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A common tiger butterfly pauses in front of a tent at the Pui O campsite, Lantau. Photos: Martin Williams

Camping in Hong Kong: 4 places to pitch a tent on islands near and far

Whether you want to frolic with friends or commune with nature, Hong Kong has lots of options for sleeping in the open air. We’ve picked spots ranging from accessible to remote, and drawn up an essential packing list to get you started

While day and evening trips to the Hong Kong countryside are rewarding, a whole new experience awaits if you’re willing to camp. And though “camping” may conjure images of seasoned survival experts quietly cooking in billycans, then bedding down in the peace of a wilderness, camping Hong Kong-style can be rather different.

In fact, it might mean spending most of the night cooking, talking, joking and drinking, before retiring briefly and re-emerging to catch the sunrise – after which it’s time to have breakfast, pack up, and leave – presumably for a good sleep at home.

Watching the sunrise from inside a tent, on Tap Mun Island, Sai Kung.

Some hike further out to escape the crowds, others camp on beaches, such as at Tai Long Wan on the Sai Kung Peninsula, along with other non-official sites like grassy areas of Tap Mun. For beginners, there’s an emergence of “glamping” – blending comfort and camping, with tents included in the price – at places such as Tsim Bei Tsui Organic Farm, in Yuen Long, and Palm Beach on south Lantau.

READ MORE : 10 Hong Kong microadventures to help you make the most of the city

Most campsites in Hong Kong are government-run, mainly by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Here’s a selection of campsites, all free of charge, to get you started. Click here for a full list.
Sunbathers enjoy some winter rays on the beach, in front of a campsite in Pui O, Lantau.

Pui O Campsite

Type: Party on, maybe after squabbling over territory.

Where: Beside the beach at Pui O, southeast Lantau.

What to do: Enjoy the beach, barbecue and drink, as others do nearby; walk at night in search of peace and brown fish owls.

Of note: Made the news due to crowding by tourists from China, who were evidently in Hong Kong for shopping, not the countryside - which led to bookings being required for long holidays.

Frequented by Billy the Cow, who is overly fond of food handouts but also hangs out with nearby water buffalo.

Getting there: Bus from Mui Wo or Tung Chung.

The Nam Shan campsite in Hong Kong.

Nam Shan Campsite

Type: Woodland retreat.

Where: Little more than a stone’s throw from Pui O, Lantau, near the road to Mui Wo.

What to do: Chill out amongst the trees. Maybe hike – it’s by paths including the Lantau trail. Pop down to Pui O to enjoy the beach, before returning for a quiet night.

Of note: So near South Lantau Road, yet so far from the city.

Getting there: Bus from Mui Wo or Tung Chung.

Feral cows graze among tents on Tap Mun, Sai Kung.

Tap Mun (Grass Island)

Type: Remote, but popular.

Where: Grassy areas atop the southern headland of Tap Mun, off the northeast coast of the Sai Kung Peninsula.

What to do: Stroll trails above the wild coastline, visiting the Balance Rock - a rock tower like Hong Kong’s answer to the Tower of Pisa. If the sky’s clear, there’s a chance to stargaze, and perhaps admire epic sunsets and sunrises.

Of note: Unofficial campsite; there are several grassy areas used by campers. Just above a coastal village, where restaurants open at weekends and during public holidays. Relatively far from the public toilet that’s the main water source.

Visited by piratical feral cows that can cause consternation; no longer content with getting handouts from campers, they may amble in to grab what they can before being shooed off (tip: shoo loudly). We saw one that even ventured into a tent, with the campers yelling that it peed inside, leading to them spending the afternoon washing and drying mats and more.

Getting there: Ferry from Ma Liu Shui or Wong Shek Pier. Walk up path to the north of the village, following signs to the toilet and then towards the Balance Rock.

Low tide on the south coast of Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

Type: Remote.

Where: Southeast tip of Tung Ping Chau, in far eastern Hong Kong.

What to do: Explore the island. Enjoy the beautiful coast right outside the tent, with its wave-carved mudstone and rock pools, after the day-trippers have headed home.

Of note: The brightest lights to be seen from here are in eastern Shenzhen; Hong Kong’s hills are on the western horizon.

Getting there: Ferry from Ma Liu Shui, only at weekends and on public holidays.

Things to pack include binoculars, a torch, gas stove, cooking gear, sufficient water and a bottle of wine.

What to pack for camping in Hong Kong: the essentials

Visit an outdoors shop, and you’ll discover a host of items for camping, several of which you might never have guessed existed. You could spend handsomely on these, so what promised to be an el cheapo evening could rapidly transform into something that costs the equivalent of a night or two in a presidential suite. Happily, most items can be left in the shop, for now at least, though there are essential pieces of kit:

Tent: this is an obvious one, unless you’re heading somewhere you can rent a tent, or are planning to sleep in the open. It needs to balance being big enough for you and anyone who’ll share it, along with some bags, yet sufficiently small and portable that you’ll actually use it

Sleeping bag: note that Hong Kong evenings can be surprisingly chilly

Clothing: be ready for changes in conditions, like cooler nights, rain

Cooking gear: a small gas cooker, pot and pan, plus bowls, cups and utensils

Torches: one for small area lighting, another to carry when you walk about at night

More: groundsheet for tent, sleeping mat, towel, water container, map