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yim tin tsai
Photograph: Calvin Sit

9 Secret islands to explore in Hong Kong

Get to know the hidden side of the city

By Time Out Hong Kong
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Have you done everything there is to do on Lamma Island? Is Cheung Chau getting a little too hipster for you? Hong Kong is home to more than 250 islands, so there’s no need for you to keep revisiting the same old spots. And if you’re looking for gorgeous sandy beaches and picturesque hikes, these islands have them all and more.

RECOMMENDED: Head for the hills and surprise yourself with some unexpected things you can do outdoors in Hong Kong.

Explore Hong Kong’s secret islands

Ap Chau
Ap Chau
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/tak.wing

Ap Chau: smallest inhabited island

Attractions New Territories

Ap Chau – which directly translated to 'Duck Island' – was named after its shape and form which somewhat resembles a duck laying on its belly when viewed from the north. Initially a place of anchorage for fishing families, the island began to populate during the 50s as fishermen built houses ashore and a fishing community grew slowly but surely. By the 60s, there were over a thousand residents living on the island.

Sadly, Ap Chau was met with the same fate as many other small islands in Hong Kong, as residents gradually moved away due to better employment opportunities in the city and overseas. In the late 1980s, approximately only 100 residents were left on the island. Ap Chau is now a Hong Kong UNESCO site, and to promote the island's heritage, the Ap Chau Story Room opened its doors in 2018 for visitors to come by and learn about the Tanka culture and heritage.

How to get there: From the University MTR station, take Exit B and walk to the Ma Liu Shui Landing No.3 pier. A ferry service operates on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays, running from Ma Liu Sui to Kat O and Ap Chau.

Kat O
Kat O
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/tak.wing

Kat O: traditional fishing village

Attractions New Territories

Lying close to China, in the northeast of Plover Cove Country Park, this far-flung island is home to merely a few hundred people. Also known as Crooked Island, thanks to its irregular shape, Kat O was once a thriving fishing village with nearly 300 years of history. Stop by at Kat O Geoheritage Centre – open every Saturday, Sunday, and public holiday – which celebrates the island’s geology and cultural history. You can also take a wander along the Kat O Nature Trail and make your way through the villages before heading upwards and finishing up at a pagoda. Look out for ancient temples, ancestral halls, and corroded cannons along your way.

How to get there: Same as reaching Ap Chau, get on the ferry from Ma Liu Shui Landing No.3 pier and hop off at Kat O. Or, just to be safe, you can always join a local tour.

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Peng Chau-Shutterstock10-03-2020
Peng Chau-Shutterstock10-03-2020
Photograph: Shutterstock

Peng Chau: Quaint and quiet

Attractions Peng Chau

Peng Chau is one of the better known outlying islands, but it is still often overlooked in favour of its larger neighbours like Cheung Chau and Lantau. This sleepy spot makes a perfect family day trip as you can easily navigate through the whole place in just a few hours. In the 1970s, Peng Chau was once an industrial centre. That’s changed now, but you can check out a long-abandoned matchstick factory and lime kiln, as well as an old cinema along the Peng Chau Heritage Trail.

To explore further, you can head up to Finger Hill to take in views of the Tsing Ma Bridge and Disneyland. Another option is Peng Yu Path – this recently created walk takes in the island’s northern coastline and rugged beaches. When you’re done, try the catch of the day at one of the seafood restaurants along Wing On Street, or nibble on tasty baked goods from A Noy Bakery.

How to get there: Take the ferry from Central Pier 6 – it’s a 30-minute ride and leaves roughly every hour. There are also ferries from Discovery Bay, Mui Wo, Chi Ma Wan, Hei Ling Chau and Cheung Chau.

Po Toi
Po Toi
Photograph: Shutterstock

Po Toi: So close, so different

Things to do Islands District

It’s incredible that only a few kilometres from the hustle of Hong Kong Island, there is a place inhabited by people who have no official electricity and no running water supply. This is Po Toi – a serene and scenic island that lies to the southeast of Hong Kong. It used to be home to over a thousand people, although the population has dropped to under 200 in recent times, resulting in several streets of eerie, abandoned village houses.

There’s one main path on the island, the Po Toi Country Trail, which loops over the south of the island in a figure-of-eight. This loop takes in Po Toi's photogenic lighthouse as well as some dramatic and unusual rock formations. You can also take a short detour down a cliff and come face to face with two large Bronze Age carvings – now declared monuments. Back down near the village, try the 15-minute signposted detour up to Mo's Old House – the abandoned residence is reputedly haunted, thanks to the coffin-shaped rock that stands behind it.

Finish up your day at the small village down in Tai Wan – the whole village is powered by a noisy, old-school electrical generator, which you can go and check out for yourself. You can also wander up to the Tin Hau temple – scenically perched on a rock to the far left of the village. It gives you really great views over the island and the surrounding ocean.

How to get there: A public ferry runs from Stanley and Aberdeen piers on weekends, and from Aberdeen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The ferry from Stanley takes 30 minutes, and around an hour from Aberdeen. 

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sharp island
sharp island
Photograph: Shutterstock

Sharp Island: Tombolo-tastic

Attractions Sai Kung

Not far from Sai Kung, Sharp Island is known for being strewn with rocks that are endearingly shaped like pineapple buns – you won’t find these tasty-looking rocks anywhere else in the territory. The principal attractions of Sharp Island are its two distinct beaches – Hap Mun Bay and Kiu Tsui Beach. You can take a boat to the beach of your choice from Sai Kung.

