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HK Magazine Archive

Isle Be Back

Running out of islands to hop onto on holidays? June Ng and Snowy Choi pick the six best remote islands out there. Photos by Kay Yuen and Angus Leung.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2008, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 2:47pm

So you think you’ve been island hopping just because you’ve been on the Ngong Ping 360, crawled into pirate caves on Cheung Chau and eaten way too much overpriced seafood. Well, Hong Kong’s 263 islands have a whole lot more to offer. It just takes a little more time to get there.

Tap Mun

Also known as “Grass Island,” Tap Mun boasts a densely grassed hilltop with stunning views of the sea. It has just 98 residents, down from its 6,000-strong population back in the 60s. So besides the rocky outcrops and stunning scenery, be prepared to see plenty of spooky, vacant houses.

What to do
Let’s start with the food. New Hon Kee Restaurant (2328-2428) is a famous seafood joint left of the pier. Despite its modest appearance, the place is a hot spot for celebrities including Chow Yun-fat, ex-governors Chris Pattern and David Wilson, and, according to chef Alan Chan, late legendary journalist Kelvin Sinclair, whose memorial service was held there earlier this year. The most famous dish is fried rice with sea urchin, with sea urchin fishing areas just nearby.

Next door is Sun Wai Wo (2791-8100), a cha chaan teng famous for its “iceless” iced tea. And on the right side of the pier is Yung Shue Village Seaview Café (2791-8332), where you’ll find the island’s only accommodation on offer—with just one room to rent. Minimum charge per night is US$33 for two people, US$7 for each additional person.

Tap Mun’s green landscape makes for some nice, gentle walks, but keep an eye out for attractions like Balanced Rock, famed for its peculiar shape and the way it balances precariously against its twin brother. Just follow the signpost uphill to find it. Famous hiking spots on the island include Mao Ping Shan and Lung Keng Kan – though local residents say they’re thick with trees and bushes, and unsuitable for beginners.

Exploring time
The island is 1.69 square kilometers, so take three to four hours to enjoy it properly.

How to get there
Ferries to Tap Mun depart from Ma Liu Shui on weekdays at 8.30am and 3pm, and on weekends and public holidays at 12.30pm. They also depart from the Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung on weekdays at 10:35am and 4:55pm, and hourly on weekends and public holidays. Call 2272-2022 or 2272-2000 for details. You can also call hire a speedboat to get there from Sai Kung. Book by calling Mr. To on 9134-6248.

Po Toi

Po Toi occupies the southernmost point about three kilometers off Hong Kong Island. Something of a paradise for geology buffs, its rocky landscape offers views both fascinating and picturesque.

What to do
Check out the rocks. The island’s remoteness makes it fairly uninhabited, producing no alternations to its natural landscape and leaving some rare, often bizarre rocks intact. To visit them all, take a walk along this suggested route:

- Follow the path to your left after the pier until you pass a grocery store, which is your last chance to get a cold drink and snacks for the walk.

- Take the path on its right and go up the hill after seeing a road sign. After 10 minutes you should arrive at the abandoned Mo’s Mansion, dubbed “the haunted house” because of its creepy, cinematic ruins. Not far along is a rock jutting out of a slope that looks like a coffin, named Coffin Rock.

- Stick to the route and you’ll reach the highest point of the island at 188 meters. Take in some fine views before descending the steps on the other side.

- You’ll now reach an intersection. Take one route and you will see Turtle Rock and Monk Rock, both resembling their namesakes. Then visit Lighthouse 126, the southernmost lighthouse in Hong Kong.

- Now double back on yourself and take a close look at the cliff, where you will see another famous rock, Buddha’s Palm, and a 2,000 year-old rock carving that’s a declared monument. Then continue the route down back to the pier.

If you have some time to kill before the next ferry, head to the island’s only restaurant, Ming Kee (2849-7038) for some decent dishes made with the day’s catch. Wash it down with a bowl of fresh soup.

Exploring time
You’ll need around three hours, as the island is just 3.69 square kilometers in size. Remember that there’s hiking involved.

How to get there
Ferries run to Po Toi from Aberdeen and Stanley on Tuesdays, Thursdays (Aberdeen only), Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays (from both piers). Weekdays ferries depart from Promenade Pier at 10am and return from Po Toi at 2pm, taking an hour. Meanwhile, there’s one ferry on Saturday and four on Sunday from Stanley. For more information, call 2554-4059.

Kat O

Kat O natives proudly call it one of the last paradise retreats in noisy Hong Kong. And it’s true. There are only 50 people or so still living on the island, but holidays see it packed with tourists sightseeing, diving and hiking.

What to do
Up the hill is The Eagle’s Head, which allows you to enjoy the surrounding sea views. On one side you can see the half-moon shaped coastline and a beach known as Tung O Wan, the best scuba diving site in Hong Kong. On the other side, you can walk through the serene fisherman’s village, which most of the villagers have vacated since the fishing industry’s heyday.

