10 Secret Islands To Visit In Hong Kong
From amazing rock formations, sandy beaches to a touch of history––put these secret islands on your radar and discover some of Hong Kong’s best hidden gems
As the pandemic continues to impose travel restrictions, many of us have been making the most of our time spent at home by exploring some lesser-known places in Hong Kong––from alternative picnic spots, to colourful Instagram locations and seaside towns.
If you want to escape the frenzy of city life, and have already ventured to the outlying islands such as Lamma Island and Cheung Chau, discover more of Hong Kong’s hidden wonders by taking a trip to one of its secret islands.
From the picturesque island of Peng Chau, the abandoned Hakka village in Yim Tin Tsai to the snorkelling paradise of Sharp Island,Hong Kong’s lesser-known islands are well worth visiting––whether it’s for photo-taking, sunrise hopping or outdoor sports.
Tatler Tip: As the islands can only be reached by small Kaito ferries or via private charter, be sure to check the ferry schedule in advance. We also recommend bringing water, food and extra clothes as not all the islands have restaurants and potable water.
Tung Ping Chau
The island of Tung Ping Chau is all about rocks. Part of the UNESCO Global Geopark, it comes as no surprise that the island is filled with wonderful geology. The sedimentary rock here is brightly coloured and layered, making for an incredibly photogenic island. But that’s not all: the area is a diverse mix of a country park, a marine park, a great place for scientific research and of course the icing on the cake, the UNESCO listing.
Because of all the rocks on the island, it might not be a place you’d think of living but a few people do live in the main village, Tai Tong, who usually travel in and out of the island. You’ll most likely see them during the weekends when visitors are expected to come, operating restaurants and lodges or touring people around.
How to get there: Take the train to University Station and get off at exit B. Walk for about 15 minutes or take a taxi to Ma Lui Shui Ferry Pier. Take the ferry from there to Tung Ping Chau which is only available on the weekend
True to its other name, Grass Island, Tap Mun has plenty of grassy hillocks and greenery making it a popular camping and kite-flying spot. With its undisturbed views, rocky beaches and wandering cows, it’s an ideal place to get in touch with nature. While the island is largely empty, a few hundred Hakka and Tanka do still people live there, with former residents known to flock back to the island once every 10 years to celebrate the island’s former fishing community at its own Tin Hau Temple.
A former smuggling and pirate site, the celebration at the Tin Hau Temple dates back to the 18th century when a storm shattered parts of the island. The villagers prayed to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea for protection and to save their livelihood and family with a promise to celebrate the island every decade. Other than the temple, a number of sites are also worth exploring including the abandoned King Lam School which had only one pupil when it closed down in 2003.
How to get there: Take Bus 94 from Sai Kung Bus Terminal to Wong Shek Pier. Take the Kaito ferry from there which runs every 1–2 hours. Alternatively, you can also take the ferry from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier although they run less regularly
See also: The Tatler Guide To Camping
Sharp Island is the place to be if you’re looking for two secluded and quiet beaches—Hap Mun or Kiu Tsui—to relax on. With golden sands, pristine waters, and a tranquil atmosphere, this secret island really has plenty to love. Located not far from Sai Kung, the island also has a hiking trail that offers magnificent views of the sea and surrounding islands.
For the ultimate Sharp Island experience though, head over to Kiu Tau Chau. Only accessible during low tide, you’ll be treated with groups of volcanic rocks that resemble pineapple buns––an excellent addition to your Instagram feed––or you can just cherish the rare experience of seeing them. Another great area to visit during low tide is the tombolo connecting Kiu Tsui beach to the nearby island of Kiu Tau where you can take a stroll and feel like you're in paradise.
How to get there: Hop on the Kaito ferry from Sai Kung Public Ferry Pier. Ferries leave every 30 minutes until 5:30 pm but frequency varies during weekdays, weekends and seasons
Peng Chau is probably the best known island on this list but compared to its larger cousins Lamma Island and Cheung Chau, this quaint island is still very much under the radar. Located just 30 minutes from Central, the sleepy island is a perfect day trip or a weekend getaway with plenty to see and do. Traces of its industrial past are still seen with the long-abandoned matchstick factory, the old cinema and the Instagrammable Leather Factory.
As it’s relatively less crowded than its famous cousins, Peng Chau is also a good place to cycle and hike which are all easy and doable within a few hours. As a small island, the community is tight-knit with plenty of laidback cafes and family-run restaurants. If that’s not enough, you can also pay a visit to the island’s temples and watch the sunset at its rugged beaches.
How to get there: Take the ferry from Central Pier 6 to Peng Chau. Alternatively, you can also take the ferry from Discovery Bay, Mui Wo, Chi Ma Wan, Hei Ling Chau and Cheung Chau
Yim Tin Tsai
For adventure seekers and explorers, Yim Tin Tsai is a haven. Originally a thriving island of salt farms, which is where it got its name, it was once populated by a family from Guangdong in the 1970s but is now completely deserted. The salt industry declined during the early 1900s and its almost 1,000 residents moved to back to the main city.
