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A sunset tour of Victoria Harbour aboard a Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui is an experience to savour. Photo: EPA

A Star Ferry sunset tour of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour aboard converted vessel the World Star – what’s it like?

  • Starting in Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui and looping around Tsing Yi island, the two-hour tour takes in some of Hong Kong’s most stunning bridges
  • The ferry has been specially adapted for viewing pleasure, giving unhindered views of the city without passengers having to fight for space to take photos

Colourful flags flutter from its mast as the ferry pulls away from the pier. Hong Kong Island’s Ferris wheel, skyscrapers and mountain peaks to the port side contrast with the weathered Tsim Sha Tsui dock to starboard, the breeze a welcome balm from the hot, humid air of “Asia’s World City”.

Pre-pandemic, the Star Ferry was a “must-do” for many tourists visiting the city. However, this Hong Kong icon – best known for its short, regular sailings between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon – is struggling financially, and is in danger of following the Jumbo floating restaurant into the history books.

The Star Ferry Company, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, has taken a major financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lack of tourists. According to a statement made by the company in March, it had accumulated losses of more than HK$70 million (US$8.9 million) over the past two years alone.

Star Ferry began offering extended cruises in 2017 to expand its appeal to visitors and locals alike. Passengers can choose between a 90-minute afternoon tour of the eastern part of Victoria Harbour or the two-hour Sunset tour, which loops around Tsing Yi island, passing under many of the city’s most stunning bridges at twilight.

Tourists enjoy a Star Ferry Sunset Tour. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

We have chosen the second option.

Having arrived for the 5.45pm sailing, we are ushered down the gangplank of the pier closest to Tsim Sha Tsui’s distinctive clock tower. Our LeaveHomeSafe apps are scanned and we hand over our ticket stubs before stepping aboard the World Star, a 1989 vessel that’s been renovated to feature an open bow and stern on the upper deck to give an unhindered view of the city, without passengers having to fight for space or a photo opportunity.

The World Star has been adapted for the harbour tours. Tourists enjoy a Star Ferry Sunset Tour. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The World Star is the only boat in the Star Ferry fleet to have rainbow flags running in lines from the bow to the mast and down to the stern, making it stand out from the moment you arrive to await boarding.

Once on board, passengers enter an air-conditioned central cabin. The windows on the upper deck are much larger than those on regular ferries, and there is spacious seating, including sofas. Non-alcoholic drinks are sold at a small counter in the corner.

There are about 45 people on board, so there is plenty of space for the couples and families, one of which has arrived with McDonald's takeaway bags to make up for the fact that no food is served on board.

Selfie time aboard the converted Star Ferry as it passes Stonecutters Bridge. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The ocean breeze cools those glued to the railing. As the light starts to dwindle, some passengers hold each other on the sofas and stare out the windows of the central cabin.

On the lower deck, which looks much the same as those on the company’s regular ferries, elderly sailors in Star Ferry uniforms sit eating their dinners, hunched over boxes of rice, undisturbed by guests, who tend to remain upstairs rather than take in the non-air-conditioned, more standard view from down below. The sailors chat as the lights of the city flick by.

Upstairs, children skip around, exploring every vantage point they can access. A crew member gives each of them a small paper craft.

The spacious upper deck seating includes sofas. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Most passengers watch in awe as the city lights twinkle across the water and the boat passes beneath the Stonecutters, Tsing Ma and Ting Kau bridges. Even from inside, there’s a clear view; the ceiling’s centre consists of large transparent panes.

Cara Tsang and her family have come for these bridges; her three-year-old son, Liam, loves them.

“His favourite is Stonecutters,” Tsang says, adding that Liam can identify all of Hong Kong’s bridges, so they picked this tour just for him.

Her children run about, enjoying the boat. “There are a lot of hidden gems in Hong Kong,” she says with a smile. “We just have to find them.”

Tourists aboard the World Star enjoy a blue-hour view of West Kowloon. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The sun sinks below the horizon and the blue hour is upon us. The clouds part to reveal a beautiful, glowing full moon over the Hong Kong skyline.

After two hours at sea, we are dropped back at the pier in time to catch the Symphony of Lights, which plays out nightly across the harbour, before heading home – on a different Star Ferry.

The Sunset Tour leaves from Tsim Sha Tsui at 5.45pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Tickets – HK$140 for adults and HK$110 for children under 12 and seniors – can be booked at the ticket counter on the day of the tour.

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the Star Ferry Company is hosting a photo competition online until the end of July. Prizes – including a two-night staycation package at The Murray hotel – will be given to those who submit the best Star Ferry photos.