By LUXE City Guides
Modern Hong Kong owes its being to the sea that surrounds it; today’s high-density metropolis arose from more humble beginnings as a fishing village. And while the glittery skyscrapers, shopping malls and global flavours undoubtedly enthral, the city’s designated marine parks are fitting reminders of its natural history.
Designed to conserve the unique aquatic environments, Hong Kong’s five marine parks and one marine reserve are each distinct in their geography, geology and ecology; not all, however, are open to the public. Here are four visitor-friendly parks and their must-see attractions.
One of Hong Kong’s first official Marine Parks, this sheltered bay located north of Sai Kung Peninsula is a popular destination for kayakers, snorkellers and even scuba divers vying for glimpses of its marine life, which includes 60 varieties of coral and 120 species of coral fish.
Those keen to explore this magical underwater world can rent snorkelling gear from Wan Hoi Store in Hoi Ha village. Once kitted out, dive into the crystal clear waters to discover a rainbow of brain coral, mangroves, jellyfish, sponges, sea urchins and more. Alternatively, paddle your way around the mangrove-laden waters in a kayak.
Landlubbers are not excluded from the fun. The rustic village features a small temple and, distinct to the area, four lime kilns (two of which are still relatively intact); one of Hong Kong’s oldest industries, lime-refining originally used coral and oyster shells until the practice stopped in 1939. Post history jaunt, head back to the beach for snacks and drinks from the beach store.
- Take the MTR to Diamond Hill and exit at C2. Take bus 92 or 96R (Sunday and public holidays only) to Sai Kung Town, then take green minibus 7 to Hoi Ha Tsuen and walk to the Marine Park.
Backdropped by cascading hills and protected from the ocean on four sides, this tranquil harbour known for its temperate microclimate and calm seas is fittingly called Double Haven. Situated on the northeast coast of Plover Cove Country Park, Yan Chau Tong’s lush mangroves and seagrass bed attract an abundance of marine life, as well as visitors who flock to enjoy the area’s geological wonders and picturesque hiking trails.
Originally formed by volcanic eruptions, millions of years of erosion and weathering have created a stunningly diverse coastline that ranges from sandy bays to rocky headlands and peninsulas; such is the beauty of the area that locals sometimes call it mini Guilin.
The hiking trail from Bride’s Pool at Wu Kau Tang to Lai Chi Wo, weaves through lush bamboo jungle and waterfalls, vivid green fields and historic Hakka villages, ending with spectacular views of the park’s coastline.
- Take the ferry from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier, which sails across Double Haven on Sunday and public holidays. Or, take minibus 20R from Tai Po Market MTR Station to Tin Sam Village at Wu Kau Tang. It’s a two-hour hike to Lai Chi Wo.
Hong Kong’s largest marine park occupies 1,200 hectares of open water to the west of the New Territories and encompasses the vast Sha Chau sandbar and outlying White Island. Thanks to freshwater run-off from the Pearl River, the nutrient-rich waters create ideal living and breeding conditions for an array of coastal and oceanic croaker fish and shellfish. Its most famous inhabitant, however, is the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, aka the Chinese white dolphin, which although rare, can still be spotted in the sea.
While the park is highly protected and water traffic closely controlled, Hong Kong Dolphinwatch runs boat trips every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for those looking to catch a glimpse of the majestic, pastel-pink creatures in their natural habitat.
Closer to Shenzhen than it is to Hong Kong, the remote island of Ping Chau is unique for its striking sedimentary rock formations and a coral community that rivals that of Hoi Ha Wan. Although the 1.5-hour ferry journey to get there might seem a bit of a schlep, those willing to hop aboard will be rewarded with a 270-hectare ecological refuge like nowhere else in Hong Kong.
A UNESCO Global Geopark, Tung Ping Chau’s 60-million-year-old multi-layered rock formations are easily accessed via the island’s 5km-long coastal path, which also meanders past the abandoned Shau Tau Village and century-old Tin Hau Temple.
Once home to 2,000 people, the island is now only populated at weekends, with a couple of family-run restaurants keeping visitors replenished with drinks and flip-fresh catches of the day – there’s even a rustic guesthouse should you wish to stay overnight. Intrepid snorkelers (you’ll need to take your own equipment) can also swim amid the stony coral home to more than 130 fish and 200 species of marine invertebrates, as well as over 65 species of marine algae. Dive on in!
- From MTR University Station Exit B, take a taxi to Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier. The boat to Tung Ping Chau departs at 9am and 3pm on Saturday and 9am on Sunday and public holidays. There is one return ferry at 5.15pm.
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