Header images courtesy of Izuddin Helmi Adnan (via Unsplash)
TLC taught us to stick to the rivers and lakes that we’re used to, so instead of chasing waterfalls, let’s focus on the geological feature that is arguably the best part of water-related locations in the first place: rock pools! Hong Kong has various waterfalls with rock pools at their feet, but also some along the coast that collect pools of water when the tide comes in and goes out. Here are five of the best rock pools to swim in or observe little marine creatures!
Located just a short boat ride away from Sai Kung Town, Sharp Island is convenient to get to, but has nonetheless been rated by CNN as one of Asia’s most underrated attractions. It is well-known for its crystal-clear waters as well as rocks that interestingly resemble pineapple buns, and is home to two beaches: Hap Mun Beach and Kiu Tsui Beach.
The first, also known as Half Moon Bay, is the more popular, better-maintained of the two, but the latter is the quieter option, where you will be able to find a tombolo stretching out to a smaller islet named Kiu Tau. Time your visit to coincide with the low tide, so you can walk across the sand levee, admiring the pineapple bun stones along the way, to reach the best rock pools on the far side of Kiu Tau. If you’re lucky, you’ll find sea creatures like crabs and sea cucumbers, but keep an eye on the time so you’re not stranded there!
From Sai Kung Ferry Pier, simply look for boat kiosks advertising services to Sharp Island or Kiu Tsui Chau (橋咀洲), as it’s known in Cantonese. These kaito ferries will stop at either Hap Mun Beach or Kiu Tsui Beach, so choose which side of the island you want to begin your exploration on. A trip to the island is pretty quick, taking only 15 minutes each journey.
This short but challenging hike takes you from Hong Kong Island to the island of Ap Lei Chau, and further out to the islet of Ap Lei Pai. Two paths running parallel to each other bring you up Mount Johnson, or Yuk Kwai Shan (玉桂山) in Cantonese, with a slight difference in difficulty. Whichever way you pick, the climb up is going to be fairly steep but should take under half an hour to reach the summit. From the top, Ap Lei Chau is visible across a tombolo, and you will need to make a steep descent to reach the sandbar—use the ropes along the trail to rapel backwards!
Follow the trail to the far side of the islet where you will find the Mount Johnston Lighthouse, which is not nearly as large as you might imagine, but is still pretty scenic with the boundless ocean in the background. About one hundred metres to the right of the lighthouse is the Ap Lei Pai tide pool. Feel free to take a dip to cool off after your gruelling hike. Be warned that the Ap Lei Pai hike should not be attempted during or directly following rainy weather because the steep footing is already treacherous enough as it is. Here is our dedicated guide to hiking to Ap Lei Pai.
From Lei Tung Station, take Exit B and come out on the side where there is a McDonald’s. Locate the two bright yellow booths at the end of the bus station; the unmarked start of the trail is between these booths. You may need to hop a divider, but don’t worry because you’re not trespassing! To leave, you’ll need to hike back the way you came, or try to flag down a sampan from the little pier at the end of Ap Lei Pai that will take you to the Ap Lei Chai waterfront promenade.
The Ung Kong Group is part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, and consists of Basalt Island, Bluff Island, and Wang Chau. The last island is the smallest of the group, with its highest point only 80 metres above sea level and its narrowest point only 500 metres across, but it does provide some interesting geological sights.
On the north side of the island lies its most famous feature, a wave-cut sea cave, and there are also natural rock formations in pillar-like formations to look out for. Venture out along the shores of Wang Chau, where there are also tidal rock pools to be found. At high tide, the waves keep these pools submerged, but when the tide recedes, pockets of water are left behind with adaptable sea creatures—kind of like its own mini ecosystem!
Find a kaito ferry along Sai Kung Ferry Pier that will take you to Wang Chau. Depending on the service you choose, the boat might also stop by Jin Island, Bluff Island, Basalt Island, and other locations nearby.
The Sai Wan Pools are often referred to as waterfalls, but we think the pools are the stand-out part of these natural landmarks. This well-known gem tucked away in Tai Long Wan is also known as the Sheung Luk Stream, and can be found in the hilly stretch between Sai Wan and Ham Tin beaches. There is an hour-long hike to tackle before you reach the Sheung Luk Stream, but it’s all worth it because a series of four consecutive pools awaits.
The Sai Wan Pools contain emerald waters at the base of lush greenery and rock boulders, over which gentle waterfalls trickle. This is the perfect slice of paradise in which to go for a refreshing swim or simply bask in the sun among the multi-tiered pools and falls. Make sure you don’t just stop at the first pool though; continue upstream to the Thousand Silk Falls, then further scale the 25-metre cliff face for panoramic views of Sharp Peak, Tai Long Wan, and Tung Wan Shan. This climb will require steady hands, sure footing, and a bit of tenacity, though—not to be attempted in flip-flops!
From Sai Kung Town, take minibus 29R or a taxi to Sai Wan Pavilion, and take the clearly-marked concrete path winding downhill. The way is signposted for ease; at the Chui Tung Au crossroads, forge straight ahead to reach Sai Wan Beach. Keep walking along the beach, past the restaurants and keeping to the left, until you see a stone bridge at the end. The turning into the Sai Wan Pools is hidden in the shrubs before crossing the bridge; follow the stream into the greenery and go up the rocky path for approximately 20 minutes.
The Ma Dai Stream runs from Ma On Shan to Tai Shui Hang, where it merges with the end of Shing Mun River before flowing into the Tolo Harbour. Hiking this trail will bring you past beautiful rock pools fed by various waterfalls, but it does get rather challenging in sections, and would be better suited for hikers experienced with rivers and streams. The beginning of the Ma Dai Stream itself is made up of boulders and rocks that you hop across to zig-zag your way up—we think it’s rather reminiscent of a scene out of Princess Mononoke.
Eventually, you’ll reach a range of small pools and waterfalls that dot the landscape as you make your way upstream. Do expect to have to wade through water in sections, but luckily these pools are not deep enough to pose any difficulties. Stop by any of the rock pools to break and cool down along the way; some locations have hidden viewpoints and waterfall curtains just waiting to be discovered!
The final stop of the Ma Dai Stream is Hero Falls, which has a dam and boasts a rock pool larger and deeper than any of the others further down. This is also a popular spot for rock-climbers and canyoning. After Hero Falls, there aren’t any more waterfalls or rock pools to see, so simply continue on the trail, past little farm allotments, until you reach a flight of steps that ends at the main road that will lead back to Ma On Shan Centre.
From Tai Shui Hang MTR, take Exit B towards Tai Shui Hang Village. After exiting the underpass, follow the concrete road as it cuts through the village. Follow the path all the way to the end until you reach what looks like a make-shift camp site, then head up the stairs to its left. This will lead you to the Ma Dai Stream, starting at the rocky section with boulders.