There’s more to Tung Ping Chau than great strata. By Nigel Griffiths.
Closer to China than Hong Kong, the crescent- shaped island of Tung Ping Chau is the territory’s remotest outpost. It makes for a fantastic family day out, rambling the footpaths, relaxing at the shoreline and swimming or snorkelling in the beautiful waters. It was once voted the most scenic natural place in Hong Kong in an AFCD competition.
Tung Ping Chau is in Mirs Bay, in northwest Hong Kong, just 3km from the Chinese coast. It’s part of both Plover Cove Country Park and the Hong Kong Global Geopark of China. With some of the only sedimentary rocks in the territory, it is a mecca for local geologists.
About 50 million years ago, the area was a quiet lagoon. Over millennia, sunlight and rain eroded the surrounding mountains, washing plant debris, mud and sand into the lagoon where the layers of sediment built up and eventually compacted into rock. Changes in sea level, compression and further erosion has created strange formations out of the layers of siltstone and mudstone, which have an irregular clumpy structure or regular reticulated cracks. The strata are arranged horizontally like a layer cake or distorted and tilted by geological forces. Striking cliffs line the island’s west and south coasts.
Tung Ping Chau was once home to a bustling island community, with a population of more than 2,000 in 10 villages, mostly focused on fishing for abalone, sea urchins and fish, or growing peanuts and sweet potatoes. But by the 1970s, only a few elderly people remained, living on earnings from the sale of dried cuttlefish and sea-urchin cream. The island has no potable water or electricity supply, so villagers built a reservoir at the back of the Tin Hau Temple and, today, generators provide much needed power for weekend visitors.
The island has a chequered history, with early tales of pirates and smuggling. During World War II, it was used as a storage facility for petrol and other dangerous goods. And in the Korean War, following the United Nations’ embargo on China, the island was a favourite base for smuggling goods across the border, including kerosene, oil, rubber and cotton. With the end of the war in 1953, the island returned to tranquillity.Today, weekend ferries dock at Wong Ye Kok Pier, where maps display suggested hiking routes. Confusingly, the AFCD maps indicate the footpath is closed at certain points owing to land disputes, but ignore these as the way has been cleared. Heading north from the pier, follow the paved footpath or beach to Chau Mei Kok. The far end of the beach has wonderful examples of rock strata and wave-cut platforms. Continue up the footpath to Cham Keng Chau and its famous sea stack, a 10m-high, 20m-long landform separated from the island by a channel that you can walk down to the beach. After about 250 metres, a footpath to the left runs through the deserted village of Chan Uk to Tai Tong, which has a few basic restaurants.
To circumnavigate the whole island, continue straight instead of turning left to Tai Tong, for fantastic views of the shoreline rock formations. At Chau Pui, another footpath on the left leads to A Ma Wan via the Tam Kung Temple and 250-year-old Tin Hau Temple. Those who continue to the island’s southern tip will find fishermen angling in one of the two designated areas.
Tung Ping Chau is famed for its biodiversity. The sea is rich in fish, coral, seaweed beds and algae. It is possible to rent snorkelling equipment for about $60 a day at the shops in Tai Tong Wan and A Ma Wang. Inland, the pond at Chau Tau attracts birds, insects, dragonflies, butterflies and the golden orb-weaver spider. Flora includes the screwpine or pandanus and coastal plants such as morning glory, vitex, papaya and cactus with delicate flowers.
Saturday visitors can stay overnight either in their own tents (permission from AFCD is required) or in basic dorms at Tai Tong Wan or A Ma Wang (book in advance with Mr Yan, 9208 3063). Groups of seven or more pay $380 a night each, including three meals.
Ferries from Ma Liu Shui Pier, near University MTR Station, depart on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays at 9am, returning at 5.15 pm, with an extra trip from Ma Liu Shui at 3.30pm on Saturdays. The trip takes an hour and 40 minutes and costs $90 return. Arrive at the pier 20 minutes before departure.
Call 2527 2513 for more details