Hong Kong hiking: Tap Mun (Grass Island)

Far away in Hong Kong’s northeastern waters, at the entrance to Tolo Harbour, Tap Mun island has mostly avoided the sprouting of three-storey village houses which affects so much of the New Territories. In fact it retains its old-world charm so well, a walk down its main street can feel like stepping onto a film set. You can make an easy circuit of the island.

This walk is gentle and suitable for all. Time required: 2 hours.

Take the MTR East Rail to University Station and follow the signs over the bridge to Ma Liu Shui pier, ten minutes’ walk away. The morning ferry leaves at 8:30am, and there is an additional 12:30pm departure on weekends. (Don’t take the 3:00pm sailing, as it will give you no time to explore). You can call Tsui Wah Ferry on 2272 2022 to confirm the timetable.

The journey through Tolo Harbour takes 90 minutes, plenty of time for you to eat a packed breakfast and watch the scenery go by. The ferry calls in at two deserted villages before arriving in the small harbour at Tap Mun.

From the pier, turn left to walk through the town. The mostly Hakka and Tanka people make their living from fish farming, and there are a couple of shops selling drinks and dried seafood. On weekends, the three or four simple restaurants are busy catering to large groups of day trippers.

On your right, steps lead up to a large Tin Hau temple. It’s well maintained with fine roof decorations. Follow the path higher up, keeping the police post on your right. The trail leads past a line of traditional village houses and eventually rises to a pavilion on a wide open hillside. The springy turf gives Tap Mun its seldom-used English name, Grass Island.

From here you’re treated to open views across the wide expanse of Mirs Bay, from the coast of China in the north to the pointed outline of Sharp Peak to the south. Ocean breezes make this a great spot for kite flying. Down on the shore, clumps of screw pine fringe a rocky beach.

Turn left to make a short detour uphill to a viewing point. Returning to the pavilion, go straight ahead, keeping to a route parallel with the coast. Trails are in part made by the island’s herd of cattle which now wander free. As you round the cape you should see a balanced rock formation down by the shore. Then you enjoy views of Ko Lau Wan, an isolated fishing village across the narrow strait, before arriving at the New Fishermen’s Village.

Cuttlefish and squid are laid out to dry in the sun. On our September visit, a temporary bamboo theatre on the village square had just been taken down. The path carries on through a straggle of ramshackle seafront homes to bring you back to the ferry pier. If the tour groups have moved on, this may be a better time to eat at one of the cafes.

The boat back to Ma Liu Shui leaves at 5:30pm, but that may be too long to wait. Instead, there are hourly sailings to Wong Shek pier in Sai Kung, at least until 6:00pm. It’s an enjoyable half-hour hop across Long Harbour. Speedboats also make this trip, but are not always there.

The crossing to Wong Shek is a good option: from there, you can take bus 94 (or 96R on weekends) through the country park to Sai Kung town, where a wealth of restaurants should be able to satisfy the hunger brought on by a day of salty air. Take the bus or minibus from Sai Kung back to the MTR in Kowloon.

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