How to hike wild side of Hong Kong’s Lamma Island: idyllic walk takes in beautiful hillsides and a cosy beach
Sok Kwu Wan is a good starting point to explore the island’s wild and little visited southern side. The circuit takes under three hours to complete, with shady sections to rest at, a fine beach and places to buy drinks
While Sok Kwu Wan is familiar as a coastal village dominated by seafood restaurants, it's also a good starting place for an easy hike to explore the relatively little visited, wild south of Lamma – which resembles a corner of the far-flung New Territories.
Even at a gentle pace with plenty of stops en route, the circuit takes under three hours to complete, and with shady sections plus a fine beach and places to buy drinks, it’s a cracking choice for a summer outing.
If you start the hike at the Sok Kwu Wan ferry pier, turn right along the narrow street lined with restaurants. In the early morning, most are quiet, with only a handful of people eating breakfast – reflecting the fact there are few people in this area, and though there are boats on the water close by, there is no longer a thriving fishing community here.
There is still a well-maintained temple to Tin Hau, goddess of local fishermen, which you arrive at just after the restaurants. In front of it, a signpost indicates a concrete path uphill, along the South Lamma Family Walk towards Tung O.
This path leads into woodland with slender trees and bamboo. The inlet sheltering Sok Kwu Wan is soon lost from view. Even at a gentle pace, in less than half an hour you will emerge to hillsides with grass, scrub and boulders, and a side trail to the right leads to a pavilion affording splendid views of southern Lamma.
Though just 136 metres above sea level, the pavilion feels above and apart from the rest of Hong Kong, the only sound being the cheerful, melodic chatter of bulbuls, which are among the territory’s commonest local birds.
The green, boulder-strewn slopes of Lamma's highest peak, Mount Stenhouse, dominate the landscape to the west. Another hill rises to the northeast, with its southern slopes dropping down to Tung O Wan, beyond which lie southern Hong Kong Island and Po Toi. Looking south, the land tumbles to a sheltered inlet, Sham Wan.
You can visit Sham Wan by walking down the family trail from near the pavilion, and turning right just before the hamlet of Tung O. Again there is a concrete path, passing a fine banyan tree, then following the edge of an almost level valley floor that may have been cultivated but is now overgrown with rank grassland.
After five minutes' walk the concrete gives way to a dirt path, and there are rough steps to trees and scrub fringing a sandy beach. Though a tempting sight at the height of summer, this one is closed to visitors from June 1 to October 31, and you could be fined HK$50,000 for setting foot on the sand.
This restriction aims to safeguard nesting green turtles, as by late last century Sham Wan was the only regular nesting site for this species in Hong Kong. Sadly, the last nesting was in 2012, but conservationists hope turtles born then or in previous years will return once mature and ensure these magnificent animals – which can grow to over 1.5 metres long and weigh over 200 kilograms – continue breeding here.
For now, you can skirt the top of the beach, and view the bay from the rocky shores to east and west. There might be pleasure boats in the bay, as there are no restrictions on access to the water, meaning turtles are disturbed or deterred before even reaching the beach: so if you head out on a summer junk trip, don’t enter the bay.
A cluster of boulders forms an islet close inshore, as if a giant had playfully dropped them in place to enliven the scenery. Rocky reefs also flank the mouth of the bay. Beyond, there is just sea and islands – for the time being, at least; a developer has ideas for building housing with a marina in southeast Lamma. Plans have so far been rejected over environmental concerns regarding impacts on land and sea wildlife, including turtles, as well as the devastating effect it would have on this splendid stretch of coastline.
There is another hamlet, Yung Shue Ha, at the east of the bay. Like Tung O, it seems mostly deserted by all but a handful of residents, who make a little income by selling drinks and simple food to passing hikers.
From here, the path turns inland a little, and soon arrives at a row of ruined houses with trees sprouting in former living rooms. A sign notes that this was the site of the original Yung Shue Ha – established around 200 years ago, but later abandoned as the village was relocated to beside the shoreline.
The path leads through woodland, and climbs a little, passing another ageing hamlet, Mo Tat Old Village, with a handful of single storey buildings that are in ruins, beside a handful of neatly kept, white-painted one- and two-storey houses, alongside rather scruffy vegetable plots.
Soon after this, there are a handful of Spanish-style villas by the path, in Mo Tat New Village. There's an information board on Mo Tat, where someone has crossed out most of the last sentence, that read:
“These days, however, most young villagers have left for greener pastures in the city,” and scribbled a revision to say, “These days, more than 100 people of all ages live in Mo Tat.”
The family trail continues eastward from Tung O. Just after the hamlet, there is a wonderful, east- facing bay, Shek Pai Wan. This has a beach over 400 metres long, with fine sand you can walk on all year round, and shallow waters suitable for swimming – but take care, as there is no lifeguard service. This means, however, that you can bring dogs, throw frisbees, play ball games and fly kites without being scolded for illicit fun.
From here, the path descends to a north facing shore, and the family trail turns west, with a rather dull, exposed section taking you back to Sok Kwu Wan.
Sok Kwu Wan is served by ferries from Central that take around half an hour and operate roughly hourly on Sundays and public holidays, less frequently on weekdays, and from Aberdeen. The Aberdeen ferry also stops at Mo Tat, so this could be worth considering for the return journey if you want to omit the rather dreary stretch from there to Sok Kwu Wan.