There is a path over the island, but it is overgrown; we recommend using a map if you try to locate it! Hap Mun Bay is a popular and clean government-managed beach. Kiu Tsui beach isn’t as good, but when the tide is low, you’ll discover a tombolo connecting the beach itself to the nearby island of Kiu Tau. Take a walk over the tombolo as the sea recedes and you’ll feel like a veritable Moses. Just make sure you come back before the tide comes in.

How to get there: Hire one of the kaito operators from the Sai Kung Public Ferry Pier.

tap mun
tap mun
Photograph: Shutterstock

Tap Mun: Hong Kong’s best lawn

Attractions New Territories

Tap Mun, which sits off the coast of Sai Kung Country Park, is also known as Grass Island. The island is composed of rolling, grassy hillocks complete with wandering cows. It is also home to a few hundred Hakka and Tanka people. The island has an exciting history as a smuggling and pirate haven, although its now-sleepy streets belie this. Tap Mun is a popular spot for both camping and kite-flying and boasts several rocky beaches.

A trio of temples also lives on the island, located near the main village, which date back to the 18th century. Legend has it there was once a pirate’s tunnel that led from the altar of the Tin Hau temple all the way out to the sea. Also, make sure you take a look at the abandoned King Lam School on the hill above the village. It was built in 1957 and, when it closed in 2003, famously had only one pupil. 

Starts at the fisherman’s village by the pier and take a stroll up to the hilltop in the middle of the island. The path offers panoramic views and a refreshing breeze, even on the hottest day. Once you’re all hiked out, head back down to the village’s main restaurant, Sun Yau Kee (新有記) to refuel on their famous sea urchin fried rice.

How to get there: From the Sai Kung Bus Terminus, get the 94 bus to Wong Shek Pier. The ferry runs every one or two hours throughout the week. Ferries also run, less regularly, from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier.

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tung lung chau
tung lung chau
Photograph: Shutterstock

Tung Lung Chau: Climbing paradise

Attractions Clearwater Bay

Rough, rugged and wild, Tung Lung Chau is the craggy cousin of Hong Kong’s island family. It’s regarded as the best place for rock climbing in the territory, with multiple routes of varying difficulty. There’s a campsite on the northeast of the island, about a 20 minutes’ walk from the ferry pier. Close to the campsite is what now remains of Tung Lung Chau Fort. Built between 1662 and 1722, it used to defend the island from pirates.

There’s one main paved trail on the island, which loops from the pier to the top of a hill, offering great views. This trail passes by the largest and oldest rock carving in Hong Kong – measuring 1.8m by 2.4m, it’s (apparently) a depiction of a dragon and is said to be over 5,000 years old.

How to get there:
Take the public ferry to Tung Lung Chau from Sam Ka Tsuen Public Pier, Yau Tong.

tung ping chau
tung ping chau
Photograph: Shutterstock

Tung Ping Chau: Rockin’ rocks and sunrises

Attractions Shenzhen

The striking island of Tung Ping Chau lies in the very far northeast of Hong Kong and is formed from ‘new’ sedimentary rock, resulting in a brightly coloured, multi-layered, and exceptionally photogenic landscape that is perfect for fossil-spotting. The area also has a diverse ecosystem – it’s protected as a country park, marine park, a site of special scientific interest, and is also listed within UNESCO’s Global Geoparks network. 

Over 2,000 farmers and fishermen used to inhabit the island, but as time passed, many were lured away by job prospects in the city, and only 50 to 60 people live there full-time now. Some descendants of former residents return over the weekends or public holidays, operating restaurants and dormitories for visitors, who can explore abandoned houses of former residents, which have been rapidly reclaimed by nature, a Tin Hau temple, as well as a boarded-up colonial-era training camp.

How to get there: The only way to reach Tung Ping Chau is to onboard a ferry from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier. The route only operates on weekends.

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Yim Tin Tsai
Yim Tin Tsai
Photograph: Calvin Sit

Yim Tin Tsai: Abandoned Hakka village

Attractions Sai Kung

A 15-minute boat ride from Sai Kung, Yim Tin Tsai wins hands down if you’re into the whole abandoned vibe. The island was originally populated in the 1740s by a family from Guangdong. The descendants of these people developed salt farms on the island and made their living selling the salt – which explains the island’s name as it literally translates to ‘small salt field’.

There were once around 1,000 inhabitants. However, as the salt industry declined in the early 1900s, so did the population. By the 1990s, no-one was left living on the island. Thanks to a regular ferry service, however, it’s now popular with day-trippers. You can easily explore most of this tiny isle in a few hours. Check out the nearby photogenic St Joseph’s Chapel, which was built in Romanesque style in 1890 and is now a Grade III listed building.

Next door is the former Ching Po School that is now the Yim Tin Tsai Village Heritage Exhibition and houses a modest collection of historical artefacts. You can then follow the trail around, where you’ll go by the abandoned village houses (many of which are technically still owned by the villagers’ descendants). The houses still offer spooky remnants from its previous occupants, from radios, kitchen appliances, and televisions to bed stands and crockery. The path takes a loop past the abandoned salt pans/fish ponds, before coming back to the pier, where there is a small kiosk selling tasty and chewy Hakka sweets.

How to get there: Small ferries run from Sai Kung’s waterfront promenade regularly and will take you about 15 minutes to get there.

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