Hiking in Hong Kong
Tung Lung Chau
Distance: 10 km
Time: 3 hours
Ascent: 685 m
Date: September 2022
Start: Tung lung chau public Pier
End: Tung lung chau North Pier
Explore this place if:
you want unrivaled coastal views
you want to take in a little bit of history
Avoid this place if:
you need frequent modern amenities
you don't like being baked in the summer sun
Tung Lung Chau is a small island found just off the Clearwater Bay peninsula and the eastern side of Hong Kong Island. While today it is virtually uninhabited, a rock carving provides evidence of human activity dating back over 4000 years. On weekends the island swells with visitors who come to see the historical landmarks, go hiking, camp close to the sea, or tackle some of the best rock-climbing sites in Hong Kong. I was only here for the first two, but I could imagine the other activities would also be fantastic.
I was on the first ferry for the day, which gave me the advantage of having the hiking paths almost to myself for the first section of the island. Making my way past an empty restaurant and a temple near the pier, I followed a shady concrete path heading south. There were a handful of buildings along the path, but I had no idea if they served any purpose anymore. I couldn’t hear anything but nature - no people, no cars, just the wind through the trees and the waves on the rocks. It was bliss.
Within a kilometre I arrived at a breathtaking viewpoint that gave me a panorama of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the iconic skyscrapers a blurry haze in the distance. From here it was approximately 450 steps (yes, I counted) straight down the side of the island to one of Tung Lung Chau’s most famous sights: a prehistoric rock carving. There are nine rock carvings in Hong Kong, but the one I was staring at is the biggest, at 1.8 metres wide and 2.4 metres tall. Supposedly, the carving is of a dragon, but I would have struggled to see that if it wasn’t pointed out to me.
After an arduous climb back up to the viewpoint, I circled around to the south side of the island on an undulating paved path. The trees had disappeared, leaving me fully exposed to the sun’s rays. Not long later, I turned onto a trail that led out to the southern tip, Tathong Point. Along the way, I was granted views out to a rocky beach on one side and a sandy beach on the other. I knew which one I’d rather be at. When I reached the end of the island, I descended down a series of stairs then clambered over jagged rocks to reach the rugged coastline. Waves splashed high as they crashed into the shore, which captivated me for an extended period of time.
Back on the main path, my next destination was Nam Tong Teng, the peak of Tung Lung Chau. Sitting at 230 m above sea level it wasn’t the tallest mountain going around, but having to climb up in the sweltering summer heat with zero shade or breeze made it harder than expected. There was only the occasional view on the way up, and it didn’t improve on the summit. The only way to reach to top was to leave the path and push my way through low, abrasive bushes. It wasn’t worth the effort. I could see glimpses of Kowloon, but a large antenna detracted from the outlook. The helipad just below the peak was just as underwhelming.
Here was where the smooth, concrete walkway ended. To make my way down the other side of the hill, I had no choice but to follow a steep, rock-filled track that found me skidding and sliding numerous times. I was too busy carefully placing each foot in front of me to notice if there were views or not. The only upside was that there was a bit of shade to provide some relief.
Several blogs I had read talked about making the trek out to Belly Button Cave on the east coast, so I decided to see what the fuss was about. It was only 500 m off the main path, so it wasn’t going to be much of a detour. What all the blogs failed to tell me was just how difficult that 500 m was. Overgrown doesn’t even begin to describe it. My feet disappeared almost instantly, and I found myself brushing aside branches and shrubs nearly the entire way. For long stretches I was bent over double to duck under all the foliage. In the middle was a forest section, with trees packed so closely together that I couldn’t see the sky. It was entirely downhill to the coast, but none of it was easy. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t pass anyone else on this route. By the time I emerged at the water, my legs were battered and scraped, my hair had half a tree stuck in it, and I was mentally exhausted. It took way longer than I expected, and I was not looking forward to the return trip.
Once I was free from the jungle, I made my way over craggy rocks to admire the dramatic coastal scenery up and down the island. But no matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t see anything resembling a cave. I checked the map on my phone and realised the cave was a little further south from my position, so I followed a barely-identifiable trail down a sandy, slippery embankment that took me inside another forest. From there I hopped over huge boulders until I was right in front of a perfectly-formed blowhole, with a view of the sea out the other side. I wasn’t sure if the tide was out or if the water never reached the cave, but it was completely dry. It would have been more impressive to see waves crashing through.
Heading back uphill was no easier. The humidity was high, there was no wind and sweat was pouring off me. I used my arms whenever possible to drag myself up. Near the end, I made a detour to slightly reduce the distance I had to walk. It was a complete surprise when I popped out on the main path. When I turned around, I had no idea where I had emerged from, the vegetation immediately obscuring the entrance to the trail. The relief to be done with that section was palpable. I was still on dirt and I slipped continuously, but at least I could see where I was going.
I entered a beautiful pine forest that lasted about one minute before arriving at Tung Lung Fort, the second major tourist attraction on the island. It was built in the 18th century to ward off pirates, but was abandoned less than 100 years later and moved to another location. Although the ruins have been partially restored, all that remains are crumbled brick walls across a tiny area of land, situated underneath an artificially-shaded area. I was glad I didn’t come all the way out here just to see this. Behind the ruins, a path led me out to several lookout points across the sea that were far more interesting than the fort itself.
At the north end of the island was a lighthouse, which could only be reached by walking through the middle of a camp site. The campers had a good set up, with a large, flat area of ground overlooking the wild sea below. Like all lighthouses in Hong Kong, this one was undersized and unattractive, but the unobstructed views over to the Clearwater Bay peninsula were superb.
From the lighthouse, it was a short walk through a couple of restaurants to the northern ferry pier. Several families were enjoying the small beach beside the dock. I would have been tempted to join them if the ferry hadn’t shown up.
If had more time, I would have trekked up to Eagle Tooth rock, a prominent outcrop that could be seen at multiple points around island (as well as on the ferry coming in). It didn't look like there was much to see other than the rock, so I wasn’t overly disappointed that I missed it.
Overall, Tung Lung Chau had some of the best coastal views I have seen in Hong Kong, and offered a variety of trails to suit every hiker. Next time, I would love to camp out here overnight, to allow me to explore the whole island while it was virtually empty. I’ll add it to the wish list.