Header photo courtesy of @janetcmt (via Instagram)
Over the last year, it seems like we’ve all taken to spending far more time outdoors taking in Hong Kong’s stunning natural landscapes. From verdant hills to remote islets, we are spoiled when it comes to outdoor excursions in Hong Kong. But while you may have already seen the paperbark trees at Shing Mun Reservoir or the silvergrass fields on Sunset Peak, you may not know that Hong Kong is home to a number of interesting and unique geological features.
We’re not just talking about specific, singular rock formations like Rhino Rock or Fa Ping Rock—though we also have an article on those, natch—but interesting geological features that can be found throughout Hong Kong, both in and outside the UNESCO Global Geopark in Sai Kung. From Martian-red rock coasts and island-connecting sandbars, Hong Kong’s rugged landscape is rich in world-class geological treasures just waiting to be discovered.
While these geometric geological features can be found around the world—most famously at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland—the hexagonal rock columns in Hong Kong are unique in that they aren’t made of basalt but rather rhyolitic tuff, a soft and porous rock formed from volcanic ash and debris. The immense and awe-inspiring honeycomb-shaped columns were formed over 140 million years ago after a supervolcano eruption.
You can now find them dotted throughout the UNESCO Global Geopark in Sai Kung, though they are best viewed from the East Dam at High Island Reservoir, the only part of the park that is accessible by foot. Due to earthquakes that occurred while parts of the ash were still cooling, you can also spot some twisted, S-shaped columns at the site.
Click here for our full guide on how to hike to High Island Reservoir.
No, we’re not talking about the lottery game—a tombolo (as opposed to a tombola)—is a natural bridge made from sediment deposited by sea currents, which typically connects an island or islet to the mainland. There are a few tombolos in Hong Kong (for example, the one connecting Cheung Chau North and South), but the most famous one is on Sharp Island, whose crystal-clear waters and large coral colony are only a quick kaito trip away from Sai Kung Pier.
The tombolo, which is covered in quartz monzonite boulders nicknamed “pineapple buns” for their crackled appearance, connects Sharp Island’s Kiu Tsui Beach to Kiu Tau, a picturesque little islet with a mini hiking trail and lighthouse. You can find another tombolo at the unfortunately-named but similarly stunning Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲; Horse Dung Island), which also features a “Permian rock garden” that dates back over 280 million years—not just pre-historic, but pre-Jurassic. Click here for more information on how to get to Ma Shi Chau.
Do note that both tombolos are only accessible when the tide is low, so just keep an eye on the water level to avoid getting stranded! (Those crackly pineapple buns are a lot less cute when you’re trying to walk across them in bare feet.)
Colonising Mars might be a billionaire’s game, but you can get a glimpse of what life on the red planet might be like right here in Hong Kong. These red terrains came about after ferric minerals—produced during those aforementioned volcanic eruptions—turned into iron oxide and bonded with the sand and sediment to create coppery red rock.
To view an entirely red island, sail to Port Island, a remote island in Tolo Harbour known in Chinese as Chek Chau or “Red Earth” due to its red soil and ruddy peaks. For another red landscape that’s marginally more accessible, you can hike to Hung Shek Mun (a.k.a. “Red Rock Gate”), a rocky red coast in the eastern section of Yan Chau Tong Marine Park.
While erosion is a bad thing when it comes to the coastline—which is why mangroves are so important!—or, say, your dental enamel, it’s also responsible for the creation of many geological features. Some of the most striking coastal geological features in Hong Kong are wave-cut platforms, arches, cliffs, and notches (or caves), which have been formed after intense and sustained erosion from the sea. To marvel at the step-like layers of a real-life wave-cut platform up close, visit Tung Ping Chau, where you can also see two multi-layered sea stacks on the platform. During low tide, you may even be able to spot wild sea urchins or fish.
Alternatively, you can hike or kayak to Mok Min Cave (which is really a wave-cut notch) from Pak Lap Wan in Sai Kung. If you plan on clambering inside for a sunset photo op, make sure you check that the tide is low before your visit! Click here for more information on Mok Min Cave and other interesting caves in Hong Kong.
Sorry, TLC—but we’ve most definitely chased a few waterfalls in our time. If you’ve spent a summer or two in Hong Kong, it’s likely that you’ve seen people post photos of themselves splashing around in the SAR’s many, many rock pools. These “natural swimming pools” are formed by erosion from water, and can typically be found under waterfalls or streams. Some of the most famous examples in Hong Kong include Sheung Luk Stream—a multi-step waterfall in Sai Wan, Sai Kung, which has not one, but four pools—and Ping Nam Stream in Fanling, but you can also spot some on the way to Cape Collinson Battery, too! Click here for our full guide to Hong Kong’s most impressive waterfalls.
Okay, so this one is the only one of its kind in Hong Kong—but it’s just too good not to mention. One of the most unique geological features in Hong Kong has got to be the ravine at Pineapple Hill (which also gets its name from its resemblance to pineapple buns), a remote mountain in Tuen Mun. The rocky gorge, which is formed from volcanic breccia—a type of rock comprising lava blocks in ash—is also known as Hong Kong’s “mini Grand Canyon.” While it is certainly striking to look at, it’s worth noting that there’s a reason its nickname includes the word “mini,” so adjust your expectations. Click here for our full guide to hiking Pineapple Hill.