Header images courtesy of Minghong (via Wikimedia Commons) and @9hike (via Instagram)
Did you know our very own Hong Kong was once the site of volcanic eruptions? Don’t panic just yet; the eruptions happened 140 million years ago, but curious hexagonal rock columns—formed when molten materials cooled down—remain today for us to marvel at. The scenery is made even more surreal with other geological wonders, all against the serene backdrop of a vast reservoir that has since become a part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Geopark. So do come on this easy hike to High Island Reservoir and witness Hong Kong as you have never seen it before!
After mainland China temporarily shut down water supplies to the city during the 1967 Hong Kong riots, the local government decided it would be wise to build some big reservoirs for the city. Thus, High Island Reservoir was born a decade later, a man-made structure mixed with its surrounding natural beauty.
The reservoir has two main dams, the West Dam and the East Dam, with around an hour between the two. The East Dam is the farther location, but its geological wonders are well worth the trip. It's most well-known for its hexagonal rock columns, formed 140 million years ago when lava and ash from a nearby volcanic eruption cooled down.
There’s also a lofty sea cave and a bizarre dolosse wall, where thousands of geometric, jack-like blocks of concrete are scattered along the water to guard against heavy waves. Keep an eye out for the Po Chin Chau sea stack, where centuries of erosion have split the island asunder so that its rock face looks like a giant pipe organ.
But perhaps the best part of all is that the hike is a fairly easy one, as the whole path is a smooth, paved road free of any sharp inclines. The hearty amount of resting spots along the way makes the hike highly suitable for beginners, and for anyone who’d prefer a relaxing stroll over an intense workout.
Even though the East Dam is the only part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Geopark that’s reachable by foot, the reservoir is still pretty remote. Stock up before you go, as you won’t find any kiosks or vending machines after getting off the bus before starting the trail at Pak Tam Chung. Remember to put on plenty of sunscreen, too, as though the path is level and smooth, there isn’t much shade along it.
Distance: 10 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 272 metres approx.
Total time: 2 hours approx.
If you want to start directly at the High Island Reservoir East Dam, simply hail a taxi from Sai Kung Town and ask to go there (30 minutes).
Once you get off at Pak Tam Chung—but before you head on the MacLehose Trail—you would have a final chance to stock up at the small kiosk of the Sai Kung Country Park Visitor Centre off to the side of Tai Mong Tsai Road.
When you’re done with the detour, continue straight along Tai Mong Tsai Road until it merges with Section 1 of the MacLehose Trail, which is also called Man Yee Road. If in doubt, follow the wooden signs that point to the MacLehose Trail and refer to the information board in the area.
15 minutes in on Man Yee Road, you’ll hit a junction that splits into Sai Kung Sai Wan Road and Man Yee Road. Feel free to take a rest at the shaded pagoda here, and continue on the trail when you’re ready. Be sure to keep to the left and follow the sign to High Island; don’t accidentally wander off on Sai Kung Sai Wan Road.
Around half an hour later, you’ll emerge from tree canopies and arrive at the West Dam of the High Island Reservoir. The vast expanse of sparkling blue may trick you into thinking it’s part of the open sea, but it’s really just a huge water reservoir. Take a break at the rest stop near the end of the West Dam and soak in the panoramic views; but don’t stop there, as you haven’t reached the crown jewel yet.
From here on out, the hike gets even more breezy and comfortable as the trees thin to showcase the breathtaking view of the boundless reservoir. The smooth, paved road enhances the experience, making you feel as if you’re strolling along a most gorgeous yet unpacked promenade. All of this makes the one-hour-long journey to the East Dam all the more enjoyable.
Congratulations, you’ve finally arrived at the East Dam of the High Island Reservoir! Take your time to not only snap pictures and gape at the geological wonders but check out the many information boards and signage to learn more about them. There, you’d also find directions to a short High Island Geo Trail around the East Dam, an idyllic course that takes you close to the intriguing sheer rock cliffs and columns.
When you’re done, you can hike two hours back to Pak Tam Chung, or call a taxi to take you back to Sai Kung Town. Alternatively, consider following the MacLehose Trail just a bit further to hit the beach at Long Ke Wan and relax on the pristine white sands there. Follow our in-depth guide to hike to Long Ke Wan to make it a full trip!