Exploring Hong Kong’s Islands

The eclectic collection of islands off the coast of Hong Kong's main urban nucleus provides visitors with a range of leafy, tranquil spots to explore when they want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The eclectic collection of islands off the coast of Hong Kong’s main urban nucleus provides visitors with a range of leafy, tranquil spots to explore when they want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

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While a plethora of attractions, stunning vantage points and exquisite restaurants provide plenty to keep visitors occupied in Hong Kong, no one would hold it against you for craving a little time out.

In fact, a day spent outside of the city’s teeming urban centre – even though it too is an island – is likely to make you appreciate it that much more when you get back. From misty vistas over Lantau Island’s majestic Big Buddha to stupendous seafood feasts on Lamma Island, Hong Kong’s islands have plenty to offer – and they’re all just a short boat ride away. We’ve put together a selection of our favourite island retreats and why we think they’re worth adding to your Hong Kong holiday itinerary.

Lamma Island

This charming islet is the perfect retreat for those searching for a reprieve from the buzz of the city. The island’s plastic industry has now faded away, and today its main source of income is from the shops and restaurants in Yung Shue Wan and Mo Tat Wan. Start your trip by getting the ferry over to Mo Tat Wan. The family hiking trail over to Yung Shue Wan only takes about one hour, and meanders past beaches and hidden grottos used as hiding places by Japanese soldiers during World War II. The pleasant sea vistas are punctuated at intervals by the towering spires of the power plant on the coast of the island, but oddly enough, this ends up becoming more of a surreal addition than an eyesore. The trail is punctuated with fresh fruit and coconut vendors, so there’s no chance of going hungry while you’re on your way. Spend an hour browsing the quaint selection of handicraft and clothing boutiques in Yung Shue Wan before settling down for a seafood feast at the pier. Fried calamari, garlic prawns and tender razor clams all await.

Green Getaway

Lantau is Hong Kong’s largest island, and one of the greenest spots for a serene getaway. It’s also home to the Tian Tan Buddha – the largest seated bronze Buddha statue in the world. A ferry from Hong Kong’s outlying islands pier will take you straight to Lantau, but you’ll need to get a bus or taxi to the Big Buddha once you arrive. At the entrance to the shrine, some visitors are entertained by the tame cows milling around waiting to be petted, and there’s also a café here that serves up a delicious bowl of sweet soy bean curd. Then it’s onto the main attraction – the Big Buddha itself. Sitting tall at 500m above sea level, you will need to climb a flight of 268 steps to reach the shrine itself. Just as impressive as the shrine are the vistas from this lofty vantage point, so don’t forget to bring your camera. Head back down the steps and you’ll find the Po Lin Monastery – a century-old establishment home to temples, tea gardens and a restaurant. Round off your trip by travelling back to the city in style – swaying at a dramatic height as you progress along the Ngong Ping 360 cable car.

Break Away

While the New Territories aren’t strictly islands per se, as they’re actually on the mainland, they are a great place to explore Hong Kong’s greener, more rural landscapes. Home to country parks, wetlands and an extensive network of hiking trails, they’re the ideal destination for keen hikers who want to enjoy views from some of the finest lofty peaks in the region. If you don’t want to hike too-strenuous a route, then Tung Ping Chau trail is for you. This 6-kilometres path takes in vistas of craggy rock formations, hidden grottoes and stretches of sapphire-blue ocean. For those not afraid of a challenge, the High Island Reservoir East Dam trail takes about five hours to complete. To get your dose of culture in the New Territories, head to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum for an insight into the local culture. The museum is situated southwest of Sha Tin town centre and is home to an impressive selection of Bruce Lee memorabilia.

Cultural Hotspot

Though it may be small, measuring just 2.4 square kilometres in size, Cheung Chau makes up for what it doesn’t have in space with its unique collection of cultural attractions. Due to the fact that there is no motorised traffic on the island, it’s the perfect place for a good stroll. The Sai Tai road stretches southwest from the islands’ pier takes in marvellous ocean views and winds past a mouth-watering selection of restaurants. The path leads towards the Tin Hau Temple in Sai Wan, which is dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea. As generations of Cheng Chau families’ lives have been so closely tied to the sea, the shrine has been revered for many years. If you’re travelling with a loved one, the North Lookout Pavilion is the place to be for a romantic sunset overlooking the gleaming waters of Tung Wan, and the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong will seem a distant memory. Round off your day with a seafood dinner on She Praya Road.

The Forgotten Island

Positioned between Hong Kong and Lantau islands, the tiny islet of Peng Chau was a busy industrial centre in the 1970s and 80s. However, life on the island has since slowed down and it has taken on its former, sleepy vibe, with natural beauty as its main attraction. The hiking trail from Tai Lei to Old Fisherman’s Rock spoils visitors with incredible sea views, and you can absorb the tranquil atmosphere and deserted surroundings on the nearby beach. Finger Hill is the place to go for top-notch ocean panoramas. From this vantage point, you can also see the imposing form of Tsing Ma Bridge and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Top tips:

  • Many of Hong Kong’s islands still rely on the local fishing trade, and the wealth of active fishing fleets in the area means that you’re in the right place to gorge on a seafood feast. You know you’re going to get the catch of the day here, and dining al fresco is a great way to soak up the local atmosphere.
  • If you’re planning a trip to Hong Kong in late April/early May, try to coincide your visit with Cheung Chau’s annual bun festival. This quirky local event sees thousands of people head to the island to enjoy a spectacle of colourful performances and the baking of countless edible towers of buns.
  • Lantau Island’s Big Buddha monument attracts a lot of visitors, so if you’re in search of a moment of solitude take a visit to the Wisdom Path – a series of 38 wooden slates inscribed with verses from the Heart Sutra series of prayers. The site is nestled within the hills of Ngong Ping, a short distance from the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.
  • As well as being home to a quaint smattering of restaurants and shops, Lamma Island is also home to its own Tin Hau temple – a shrine to the goddess of the sea. This site of worship in particular is well worth a look, as the stone lions guarding its doors have been carved in a distinctly western style. Apparently, when the original lions were damaged in 1960, the stone mason that was employed to re-make them specialised in western style lions, resulting in a fusion of Eastern and Western style at this tiny temple.
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