Remnants of its past are still around the island including its abandoned houses, the beautiful Grade III listed building, St Joseph’s Chapel and the former Ching Po School which is now the Yim Tin Tsai Heritage Exhibition, home to a collection of the island’s artefacts. Thanks to the ferry service that still runs, albeit only on the weekends, day-trippers often visit the island to see its art installations, peek into the abandoned houses and take photos of the Italian Romanesque-style chapel.
How to get there: Take the Kaito ferry from Sai Kung Public Pier which is available during the weekends and public holidays
Dubbed as the South Pole of Hong Kong, Po Toi is the southernmost of the city’s islands which makes it a bit of an exotic spot. Despite having no electricity and running water, about 200 people call the island home—a drop from the original 1,000. Because of this, you’ll also encounter a lot of abandoned houses. The scenic island is a great place to hike with the main path, Po Toi Country Trail taking you to explore the entire island in a figure-of-eight. Along the way, you’ll pass by the Instagrammable lighthouse and many stunning rock formations and natural sculptures such as the Monk Rock and Tortoise Rock.
If you go to one of the cliffs, you also see carvings dating back to the Bronze Age, which are now declared monuments. For those looking to feel like they’re at the edge of the Earth, there are five slabs etched into the cliff to stop by. There’s also a Tin Hau temple here that’s perched on a rock blessing you with magnificent views of the island. When you want to take a break from nature, head down to the village and explore the spooky Mo’s Old House which is reportedly haunted or the small village of Tai Wan which is still powered by a traditional electric generator.
How to get there: Take the Kaito ferry from Aberdeen Pier or Blake Pier in Stanley
In English, Ap Chau means “Duck Island”, and rightfully so, the shape of the island looks like a duck on its belly when you look from the northern side. Ap Chau is one of the smallest inhabited islands in Hong Kong and was originally set up as a place of shelter for fisherman and their families in the 1960s by American missionaries. During its heyday, over a thousand residents lived on the island. But as with the other small islands in Hong Kong, locals moved to the main city or overseas for better opportunities.
A Hong Kong UNESCO site, the island is home to Ap Chau Story Room, a site created to promote the island’s heritage where visitors can learn more about the Tanka culture. In 2008, it was reported that the island only had eight remaining residents.
How to get there: Take the train to University Station and get off at exit B. Walk to Ma Liu Shui Landing No. 3 Pier and take the ferry to Ap Chau. It runs on weekends and public holidays
All of the islands on this list are great getaways from the hustle and bustle of city life but Kat O flaunts itself as the quiet oasis of all the islands. Tucked off at the coast of New Territories, only about 50 people live in the island. Once a thriving traditional fishing village, the island has plenty of trails if you're hungry for a soul-searching walk or just need to satisfy that much-needed peace and quiet.
For those on a romantic trip, you can visit the lovers’ tree in the main square of the village and make wishes. Deserted beaches are located on the eastern side of the island, nature lovers can wander along the Kao O Nature Trail or head up the pagoda for some lovely views. Those looking for a touch of history, this far-flung island also has temples, ancestral homes and even three 19th-century cannons to see.
How to get there: Take the train to University Station and get off at exit B. Walk to Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier and take the ferry to Kat O
Because the pandemic has put travel on hold, trips to private and exclusive islands may have to wait. The closest we could get for the ultimate seclusion and exclusivity is Soko Islands. This cluster of islands on the south of Lantau Island has largely remained uninhabited for half a century.
With no soul in sight, you’ll feel like this is your own private island, save for the overgrown houses, shrines and an abandoned refugee camp. What’s more, there are no ferry services here so the only way you can visit is via a private charter. Get sun-kissed on the sandy beaches, swim at the crystal clear waters or take a stroll while enjoying the fresh sea breeze—all to yourself.
How to get there: Hire a private charter with tour companies such as Adventure Tours. Their private charter sails from Central and takes about two hours
Tung Lung Chau
Tung Lung Chau is the playground for daredevils and those who need an adrenaline boost. Sports climbers head to this island for its rocks, mountains and cliffs with plenty of spectacular coastal views to add. Each of the five named climbs that are so loved among climbers has their own set of challenges so whether you’re a novice or an expert, there’s something for you to enjoy.
If hanging in the air is a bit too extreme, you can still explore the 300-year-old fort or see some interesting ancient rock carvings. Looking to stay the night? Tung Lung Chau is also an ideal camping site to enjoy some downtime away from the bustling city.
How to get there: Take the train to Sai Wan Ho station and walk to the Sai Wan Ho typhoon shelter. Take the ferry from there to Tung Lung Chau. It runs during the weekend and most public holidays. Alternatively, you can also take the ferry from Sam Ka Tsuen Ferry Pier (near Yau Tong train station)
This article was originally published on November 17, 2020 and was updated on August 11, 2021.