Hong Kong Island is synonymous with skyscrapers (and stellar hiking opportunities, but more on those another day), but islands replete with traditional temples, colourful fishing boats and three-storey tong laus aren’t far away. Cheung Chau is the third-largest of Hong Kong’s Outlying Islands – the largest and second-largest being Lantau Island and Lamma Island, respectively – and is best known for the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, which takes place annually and attracts hundreds of visitors to the island. Our visit didn’t coincide with this event, but fortunately there’s more than a mountain of red-bean paste buns to this islet.
I’m usually a toast-and-jam or cereal type in the morning, but in Hong Kong breakfast consisted of either a sweet bao or dim sum, depending on our plans for the day; the notion of breakfasting like a king summed up our morning routine rather aptly. Bellies full, we tootled off to the MTR; it’s an hour-long journey from Sheung Shui to Central, so that gave us plenty of time to deliberate over the order of play for the day ahead. At Central, we transferred to one of the inter-island ferries and promptly dozed off in a bid to keep the seasickness at bay.
Hazy, grey skies greeted us in Cheung Chau, and clustered in the harbour were dozens of colourful fishing boats, in hues of blue, green and red. Along the front, locals laid their fish out on racks of all shapes and sizes to dry, preserving them in the traditional way.
Having heard on the virtual grapevine that Cheung Chau was good for cycling, we duly investigated the options and settled on one of the bike rental spots along the main drag; at just HKD$20 (c. £2) an hour each, it was comfortably within budget. Off we pedalled, blissfully ignorant of the hills which were soon to impede our ride. (Cambridge may have reignited my love for two-wheel travel, but it had failed to prepare me for riding up hills.)
We hugged the coastline for a good fifteen minutes or so, before taking the mercilessly steep Cheung Chau Family Road up towards Pak Tiu Pagoda. I quickly deduced that my little legs weren’t going to make it up that incline, so resorted to pushing my bike to the top. (Hills of Cheung Chau 1, Rosie 0.) Leaving our bikes locked to a lamppost, we headed up the steps to the pagoda, which offered a pleasant view of the little inlets down below.
Cycling on, we passed houses and temples, potted ferns in neat rows on the steps. We saw bamboo scaffolding going up, old-timers reassuring the younger ones that it was quite safe to step on, even when they were still in the process of securing the joints. Weaving in and out of the crowds, we cycled the length of Tung Wan Beach, then Kwum Yan Beach, their sandy shores devoid of sunbathers.
After passing the Windsurfing Centre, we turned off, heading slightly inland towards the Mini Great Wall. We attempted to haul our bikes up the first set of steps, before thinking better of it and locking them to a fence at the start of the trail; had we not been given a bike lock, they would have been a real hindrance. Dotted along the trail were several curious rock formations, some of which resembled human features, whilst others more closely resembled animals. (The formation pictured below should need no introduction!) Cheung Chau’s Mini Great Wall is definitely more of a novelty walk than a hike, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
With time marching on, we decided to return the bikes and spend the remainder of our time exploring the bustling streets around the pier with a Fanta Freeze and a bubble waffle in hand.
- Ferries to Cheung Chau operate from Pier 5; simply follow the signposts from Central MTR. If paying by Octopus, a single journey on a slow ferry (c. 1hr) costs HKD$13.60.
- Expect to pay around HKD$20/hr for bike hire, with a HKD$50 deposit, refundable upon return of the bike. That said, given the hills and steps on the island, it’s probably easier to get around on two legs than two wheels.