Hiking in Hong Kong
Distance: ~6.5 km
Time: 2-3 hours
Ascent: ~400 m
Date: April 2022
Start: Po Toi Island Pier
End: Po Toi Island Pier
Explore this place if:
bouldering is your thing
you want to feel like you're nowhere near Hong Kong
Avoid this place if:
you don't own a pair of shoes with good tread
running water and phone/ internet are essential to you
An island famous for seaweed, rock formations and dramatic coastlines, the few inhabitants of Po Toi Island welcome thousands of visitors every week. We chose to come here on a Sunday, due to its more convenient ferry times (although the timetable posted online and at the ferry terminal seemed to be more of a vague guide than an actual schedule. It just leaves when it's full). The downside was that everybody else also chose to head out on a Sunday, meaning the island was much busier than we would have liked. Every available patch of flat, grassy land was taken over by tents and pop-up shelters, with each group of people enjoying picnics and world-class views. Don't expect much alone time on your hike.
Due to its location, Po Toi Island is known as the South Pole of Hong Kong (I'm sure it bares little resemblance to the famous landmark). There are three circular loops that can be tackled across the island, with the inspiring names of routes 1, 2 and 3. Conveniently, they all link up to provide one larger loop of approximately 6-7 kilometres, depending how much bouldering or off-track exploring you do. Completing this loop will mean you might miss a couple of attractions, such as the "haunted house". Although the distance isn't huge, this isn't a hike you can knock out in a short amount of time. The crowds, narrow paths and numerous photo ops mean you'll likely take much longer to traverse the island than expected. My advice: don't come here on a Sunday for a peaceful trail run. While there are a handful of basic eateries on the island, to which many people seemed to have made reservations ahead of time, bringing a packed lunch is a good idea. As a side note, be prepared that there isn't a whole lot of seating, shelter or toilets on your trek.
You have a choice of completing the loop in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. We went anti clockwise, which unknowingly involved a 932-step stretch straight up the highest peak on the island. Go clockwise if you prefer a more gentle ascent up bare rock face, allowing you to come down the otherwise torturous stairs. In the direction we hiked, we first covered Route 2, then Route 1, followed by Route 3.
This is probably the most popular route, due to it being the shortest and containing the vast majority of attractions (i.e. the granite rock formations and carvings). After leaving the sleepy village, we followed the masses along a clear, paved path. On the way we passed Palm Cliff (a.k.a. Buddha's Hand), Turtle Rock and Monk Rock, none of which really looked like the name suggested. There were also the 3000-year-old rock carvings. It's incredible that they are still visible after all this time, but they didn't really mean much to me when I had no idea what they said. The lighthouse was underwhelming. The best part was being able to leave the path and climb over the jagged rocks, heading as far south as we dared to go and listening to the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks.
Along the way we passed many fisherman perched on large boulders by the sea, hoping to reel in a big catch. I had no idea how they got down to the precarious rocks, and I was not about to follow them down there (no matter how good the views were).
The famous rock formations: Palm Cliff/Buddha's Hand, Turtle Rock and Monk Rock.
Steps. All I remember is steps. Every now and then I glanced behind me, and the view over Route 2 (the crazy rock formations) and the South China Sea gradually improved the higher we ascended. After an eternity battling with the sun and stairs, we made it to the peak, where the paved path thankfully flattened out. It was much quieter up here, but the views were more sporadic the further inland we headed. The route alternated between concrete and rock, but overall it was fairly easy to traverse. There was no issue with navigating, as there was generally only one path and it was pretty obvious which way to go (even when the directional signage was weather-beaten and illegible).
My advice: wear grippy shoes. The majority of the time we were climbing down fairly smooth rock slabs, with only the occasional chain to hold on to for assistance. The views over the main village were superb, but my focus was more on my feet than the scenery. Once we finally reached sea-level again, we detoured via the only two attractions on this route: Tin Hau Temple and Conch (Snail) Rock. Neither was noteworthy.
At the end of the trail we browsed through the tiny village, where we picked up a packet of seaweed for the bargain price of $10. There wasn't much else to see here, so we boarded the ferry for the 30-minute journey back to Stanley. It was definitely a worthwhile journey, and a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life in Hong Kong.