East Dam, High Island, Hong Kong

Hong Kong hiking: High Island’s East Dam

A reasonably new transport link offers easier access to the remote East Dam of High Island Reservoir, opening up opportunities for different walks in the Sai Kung area as well as visits to its unique geological features.

Once you are there, this walk is short and rather easy, and you can take your time on the uphill sections. Walking time: 1.5 hours.

To start, you must get to Pak Tam Chung in the Sai Kung Country Park. Here there is an informative visitor centre, a snack shop and a road barrier preventing unauthorised vehicles from entering the country park. You can get here by bus 94 from Sai Kung town or bus 96R (Sundays only) from Diamond Hill MTR in Kowloon. Both of these buses go further than this point, so be sure to alight here. You can also take a green taxi to this point from Sai Kung town.

To get from here to the dam, you have three choices: walk along Stage 1 of the Maclehose Trail, which will take about three hours; board a green taxi, which will take 20 minutes; or, if it’s a Sunday afternoon, take green minibus 9A. This holiday route commenced two summers ago as a way to improve access to the Hong Kong Unesco Geopark, which is a scattered collection of ancient landforms mostly found along the coasts of the east and northeast New Territories. The 9A departs every 20-25 minutes from 3pm to 5.30pm.

Whichever transport you choose, you will skirt the south side of the vast High Island Reservoir, crossing its West Dam first and having glimpses of the waters and islands of Port Shelter. The minibus terminates at the near end of the East Dam; if coming by taxi, ask the driver to drop you off here too. Here a blue-painted dolos (a giant concrete block of a complicated shape) stands as a monument to five workers who lost their lives during the reservoir’s construction. We will see more of these dolosse later.

Set off north across the dam. You can now follow the High Island Geo Trail, named for the Geopark. On your left, the reservoir occupies what was once a sea channel between mainland and islands, but was dammed at both ends and then filled with fresh water. The massive project took 10 years to complete, and it opened in 1978. To your right, a lower dam protects against the ravages of the sea. You can see the vertical nature of the rocks that form the cliff edges all around; these are hexagonal basalt columns formed by volcanic action 140 million years ago.

At the far end of the dam, there is a rest pavilion. On our visit, taxi drivers were filling tubs of water for members of the herd of wild cattle which roam this area. Turn left and follow the signs up to the Biu Tsim Kok viewing point. This is well worth your while, as it gives you beautiful views of sandy Long Ke Wan, the next bay north. The path leads you in a loop around the hilltop, offering lovely views of sea and reservoir in each direction.

Back at the pavilion, carry on downhill to the smaller dam, which is a long line of giant dolosse. There are more than 7,000 of them, and each one weighs 25 tonnes. These blocks are designed to reflect and diffuse the impact of ocean waves, and thereby protect the structure behind them. Anyone who has lived through a severe typhoon in Hong Kong knows the awesome destructive power the sea can exert.

If you bear right and walk around the lagoon, you can visit a sea cave which has been marooned between the two dams. Wave erosion over thousands of years whittled it out of these columns of volcanic rock. There are many of these caves along the shores of this region.

If it’s a Sunday and you are intending to take minibus 9A back to Pak Tam Chung, the last departure from the dam is at 7pm; if you want to double-check, you can call the hotline on 2792 6433.

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