Hoi Ha is about as far-flung as a village can be in Sai Kung and still be on the beaten track. Located literally at the end of the road in Sai Kung Country Park, visitors disembarking from the No.7 minibus find their cell phones beeping with “Welcome to China” messages from their mobile service providers.
It’s a 25-minute haul from Sai Kung town to this tiny dot on the map. Through the Pak Tam Chung barrier, the familiar feeling of being in another country descends: mile after mile of wooded hillsides, occasional barbecue sites, hardy hikers and hardier feral dogs, with barely a building to be seen.
So it’s a tad disappointing when, on first appearances, Hoi Ha appears to be just another Sai Kung village: three short higgledy-piggledy lanes of houses, some less well-kept than others, packed too closely together, with a couple of noodle shops and cafes to fortify passing hikers. And then you reach the beach.
As the most accessible part of the 260-hectare Hoi Ha Marine Park, and possibly the most cosseted stretch of sand in Hong Kong, the coastline makes the journey worthwhile. Unlike most of the territory’s somewhat sterile shores, the beach at Hoi Ha is a glorious reminder of all that we have lost. There’s so much to do and see.
At low tide, when the sea disappears towards the horizon, the sand flats bristle with life. The area is famous for its starfish, which bury themselves as the water retreats leaving ghostly outlines in the sand. Thousands of tiny shellfish, hermit crabs and mudskippers scuttle and leap unexpectedly. At one end lie rock pools, at the other slightly spooky mangroves and in between is a maze of freshwater streams and sandbanks, all just begging to be explored. A small shack on the beach rents kayaks and sailing boats, snorkels and sunshades, showers and lockers for daytrippers.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has a warden post in the village, enforcing the strict Marine Park rules about not removing wildlife such as seahorses, sea cucumbers, urchins and starfish. On Sundays and public holidays, it also runs eco-tours through the mangroves, past a 100-year-old lime kiln and out to view the corals near the public pier. There’s no advance booking service, just show up half an hour before the tours start at 10.30am and 2.15pm.