in Hong Kong for rock climbing, and there are plenty of smaller trails aside from the main one that are more challenging. Scale cliff faces that are marked with chalk and rope bolts, scramble along perpendicular cliffs, take a dip in the sea, explore caves, go cliff diving, and even climb up waterfalls—the only limit is your bravery!
This island is known in Cantonese as Tiu Chung Chau (吊鐘洲), literally meaning “Hanging Bell Island,” because it features a 30-metre arch that resembles the sort of bells hanging in temples. It is located very close to the larger island of Kau Sai Chau, separated only by a narrow channel.
On the right side of the main beach, there’s a trail that will lead you to the top of the hill. You’ll need to follow the ribbons that previous hikers have left on trees and bushes to mark the route, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. From the top, you’ll be able to look down onto a rock stack that very much resembles a goldfish—hence fittingly named ‘Goldfish Wagging Tail.’
Seeing as you’ll need to charter a ferry from Sai Kung Pier to reach the island anyway, do ask the captain to sail you around the island before you leave, so you can admire its hexagonal columns, sea stacks, and sea arches from another angle.
If you feel like dipping your toes into this island exploring thing, but don’t necessarily want to commit a full day to traipsing through the wilderness with nary a snack kiosk in sight, then Wong Mau Chau is perfect for you. This beautiful island is very small and can be explored in approximately an hour, then you can hop back onto the ferry to civilisation, content with the fact that you’ve braved the wild outdoors.
You could spend time chilling on the tiny beach or explore the old lighthouse. Those who enjoy snorkelling will likely love Wong Mau Chau because it has sparkling clear waters and a variety of corals in the vicinity. Either way, bring your swimmers; there’s no way you’ll be able to resist taking a dip!
It’s funny how people flock in hoards to the beaches in Hong Kong’s southside, yet never really stop to consider the quieter options in the area. Sitting between Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay, Middle Island is a small island that’s only a two-minute boat ride away. While it is home to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s clubhouse, the rest of the island is open to the public, including a beach that’s usually secluded and therefore quiet enough to kick back on for a whole day. You can simply swim across the tiny channel or kayak to Middle Island from Repulse Bay.
Composed almost entirely of granite, the island of Po Toi is yet another place that’s home to some unusual rock formations. Keep an eye out for ‘Tortoise Climbing Up a Mountain’ and ‘Buddha’s Palm’—all natural features created by the elements and then given life by some very fertile imaginations. There are also rock carvings which reportedly date back to the Bronze Age 3,000 years ago, and are now declared monuments.
There are also ruined houses and a disused school for those who like exploring abandoned settlements. Don’t miss Mo’s Old House—a once-grand villa built by a pirate called Mo Shui-tong—which is supposed to be haunted, or a victim of bad feng shui due to the coffin-shaped rock directly behind it. Believe what you will, but it’s sure to be interesting to poke around in.
As the name might suggest, this destination is actually a group of 29 islands and smaller islets located near each other to the southeast of Clear Water Bay. Legend has it that when British sailors discovered the islands, they were reminded of the British game of nine-pin bowling, and so bestowed on them its interesting name.
Hong Kong is in the path of easterly winds for most of the year, so these islands are completely exposed to the elements, giving rise to some unique rock formations over the long years. These are the islands where you will find the largest hexagonal rock columns in the territories, some coming in at over two metres in diameter. These looming columns are a result of volcanic explosions followed by millions of years of weathering through erosion but have somehow turned out exceptionally uniform in shape. The islet of Yuen Shek Pai is possibly the best place to view these columns, because they are roughly raised around the centre of the islet, forming a structure similar to a spiral staircase.
There is also much to explore, such as sea arches like the Tiger Mouth Cave, dramatic chasms with names straight out of a pirate tale such as the Sunken Ship Crack, as well as a peninsular that looks like a Tyrannosaurus rex. Best to get a move on if you’re interested in visiting; due to its unforgiving exposure to the open ocean, the waters around the Ninepin Islands are prone to strong winds, swells, and rough tides, so there are only around four months in the year—approximately May to September—when it’s safe to sail there.