Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am

Sometimes spelled Waichow, Huizhou is situated on the Dongjiang (East River), one of the main tributaries of the Pearl River system, along with the West and North rivers. Most of Hong Kong's fresh water comes from the protected upper East River catchment between Huizhou and Hoyuen. Under supply agreements agreed between Hong Kong and Guangdong in the late 1960s, water is piped south from there to Shenzhen and on into Hong Kong, where it is comprehensively treated before distribution. Hong Kong's once-critical water shortages are a distant memory due to the East River's year-round reliability.

Only 100km or so from the border, Huizhou was the closest sizeable city to Hong Kong that remained unoccupied by the Japanese during the Pacific war. It became the advanced headquarters for the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), a wartime Hong Kong resistance organisation that gathered intelligence. The East River guerillas, communist irregulars who harassed the Japanese, also operated out of Huizhou and - along with the BAAG - assisted escapees from Hong Kong to reach freedom in China.

Huizhou's population is overwhelmingly Hakka, and most of Hong Kong's Hakka-speakers claim descent from the Huizhou region. Close family and business links have been maintained between Huizhou and Sai Kung, in the New Territories - also a Hakka stronghold.

Waichow gai ('Waichow chicken') hybrids, hardy, slightly fatty birds with russet-brown feathers and pale yellow skin, are bred around Huizhou for the Hong Kong market and are much-favoured for the taste and texture of their meat.

Huizhou is famed for its pagoda, which is prominent on an artificial island in the middle of the West Lake. The seven-storey Sizhou Pagoda was built in the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644), destroyed by a probable lightning strike in 1564, reconstructed in 1618 and renovated again in the 1950s. It affords extensive views across the gardens and the city - entrance tickets to the lake gardens are checked at the bottom of the tower.

The West Lake gardens consist of five lakes connected by six bridges, spread across almost 20 sq km, and although 'there are 36 West Lakes in China', a saying relates, 'only that in Huizhou compares with Hangzhou for beauty'. Stands of weeping willow, yellow bamboo, brilliant purple-flowered bauhinia and other varied vegetation make this a popular spot for birdwatchers.

Huizhou is easily reached from Shenzhen; buses depart every half an hour from the terminus beneath Luohu Shopping Centre, just across from the immigration checkpoint. The journey takes about an hour and the West Lake area is an easy 10-minute taxi ride from the bus station. Numerous restaurants scattered around the lake provide pleasant, inexpensive lunch options.