Don’t visit without dropping by the Tin Hau Temple. Burn some incense, wish for good luck and admire the historical décor. And don’t forget to check out the Lover’s Tree next to it. The tree is crooked and grows horizontally. According to legend, the deity Tin Hau forbade the tree from growing taller than the temple, so now it has the appearance of two lovers holding hands.

But the real jewel of Kat O is the food. Yik Man Seafood Restaurant (2679-9337), a Hakka restaurant, makes the best cuttlefish balls in the world. Unlike the smooth, bleached-white balls you can buy anywhere, Yik Man’s are chunky with a natural color. The owner Mr. Lau and his wife insist on using the freshest cuttlefish from nearby waters, and steam the balls instead of deep-frying to retain the freshness. Call ahead to book a table.

Finally the snacks—Wing Kee Store sells iced pineapple and plums for just US$0.50. These excellent thirst-quenchers are hard to find in Hong Kong nowadays. The store’s owners are a nice couple who always keep the drink fridge unlocked, just in case they’re not there when someone desperately need a coke. But please, don’t be a cheapskate.

Exploring time
Three to four hours. But if you’re looking for some hardcore hiking, you’d better take a whole a day.

How to get there
Ferries run from Sha Tau Kok to Kat O at 12.30pm and 3.30pm daily. However, the pier is in a closed area and you need a permit from the police to get inside, which is basically impossible unless you know someone living in Sha Tau Kok. Alternatively, call Ming (9174-3914) for a speedboat from Sai Kung.

Reminder
Kat O has some mean mosquitoes, so wear light, long-sleeved clothing and bring repellent.

Ap Chau

Next to Kao O is Ap Chau, the island with the fewest residents in Hong Kong—just eight. 80-year-old Chau Sau-tung (right) has led the village for 50 years. Don’t expect to see a ramschackle, though; there’s plenty of renovation and new houses. Why? Chan told us that it’s a good deed from the descendants of the indigenous villagers. Many moved to England in the 70s and 80s and made their fortunes. Now their children have returned and want to rebuild their ancestors’ home, including the vacant ones, as a gesture.

What to do
Ap Chau is a great place for soul searching and meditation. We’re not kidding. The serene island is in fact a Christian village built by the True Jesus Church from Taiwan. American preachers set up the village to shelter fishermen and their families who converted to Christianity in the 60s—about 700 inhabitants at the time. The island’s church is still intact.

You could also embrace your fellow man and talk to the friendly eight residents. The super-nice Mr. Chan offered us tea when we visited. We also bumped into the Ho family (left), a family of four whose father Tony Ho immigrated to Newcastle in his teens and is now back for a visit. Of course, with only eight people living there, you may not bump into anyone you know. But is that such a bad thing?

Exploring time
Probably less than an hour, as this is a tiny island. We suggest you to combine the visit with a trip to Kat O.

How to get there
See traveling to Kat O.

Reminder
There are no stores or restaurants on the island, so make sure you bring plenty food and drink.

Kau Sai Chau

Not just any island off of Sai Kung, the 6.7 square kilometer Kau Sai Chau is actually home to Hong Kong’s only public golf course.

What to do
You can walk around and soak in the beautiful scenery, but for golfing buffs, nothing beats a dirt-cheap round. Opened in 1995 by the Jockey Club, the Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course now has three courses, including the new 18-hole East Course, opened just over a month ago. The fee is just US$36-US$96, depending on the number of holes you wish to play and which day you go. If you’re in need of practice, there is also a driving range which charges just $35 for 30 minutes. Classes are also available, with a beginner’s class costing US$180 for eight lessons. Swing away!

Exploring time
As much as you need for a game.

How to get there
The Jockey Club runs ferries from its own pier in Sai Kung (beside the public swimming pool) every 20 minutes.

Reminder
Golfers need to book ahead as the green is constantly full. Download a form at www.kscgolf.org.hk. The website also has more information on course guidelines and rules and booking information.

Ninepin Islands

These lovely, uninhibited islands lie just east of Sai Kung and boast magnificent hexagonal rocks on their cliffs. Known as “rhyolitic ash tuff” by geologists, they were formed after two major volcanic eruptions in prehistoric times. Today, the Ninepin Islands are extremely hard to get to, but are worth visiting for their uniqueness.

What to do
The northern island of Ninepin is where you will see most of the hexagonal rocks, which make for some great photos. Meanwhile, the southern island is where the caves and greenery is. It’s advisable not to walk around by yourself though—get a professional guide to take you.

How to get there
You can rent a boat from Sai Kung pier, which takes about an hour. It’s advisable to join a tour, however, as there have been terrible accidents on the islands involving unsupervised wanderers. HK Traveler organizes a trip every month to Ninepin Islands that includes transportation (boat departs from Tsim Shau Tsui Pier), a tour guide, lunch, water and insurance. They also organize personalized tours. Call 2836-5878 for details.

Exploring time
Including transportation, you’ll need a full day.

Reminder
Make sure you wear comfortable, non-slip shoes as some of the cliffs are quite dangerous. Also, anyone with motion sickness should have medication ready, as the waters are rough near Ninepin.