Header images courtesy of @remi_bx_hk and @awfarrari (via Instagram)
Take a break from online classes or Zoom meetings for an in-person and in-depth dive into the history and (literal) make-up of Hong Kong! Declared an official UNESCO Global Geopark and considered the perfect geology classroom, Ma Shi Chau promises a great crash course in its short stretch. And for those looking for a quiet and quaint getaway, trade the hustle and bustle of the city for the quiet and quaint ways of Sam Mun Tsai. Here’s your guide to Ma Shi Chau in Tai Mei Tuk, Hong Kong’s Permian rock garden.
Hong Kong, which literally translates into “Fragrant Harbor,” was originally a series of fishing villages. Visitors coming through Sam Mun Tsai can catch a glimpse of old Hong Kong, where residents still utilise wire cages to catch fish that they later preserve by drying in the sun.
Sam Mun Tsai, the village attached to Ma Shi Chau, was originally situated between Tolo Harbor and Plover Cover Reservoir and later relocated to its current location after the Hong Kong government began construction of the reservoir to aide depleting freshwater resources in Hong Kong. Originally a part of Tai Po’s lucrative pearl harvesting industry, the village now consists of fishermen and their families.
As of 10 April 1999, Ma Shi Chau and surrounding islands have become a designated Special Area under statutory protection. The Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark is comprised of sedimentary rocks that formed around 280 million years ago during the Permian period. As such, the rocks on the island are actually the second-oldest rocks in Hong Kong, and, due to their well-preserved nature, now sit as a dream location for geologists to better understand rock properties, geological make-up, and different sedimentation features.
Distance: 7 kilometres approx. (including the walk through the village)
Ascent: 47 metres
Time: 3 hours approx.
Ma Shi Chau is located between Tai Mei Tuk and Ma On Shan in the New Territories. To get there from Tai Po, you’ll pass through Tai Po Industrial Estate on the way to Tai Mei Tuk before branching off into Sam Mun Tsai New Village.
Getting to Ma Shi Chau is a very straight-forward walk, with some stairs involved, but minimal climbing overall. The start of the trail cuts through Sam Mun Tsai New Village, with some food stalls for an excellent pre- and post-hike treat. Once you walk down past the minibus pavilion, there should be a set of public toilets, with the path continuing to the left. Look out for the Sam Mun Tsai Historical Gallery along a wall, with infographics detailing the history and present state of the village. Give it a quick perusal to learn more about the area! And if you’re a cat lover, then the walk to the start of the trail is perfect for you, as the fishing village is teeming with cats!
At the first fork in the road, take the path to the left (not the flight of stairs to the side of it!), where you will arrive at the start of your upward climb. The set of stairs you do climb will have green railings and slowly snakes upwards.
When the trees open up, you will see Ma On Shan to the right and Tai Mei Tuk to your left. Bear in mind that this part of the island also doubles as a hillside cemetery for the villagers of Sam Mun Tsai, so it’s best to be respectful when going through here. At one point, the road splits off into a set of stairs towards the western side of the cemetery, whereas hikers headed to Ma Shi Chau should stay on the path. At the apex of the trail is a resting pavilion for a quick snack and water break, so try to hold off on venturing off the path for a break until you reach the pavilion! You will also get a better view of Tai Mei Tuk, Ma On Shan, and Science Park at the top.
Continuing on, the stairs head down to the right of the pavilion before arriving at a grove of trees on a beach. Cut straight through the trees onto the beach facing Ma On Shan and Science Park. From there, it’s a spitting distance to the start of the Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail.
A special part of the hike is the tombolo, which is Italian for “pillow” or “cushion.” A tombolo is a stretch of rocky and sandy landform that connects an island to the mainland, and is formed overtime via longshore drift picking up and depositing material between the coastline and the island. At the end of this tombolo are the official signs of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark and Ma Shi Chau Special Area, with a wooden pavilion and very informative maps and infographics detailing the nature trail.
Earlier in the trail, you will have come across a tidal schedule, and there will be another one here as well. Because access to and from Ma Shi Chau is highly dependent on the tombolo, make sure you leave before the tide rises!
From here, you can follow the directions to the right of the pavilion. There is a dirt path you can take, or you can walk along the coastline for a better view of the rock formations. Keep in mind the tide and whether the rocks may be slippery!
Ma Shi Chau is significant due to its diversity of geological structures and the well-rounded data it proves for geologists. Typically, granite is the most “popular” type of rock amongst photographers, as its weak structure, affected by weathering over the years, results in cool rock formations that are perfect for photos and hobbyist investigation. Ma Shi Chau, however, features three different types of rock formations: Permian sedimentary rocks, Early Cretaceous volcanic rock, and middle Cretaceous sedimentary rocks.
Due to the constant interaction of the rocks with tectonic and tidal movement—and environmental changes as well—the rocks develop interesting patterns and shapes on the rocky shoreline. Because the island is close to a major fault (the Tolo Channel fault), there is also a variety of structures to observe such as folds, faults, and kink bands.
To return, you can retrace your steps through the main island or you can catch a sampan back to the minibus station. Sampans normally park at the edge of the tombolo, ferrying visitors to and from Ma Shi Chau. Prices depend on each boat, and due to the pandemic, captains may be a little more willing to barter for a better deal. If you take the sampan, you will jet past floating docks specifically for leisure fishing and floating restaurants, so ask your captain about what’s good to eat after your adventure out to Ma Shi Chau! You will exit past Royal China Aqua Garden, a dim sum place you can treat yourself to a post-trail meal.