Header images courtesy of @acafshots_ and @varshp (via Instagram)
Hikes don’t have to be back-breaking to be fulfilling. Take Cape D’Aguilar, for example: It’s a breathtaking slice of coastal nature in the south of Shek O with caves, a historic lighthouse, and even the skeletal remains of a killer whale. You can hike from Shek O up D’Aguilar Peak if you’d like a challenge, but for the purposes of this guide, we’re showing you how to get to Hong Kong Island’s best-kept secret the easy way.
There is no summit to be climbed on this gentle and peaceful trail going into Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve. You can still enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery along the way, albeit not from a bird’s eye view.
Located on the southeasternmost tip of Hong Kong Island, Cape D’Aguilar was named after British Major General George Charles D’Aguilar and was made the only Marine Reserve in Hong Kong in 1996. Save for an old village and other day-trippers, Cape D’Aguilar remains hidden from the hustle and bustle in Hong Kong, with unreal scenes overlooking the peninsula as well as Po Toi Islands and Waglan Island in the distance.
It’s about four kilometres walking from Cape D’Aguilar Road bus stop to the Marine Reserve, and the entirety of the road is paved and stroller-friendly, making this a great family and pet-friendly day trip. We would definitely recommend wearing proper footwear and adequate sun protection for it though, as the rocks at the caves at the Reserve are weathered and slippery, and there isn’t much in terms of shade.
It’ll only take about an hour to walk there, and you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like exploring the Marine Reserve area. Though swimming, fishing, and diving are prohibited at the Reserve, many people kayak or paddle in the waters surrounding the peninsula, which offers a closer look at the rock formations that make up the cape.
Distance: 8 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 200 metres approx.
Total time: 2 to 3 hours approx.
There is no direct route via public transport to Cape D’Aguilar. In fact, there’s only one bus that takes you anywhere close, and there’s only a handful of them by the hour that’ll drop you off and take you back. D’Aguilar Road is sealed from foreign vehicles, so don’t even think about hailing a cab or driving yourself straight to the Marine Reserve.
It is a completely straightforward path from Cape D’Aguilar Road bus stop going into the village and the Marine Reserve. Once you’ve gotten off the bus, follow the paved road down as it winds along the coast. On your right, you’ll see the remains of the Hok Tsui Quarry, a former construction site mining into the swarms of quartzphyric rhyolite left behind from a magmatic event that occurred over 152 million years ago. Hok Tsui is the Chinese name for Cape D’Aguilar, literally meaning “Crane’s Break” for the peninsula’s distinctive shape.
As you reach the entrance of Hok Tsui Village, you can take a rocky detour to the edge of the cliffs on your right to view the former Cape D’Aguilar Battery. It’s a small battery that’s fallen to the seasons, with both the interior and exterior overgrown with weeds and moss. The naval machine guns that armed this battery are long gone, destroyed after the war.
Continue along Cape D’Aguilar Road, and if you’re feeling peckish or need to restock your water supply, follow the signs to head to Shun Kee Store, a wee shop run by the village locals that sell all manners of quick refreshments. Skip the curry fishball noodles and go for something sweet, their homemade tong suit (sweet Cantonese dessert soups) are light and cooling treats on a hot day.
After about three kilometres walk along the paved coastal road, you’ll reach the PCCW Cape D’Aguilar HF Radio Transmitting Station. The station is private property, so from here, take the dirt path on the side of the entrance that’ll take you around the station and meets back up to a paved road. As you pass the tall fences you’ll get to a fork in the road. Go left for the historic Cape D’Aguilar Lighthouse, and right for the Marine Reserve.
The Cape D’Aguilar Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Hong Kong, put into service in 1875 and taken out of service in 1896 when the Waglan Island Lighthouse nearby was commissioned. It was re-lit and automated in 1975 and declared a monument in 2005. The lighthouse stands at over nine metres tall and its light can be seen from 20 nautical miles away (about 37 kilometres). It’s surprisingly well-maintained, with a white granite tower, arched stone doorway, and a heavy iron door. Get your fill of pictures here and continue onto the Marine Reserve when you trace your steps back to the fork.
As you walk down the path to the Marine Reserve, carefully take the hidden slippery path on your left to venture down to Thunder Cave. The narrow cave is surrounded by oval stones scoured by the heavy surf, and as you go deeper into the cave, the sounds of the waves crashing onto the rocks are amplified, thus giving Thunder Cave its name. Do be careful when going towards the end of the cave where the rocks meet the waves, as the tide goes quite far into the dark cave and you may slip.
Walk back to the main path and continue down the slope to the University of Hong Kong Swire Institute of Marine Science, who co-manage the 20-acre site with the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. Alongside the Institute are the skeletal remains of a whale, which have been quite badly battered by the seasons (but still intact!). There is debate as to who the bones belong to, but locals (and Google Maps) simply refer to the skeleton as Miss Willy. Miss Willy could either be the beloved Hoi Wai, a female killer whale (orca) who was a captive performer at Ocean Park until her death in 1997, or a juvenile Bryde’s whale who was found stranded in Victoria Harbour in 1995. Either way, it’s still an impressive sight to behold.
Behind the abandoned Marine Institute building is the second cave that tourists and locals alike flock to for that perfect Instagram shot: Crab Cave. The path to Crab Cave is littered with sharp rocks, so watch your step. The cave got its name for its pointy and arched appearance resembling a crab. You can climb the cave for an elevated view of the ocean, but we’d recommend staying near the ground, as Cape D’Aguilar is windy even on a clear day, and the waves often crash to the top of Crab Cave. Let the ocean man take you by the hand to the land that you understand.
Once you’ve gotten all your photos in order, retrace your steps along Cape D’Aguilar Road back to the bus stop to return to civilization, or head to Shek O for a sundowners session. Congratulations—you’ve completed your adventure to our favourite secret paradise on Hong Kong Island.