Hiking in Hong Kong
Distance: 6.8 km
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Ascent: 225 m
Date: September 2022
Start: Ferry Pier, Peng Chau
End: Ferry Pier, Peng Chau
Explore this place if:
you want a relatively flat hike (but not completely flat)
small, empty beaches sound like your idea of heaven
Avoid this place if:
you crave an arduous hike with lung-busting hills
you are after a full-day out on the trails
Peng Chau, a small island that doesn’t even cover 1sq km, is a popular weekend destination thanks to the easy ferry from Hong Kong Island. It was formerly an industrial island (the only one in Hong Kong), and at its height in the mid-20th century housed over 100 factories across 30 different industries. The most popular of these were lime, matches, porcelain, leather, light bubs and shrimp sauce. Nearly all of the factories are now closed, although some have remained as tourist attractions, some have fallen into disrepair, and many hold heritage status.
Today, the population of Peng Chau is 6,400, but it feels much smaller than that. As soon as I stepped off the ferry I felt like I entered a sleepy village that was nowhere near a big city - there wasn’t a car or convenience store in sight. I immediately felt a sense of calm that isn’t usually present in Hong Kong. The silence was almost deafening.
Peng Chau translates to ‘flat island’, with the highest point, Finger Hill, being just 95 metres above sea level. I still managed to accumulate 225 m of ascent on my hike around the island, which didn’t feel particularly flat, especially in the brutal summer heat (today's temp: 35 degrees). Thankfully, it wasn't the longest or the most demanding of treks.
My hike consisted of a loop around the C-shaped island, which I undertook in a clockwise direction. From the ferry terminal I followed the coastline north, looking out at boats in the harbour and Lantau Island behind them. The array of exercise equipment staring at the water from the promenade appeared to be more for aesthetics than any functional purpose.
At the northwest corner of Peng Chau stands a minuscule island, Tai Lei, connected via a fisherman-filled walkway. I wandered over to see what it offered, which turned out to be not much. A sad-looking beach, a shore filled with random children’s toys, and not much else.
Back on Peng Chau I started along Peng Yu path, a family-friendly walk following the north coast. Here I hit a few small hills, but most of the path was shaded so it wasn’t overly strenuous. Unfortunately, the trees also blocked most of the view, although I could hear the waves lapping against the rocks. Every now and then there was a break in the foliage, and a tiny, white-sand beach would appear out of nowhere. They all offered views towards Disneyland, and they were all empty.
At the easternmost point, behind a lookout, was a set of stairs that deposited me down on the sand in front of Fisherman’s Rock. I have no idea how it got this name, but it seemed to be popular spot for photos. Beyond the rock were hazy views out to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. I scrambled along the rocky shore, but the outlook didn’t improve.
From here, Peng Yu Path circled back towards town, where I passed another minute beach down a set of busy stairs, ramshackle houses surrounded by palm and banana trees, and several organic farms. The latter section was gratefully along a shady trail, giving me some relief from the merciless heat.
In the main village I walked along the island’s longest beach, which was virtually deserted. Lining the sand were old boats and kayaks, which were probably popular on weekends but not so much on a Wednesday. Short, colourful apartment buildings overlooked the water, and Lung Mo Temple (one of several temples on the island) sat prominently in the middle of them all.
To continue south, I needed to wind my way through a maze of narrow alleyways lined by small apartments and quiet stores. Once I escaped this and jumped over an inconvenient barrier, I found myself on the Peng Chau Family Walk, the path that would lead me up to Finger Hill. The sun was belting down on the relentless stairs - it felt a lot higher than 95 m. Once I reached the top, I wasn’t sure the sweat levels were worth the effort. All I could see were vague views of Lamma and Hong Kong islands on one side, and if I stood on the hand railing on the opposite side, I could discern Discovery Bay on Lantau Island. It definitely wasn’t the highlight of Peng Chau.
I took the stairs down the other side of Finger Hill, which eventually led me out to Ngan Chau Tsai Pavilion. Further down was another viewpoint, both offering the same scene. Neither were inspirational.
Heading around the south side of the island, I passed a sign pointing up to the Garden of Remembrance. I had hoped to find some sort of manicured green area overlooking the water. Instead, the stairs led me up to a cemetery containing concrete walls lined with commemorative plaques of those whose ashes were scattered here. As is common in Hong Kong, photos accompanied each of the plaques. There were no views.
Twisting laneways through the outskirts of town carried me back to the main village. Once I hit the waterfront, it was an easy walk back towards the ferry pier. I had a while to wait for the ferry, so I decided to see what the village had to offer (this didn’t count towards my hiking totals). Narrow ‘roads’ were densely packed with basic eateries and dark stores that were crammed with all sorts of products. Bicycles were the only form of transportation, but there were few around today (there were also hardly any pedestrians).
Peng Chau is known for its unique art scene, and it wasn’t hard to see why. Several lanes were lined with murals, graffiti and odd pieces of metalwork. Independent art galleries abounded. A small yard was filled piles of rubbish that was supposedly artwork (I’m not sure I would agree). If I wanted I could have spent hours checking it all out, but the ferry was calling and I was keen to escape into air-conditioned comfort.