With more than 230 islands peppering its waters, a respite from Hong Kongâ€™s urban jungle is never far away. Hop aboard a ferry to these five and discover their rural charms.
Salt of the Earth
Settled nearly 400 years ago by Hakka migrants from central China, the bucolic island and village of Yim Tin Tsai once thrived on salt production. By the late 19th century, the salt trade had dried up, and visiting missionaries converted its residents to Catholicism. Village chief Colin Chan has tirelessly restored the chapel, school, a number of houses, and the historic salt pans over the past 20 years, turning the long-abandoned settlement into a living museum. Hourly ferries from Sai Kung serve the island every weekend, and walking tours offer a glimpse into its unusual history and Chinese Catholic culture.
While visitors flock to its much larger neighbor Lantau, few make the journey to Peng Chau, a serene, modestly sized island that was once known for its porcelain workshops and the Great China Match factoryâ€”the largest in Hong Kongâ€”that closed its doors in 1976. Stop by Kee Sum CafĂ© (852/2983-0554) for a bite of its famous shrimp toast before walking to the top of Finger Hill, where a sweeping view of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island awaits. Next, visit the islandâ€™s last remaining porcelain workshop, Chiu Kee Porcelain (852/9193-8044), which specializes in hand-painted dishware. You could check out the tranquil beach or explore Lung Mo Temple, dedicated to the Dragon Mother. Either way, end the day with a sundowner at Les Copains dâ€™abord (852/9432-5070), a casual French wine bar with alfresco seating that hosts the occasional game of pĂ©tanque.
On the Rocks
It takes nearly two hours to reach crescent-shaped Tung Ping Chau from the nearest ferry pier, but when you arrive at the secluded island, youâ€™ll be treated to spectacular geological formations, pristine beaches, and some of Hong Kongâ€™s best dive sites. Formerly home to 3,000 people, the island is largely uninhabited, though villagers return on the weekend to cater to visitors, many of whom camp overnight. Youâ€™ll find historic temples and fresh seafood galore, but itâ€™s the coastal terrain that is the real attraction, especially Drum Rocksâ€”two eight-meter-high sea stacks at the islandâ€™s south easternmost point.
Far-flung Kat O lies in the northeastern New Territories, separated from mainland China by little more than a kilometer of sea. Its few hundred residents are spread between four interconnected fishing villages along the western shore. On the main street, the recently restored Tin Hau temple (dedicated to the Sea Goddess) dates from 1763, with intricate carvings and painted rafters that liven up the gray-brick interior. A few doors down, Kat O Geoheritage Center is another must-visit for its exhibits detailing the islandâ€™s traditional culture and geology. Kat O is a major stop on the daylong Hakka cultural excursion run by Countryside Adventure Tours, which also includes a visit toÂ the nearby mainland village of Lai Chi Wo.
Take a Hike
Hong Kongâ€™s southernmost island, Po Toi, is a windswept, boulder-studded playground for walkers. Motorized kaito ferries ply the one-hour route from Aberdeen four days a week, while a weekend service from Stanleyâ€™s Blake Pier gets you there in half the time. In the islandâ€™s southwest, a concrete pathway follows the coast before looping back to the jetty via the hilly interior, taking in 3,000-year-old Bronze Age rock carvings and natural outcrops resembling a tortoise, a snail, and a giant hand en route. Once youâ€™ve worked up an appetite, the deep-fried calamari and steamed scallops at beachfront Ming Kee Seafood Restaurant (852/2849-7038) are highly recommended. Kaito ferry schedules for Po Toi and other outlying islands can be found on the Transport Department website.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2017Â print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śOffshore Havensâ€ť).