Sunshine, friends and oodles of great scenery – you can’t beat messing about in a boat, writes Carolynne Dear.
Kayaks, craters and clownfish
Spend a day kayaking Hong Kong’s famous Geopark.
It’s a balmy morning in Sai Kung as we wait on the New Pier for our speedboat pick-up out to the famous Hong Kong Geopark.
We’ve booked onto a family kayak and hike adventure day with local water sports specialist, Paul Etherington, and have been promised kayaking, a “light” hike, snorkelling, a speedboat tour of the geopark, and a Chinese seafood late-lunch by the beach to finish off. All in all, we’re pretty excited to get going.
We are soon bouncing our way across Sai Kung’s Inner Port Shelter to Yau Ley, or High Island, located within Sai Kung East Country Park. This is where the kayaks are stored and our point of departure for the paddling part of the adventure. The sea kayaks are all twins or trios, and Etherington soon has us appropriately teamed up and equipped with paddles and life-vests ready for the short trip round to Millionaire’s Beach in the next bay. My seven- year old son has been allocated the middle seat, with my eleven-year old daughter taking the front, and me in the engine room at the back.
We have a quick snack and a cool off on Millionaire’s, before hitting the water again for the longest paddle of
the day, across to Bluff Island. We are accompanied by several safety kayaks and a safety speed boat. It’s a gorgeous paddle, although the seven-year-old is relegated to “wave watching” duty after a few near misses between the end of his wildly enthusiastic paddle and the back of the eleven-year-old’s head.
We pull up triumphantly on the beach at Bluff – even the teen and her friend in their twin kayak are quite proud of themselves. Now for the hiking part of the day. We pull on socks, trainers and hats and scramble through the undergrowth at the end of the beach to the beginning of a rugged trail that takes us up to the highest point on the island. The views are breathtaking – the shimmering Sai Kung Inner Port shelter and its emerald green islands on one side, and the wild, sapphire blue ocean on the other. The jewel-like imagery is richly deserved.
Then it’s back down to the beach where Etherington pulls out some snorkels and shows us a small patch of coral to the west-side of the sand.
Incredibly, Hong Kong boasts more species of coral than the Caribbean, but it has been systematically destroyed over the years.
We were lucky enough to spot lots of darting fish and some colourful corals, and the water is beautifully clear.
From Bluff, we jump onto the speedboat for a whizz around the spectacular geology of the area. Etherington is a wealth of information, and the kids are enraptured to discover that they’re speeding around on what used to be the crater of a super-volcano.
Once on the beach again, it’s back into the kayaks for the final, and toughest, paddle of the day, around to the ocean-side of Bluff and through a sea-arch. The sea is pretty rocky, which adds to the adventure, but we are well escorted and it’s great fun skimming through the surf. The sea arch itself is one of the finest examples in Hong Kong and it’s really special floating through the arch and having an up- close look at the rock formations. The water is so clear we can see right to the bottom. In fact it’s so impressive we paddle round and back through a second time, while Etherington and the rest of the group patiently wait on the other side.
Even I’m beginning to feel slightly weary by this stage, so it’s a welcome relief to climb into the speedboat and be driven back to Yau Ley, the kayaks roped up and bobbing along behind us.
While Etherington and his team pack the gear away, we enjoy a delicious seafood lunch at laid-back High Island restaurant. Dishes of steamed fish, fried rice, noodles, garlicky scallops, prawns and sweet and sour pork are ravenously consumed, with ice creams all round for the kids. Once little tummies have been topped up, the children have a great time fossicking on the beach and leaping from the pier into the cool water, while we adults kick back with a beer and re-live our day of adventure on the high seas.
Kayak and Hike can be booked at kayak-and-hike.com.
Sai Kung’s super volcano
140 million years ago, volcanoes were active in the area. Whenever there was an eruption, great lava flows gushed out, along with scorching volcanic ash. They spread across the ground and formed lava layers, which contracted on cooling and gave rise to the spectacular hexagonal lava columns that can be seen today.
Sai Kung’s columns are unique, being formed from acidic silica-rhyolistic volcanic rock, rather than the more usual basic basaltic lava seen in other parts of the world.
Over the years, the sea and weather have carved out spectacular sea cliffs, sea caves, sea arches and sea stacks, all of which can be seen in the Hong Kong UNESCO Geopark which covers 50km2 of the New Territories
Think pink on Lantau
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch has been running ecological tours to view Hong Kong’s resident Chinese White dolphins since 1995. Also known as “pink” dolphins, these creatures splash around in the waters off Lantau. Unfortunately these days they are threatened from under-treated sewage, ferry traffic, over-fishing, net entanglement and the various construction programmes currently being carried out on Lantau. The Dolphinwatch tours include information sheets and a detailed presentation on the environmental situation of the pink dolphins by experienced guides.
“There’s no “best” time to view the dolphins,” says Dolphinwatch’s Janet Walker. “We are busy right the year through and some of our best sightings occur “off-season”.”
The tour includes return trip by coach from TST to Tung Chung New Development Pier on Lantau, a three-four hour tour on a luxury cruiser, presentation and light refreshments. Trips run three times a week every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and are generally scheduled in the mornings.
For more details, see hkdolphinwatch.com.
Happy days at Hoi Ha
For a full-day snorkelling adventure, Wouter van Marle of Countryside Adventure Tours leads trips up to Hoi Ha in Sai Kung Country Park.
“There are no coral reefs in Hong Kong,” explains van Marle. “The geology of the area is just not right for reefs to build. The corals grow on rocky sea floors, generally in shallower waters (up to ten metres), as Hong Kong’s waters are not clear enough for sunlight to penetrate any deeper, and corals need light. This means that snorkelling is a great way to see the corals – there is no need for scuba to get up close to them.”
A typical tour run-down includes travel out to Hoi Ha, followed by instruction on how to use the snorkelling equipment and the kayaks.
“We then paddle the kayaks out to the first snorkelling area, the first of three colonies at Hoi Ha, which takes about 20 minutes,” says van Marle.
There is then plenty of time to swim around and admire the corals, before heading on to the second coral colony.
“The two places are quite different,” says van Marle. “The first has more corals but generally less fish, the second area has more and also larger fish swimming around.” Once the colonies have been investigated, it’s back in the kayak and back to shore.
Hooked on Hong Kong’s beauty, van Marle has been adventuring his way around the Territory since 2002. Hoi Ha is a sheltered bay at the north of Sai Kung Peninsula. It is a designated marine park of around 2.5 km sq, with significant biodiversity.
For more tour information, see adventuretours.hk.
Squid fishing (although we’re liking “squi-shing”) is a brilliant way to spend the evening with older kids in summer. The season runs from approximately May through to October, and bobbing boats laden with huge floodlights can be spotted on waterways all over the territory at this time.
Boat rental companies Jubilee and Saffron Cruises both offer squid fishing packages that run from approximately 7 to 11pm. Pick-ups are generally from Tsim Sha Tsui (although there are also Aberdeen and Sai Kung options), from where the boat will motor for around 45 minutes to reach the best squid-laden patches of water.
Once you’ve anchored, huge floodlights on the boat illuminate the water to attract the wily creatures, while the kids can toss the simple fishing devices (a wooden handle with a line and a hook) into the inky waters.
If they’re lucky, with a deft flick of the wrist they’ll be hauling dinner on board, which the boat crew will happily cook up for you. But if luck isn’t on your side, a simple buffet dinner is also available. Alcohol is BYO, so don’t forget a bottle of wine or two and you can enjoy a glass while soaking up Hong Kong’s lights at night.