Header image courtesy of @yellow_bee (via Instagram)
Any outdoorsy type who has been hiking in Sai Kung will likely have come across some of Hong Kong’s natural hexagonal columns before, but we think the ones in Po Pin Chau hit different. A small island situated just off the coast of the Sai Kung East Country Park, the Po Pin Chau trail is part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, and marries the unbeatable combination of an intermediate level hike with some gorgeous scenery.
If you’re looking for a visually pleasing challenge, or want to get up close and personal with some of Hong Kong’s most stunning geological features, then lace up those trainers!
Po Pin Chau was originally attached to the mainland as one of Fa Shan’s capes. It eventually became an island of its own when the ridge later collapsed due to weathering and erosion. Why do the columns of Po Pin Chau hit different, you ask? Well, aside from being a cool natural phenomenon, the hexagonal columns here—when viewed from a specific angle—can appear to be a cliff face holding back the azure waters flowing on top.
It’s a little optical illusion that also ties in nicely with its Chinese name “破邊洲,” which means “Broken Edge Island;” it truly looks like part of the very fabric of the earth has crumbled off. It should be noted that the trail for Po Pin Chau is pretty exposed the whole way, so unless you want to risk heat stroke, we would not recommend visiting during summer—it’s best to time this hike for autumn to early springtime.
Distance: 5 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 250 metres approx.
Total time: 4 hours approx.
The hike to Po Pin Chau starts at the High Island Reservoir Monument located at its East Dam. High Island Reservoir is a worthy hike all on its own, starting from Pak Tam Chung and going past the West Dam before ending at the East Dam, but no worries if combining two hikes is too strenuous—the dam is still easily reachable.
From Sai Kung town centre, hop into a cab and tell the driver to drop you off at the High Island Reservoir Monument (bring up Po Pin Chau if your destination needs to be made clearer, though most Sai Kung cabbies will know exactly where this is, anyway). You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the monument beside the roundabout, eye-catching blue and shaped like a jack.
On Sundays and public holidays, the minibus 9A does run from Pak Tam Chung Bus Terminus to the roundabout, but only between 3 pm and 5.30 pm. Save yourself the headache of dealing with this irregular schedule and just choose the half-hour cab ride as the more straightforward option. The trailhead leading to Po Pin Chau is at the staircase across from the bus stop, on the same side of the road as the blue monument.
Start the hike by making your way up the staircase, but don’t worry if you’re not a fan of stairs because you'll be veering off it soon. Look out for a red marker on the right, and step out onto the dirt path instead, which you will follow until you reach the top of the hill denoted by the monochrome summit marker. From here, enjoy the nice view back down onto East Dam and the reservoir.
Follow the trail towards the coastline as it descends the hill, then take the left turning at the junction to head to Po Pin Chau (turning right will lead you up Fa Shan instead, more on that later). At this junction, you’ll be able to glimpse a little of Po Pin Chau peeping out from behind the peninsula, and also see the path you’ll be taking, dipping down into the valley and then back up onto the ridge of the landmass.
On this ridge, you’ll find another junction; take the left path. Soon, you’ll see the pebble beach of Kim Chu Wan down below. While you are journeying along the coastline, look out for the huge and surprisingly accurate heart-shaped hollow on the right-hand slope behind the beach—this is fittingly called the “Heart of Hong Kong.” It may not be super obvious at first in person but, like a spot-the-difference puzzle, you won’t be able to unsee it.
Keep hiking along the ridge until you reach a large concrete cross embedded in the dirt path. This marks the best vantage point from which to view Po Pin Chau, spread out directly below in all its glory. The first thing that is immediately eye-catching will be the hexagonal columns that make up the entire southern face of the island. Even if you’ve seen these formations before, it’s still fascinating to imagine the volcanic eruptions millions of years ago which naturally created these structures that resemble a gigantic pipe organ rising out of the waves.
Angle yourself so you’re looking mostly at the narrow part of Po Pin Chau, ignoring its farthest end that slopes into the sea. Sandwiched between the blue waters on either side, it almost looks as if the hexagonal columns are a perpendicular cliff separating two levels of water. Is this what falling off the edge of the world looks like?
Hikers can descend a little further down the trail from the concrete cross for a closer look at Po Pin Chau, but will not be able to get onto the island itself. To continue the hike after admiring the view, retrace your steps back to Fa Shan—along the way, one last opportunity to spot the “Heart of Hong Kong” if you didn’t manage to the first time around—and take the right turn instead to start the ascent.
We’d recommend going down the small path that leads onto the beach of Kim Chu Wan itself. At the section marked by a warning sign, you’ll need to use the rope at the side of the trail and do a little clambering to get down to the coast. Head to the left for the best feature of this beach: the chance to actually touch and clamber up onto some hexagonal columns. This is one of the very few spots in Hong Kong where visitors can get up close to these natural formations without being cordoned off.
Once you’re done with photos, retrace your steps once again to continue up Fa Shan. This will be the steepest section of the hike, but even then it’s not too arduous to get through, so take the climb at your own pace. Soon the trail will level out onto the ridge and as you make your way along the southern edge of the country park, gaze out to sea and enjoy the view of the smaller islands dotted around the area.
From here, it’s a simple matter of following the path as it hugs the southern coastline going west. Depending on how far out towards the coastline you wander, you may come across a spot where previous visitors have stacked rocks and pebbles together in pillars reminiscent of cairns. While it’s unlikely these were stacked to mark ceremonial grounds or a burial site, they do still make for an interesting site and a good photo opportunity.
Continue on through the overgrown scrub towards Tsat Chung Pebble Beach and make your way across the beach itself, onto the rocks separating Tsat Chung with the next beach of Pak Lap Wan. Here, leading uphill from the rocks, is where the trail continues, and from this point, it leaves the coast and turns inland. Heading north, simply follow the trail until you reach a swing suspended from the trees, then take the right path. There are occasional yellow markers along the way, but just keep bearing north and you’ll be alright.
The dirt path soon gives way to paved concrete and eventually emerges on Sai Kung Man Yee Road, where you can catch a cab back into Sai Kung. If a taxi doesn’t turn up, you can always follow Man Yee Road northwest, which will eventually lead you to High Island Reservoir West Dam, where it should be easier to find transport.