Header image courtesy of @danieltheowl (Instagram)
There are heaps of hidden paradises in Hong Kong—you just have to go really off the beaten path to seek them out. Three Fathoms Cove is a coastal inlet tucked in-between Sai Kung West Country Park and Ma On Shan, deserted save for the occasional visitors and the local villagers who run the refreshment stalls. It’s a gorgeous coastal hike through Sai Kung West Country Park with no peaks to summit (though you can tack them on to your fancy). Instead, you’re rewarded with some gorgeous sights in the midst of tranquillity. Ready? Let’s go!
There are a couple of trails that will take you to Three Fathoms Cove, but this hike is by far the most relaxing of them all, as you won’t have to worry about climbing up and down steep summits or getting lost. That doesn’t mean you won’t have a couple of challenges over the 12-kilometre hike, as the concrete paths intersect with rocky shores, dirt paths, and grasslands. There is a lot to see along this mostly leisurely coastal hike, including two Hakka villages, vast grasslands, wetlands, and mangroves. If you tackle this three- to four-hour hike early in the day, you’ll still have the rest of the afternoon to explore the country park, Sai Kung Town, or Ma On Shan.
Stock up on supplies in Sai Kung Town, as there are limited refuel stops along the way. The little refreshment stands or dai pai dongs run by locals are only open when the owners feel like it, so you may go long stretches without being able to buy a bottle of water. The trail has a good split of shaded and sunny sections, so adequate sun protection is definitely required. As mentioned, the trail isn’t all well maintained, so be cautious especially when visiting during the rainy season. There are a few public toilets along the way if needed. We wouldn’t quite call this hike “family-friendly,” but there are lovely picnic sites along the way and we have seen families on a day trip out here.
Distance: 12 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 200 metres approx.
Total time: 3 to 4 hours approx.
The hike begins deep within Sai Kung West Country Park, at Pak Sha O Youth Hostel. The hostel used to be a village school and underwent extensive refurbishment after its abandonment to open in 1985. It’s easily accessible from Sai Kung Town, just a short minibus ride in. Those wanting to drive in will be out of luck, as the country park only allows drivers with special permits to enter the park area.
From the friendly orange buildings of Pak Sha O Youth Hostel, walk along Hoi Ha Road until you spot a signposted path directed to Pak Sha O. The path is flat, paved and mostly shaded, making this first part of your hike quite enjoyable. After about 10 minutes, you will reach Pak Sha O Village, an abandoned but beautifully restored Hakka settlement, where you’ll get to do your first bit of exploring.
This historical settlement is made up of two hamlets: the Ho clan-established Pak Sha O Village and Pak Sha Ha Yeung, founded by the Yung clan. The villagers abandoned the village in the 1970s and 1980s when construction of the nearby High Island Reservoir cut off the water supply, thus ending their main source of income from farming. The homes were rented out to expats and a group of them painstakingly restored the derelict and dilapidated houses and ancestral halls. The old Ho residence and Ho ancestral hall are now Grade 1 historical buildings.
The village is also home to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel, built between 1915 and 1923. Pak Sha O was converted into a Catholic village as a result of the villagers trying to combat the tax lords of Sheung Shui, and to this day, the chapel is still a training campsite for the Catholic Scout Guild. When you’re done exploring this charming little Hakka village, carry on the paved path.
The hike gently ascends as you carry on the cement and is mostly straightforward save for two forks in the road. It’s important to be checking the map here to make sure you’ve taken the right turns—you should have no problem finding data signal here. When you approach Nam Shan Tung, follow the path towards Lai Chi Chong. And when you reach the three-way junction after about 45 minutes into the hike, keep going forward for Sham Chung.
The hike towards Sham Chung becomes more challenging here, as the concrete path ends and is taken over by nature instead. Streams babble over boulders and gullies, and there is a small valley that you need to cross towards the end as you descend into Sham Chung village. Sham Chung is only less than an hour away from Pak Sha O, but there is a world of difference here as this neolithic Hakka village was not meticulously protected and restored.
Sham Chung is also the site of Epiphany of Our Lord Chapel, one of the 11 historic Roman Catholic churches of the Sai Kung peninsula. Established by missionaries from the Seminary of Foreign Missions of Milan in the nineteenth century, it was rebuilt in 1956. Prior to abandonment, it housed the Kung Man School, which had 50 pupils from the village and surroundings. Though most of the buildings here have been reclaimed by nature, the Sham Chung Manor by the vast meadow and little lake welcomes families and other daytrippers, and you can possibly grab some snacks and drinks here.
Follow the cement path down to Sham Chung Pier, where you can catch the ferry twice a day to Ma Liu Shui and Wong Shek. As you walk along, you’ll see how the local fauna have reclaimed the paddy fields that provided the villagers of days past. The fields are now home to uncommon animals like the Hong Kong paradise fish and the brown fish owl. Sham Chung was also the site of controversy as there were plans to build a golf course and recreation centre in the area, though those plans have been put aside due to heaps of pushback from old villagers, avid hikers, and current inhabitants in the area.
As you continue on from the pier, this section of the hike follows the rocky coast of Three Fathoms Cove. Here, you’ll spot lush mangroves, and on your right, you can look out to Plover Cove Reservoir in the distance, as well as the formidable Ma On Shan rising above the water up ahead. This section of the hike takes about an hour until you reach Yung Shue O village, a quiet village with fish farms in the bay and—if you’re lucky—refreshments at the dai pai dong next to a popular war games site. Turn right beside the public toilet and follow the catchwater for a flat walk up to the final steep ascent on Sai Sha Road.
As you go along Sai Sha Road, you’ll be closer to Ma On Shan Country Park. The beautiful coastal walk here is thankfully flat, and your hike will be coming to a close soon. Head to Kei Ling Ha Hoi Park in the innermost shore of Three Fathoms Cove, which has a park that’s usually empty save for some bird watchers. Here, you’re surrounded by Sharp Sze Heung and Kei Ling Ha, and this idyllic haven connects to Tolo Harbour in the north. Looking out from the park, you’ll spot the islands of Sam Pui Chau and Wu Chau, as well as Yung Shue O Village back to the east. There is a bus stop past the village near the barbecue sites, where you can hop on buses 99 or 299X back to Sai Kung Pier. Congratulations, you’ve made it to Three Fathoms Cove!
Bonus sightseeing spot: We’ve been told that there is a replica of the Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory (built during the Yuan dynasty in Henan) near Three Fathoms Cove that’s worth making a stop at before heading back to Sai Kung Town. Find the wooden gateway along Sai Sha Road marked Shui Long Wo and head up the steps to find the old stone tower, as well as picnic tables and a moon gate. This path continues up to meet Maclehose Trail Section 4 and is also the perfect spot for looking back at the Cove.