Peng Chau



David Whitley jumps on a ferry and heads away from the skyscrapers to find a very different side to Hong Kong


I wasn’t expecting this. A couple of rocks sit in the water, gently being lapped at by the sea. They’re part of a gorgeous little cove, with the golden sand put in its setting by the sort of scenic sandstone boulders that crabs just love to scuttle between. It doesn’t tally with the visions of Hong Kong that most have. Those, I can see through the mist. The duelling skyscrapers of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island face off against each other across Victoria Harbour. But they seem far away, an altogether different world.


It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing Hong Kong as a wholly urban environment. The busyness, architecture and pace tend to be what come to mind. But most of Hong Kong – geographically, at least – isn’t like that. The New Territories, spreading from Kowloon to the Chinese border, do have plenty of towns scattered around them. But for the most part, they’re rural, hilly and green. Much the same applies to the outlying islands. Again, it’d be a mistake to think Hong Kong Island is the only place worth getting a ferry to. Numerous ferries chug across the water, almost racing each other before branching off to the little island villages that have become their island’s connection to the big boys.


Many of Hong Kong’s islands are uninhabited. And those that do have people living on them tend to concentrate the populations in a few settlements. Peng Chau is a good example. You could probably walk around it in three or four hours, and most buildings not huddled around the ferry terminal belong to farms. Yes. Hong Kong does have farms. And, to my surprise, a lot of them seem to be growing bananas. I didn’t know they grew here.


There are marked walking trails round Peng Chau – all suitable for lumberers without beards and hiking boots – while the tourist board’s booklet on the Outlying Islands is genuinely excellent. Part of the reason that Hong Kong’s non-urban delights aren’t that appreciated is that the guide books don’t cover them particularly well. The booklet (available at the Kowloon ferry terminal amongst other places) tells how the island used to be fairly industrialised – but the lime factories were rendered redundant by the advent of concrete, and cigarette lighters killed the once prolific match industry. Remnants of this past are marked on the map, but I find wandering along random paths works perfectly well.


The coves, the banana plantations and the lone pavilions sat isolated on headlands all provide charming surprises. Strolling without purpose relieves the pressure built up after a few days amongst the skyscrapers quite beautifully.


And looking out from the vantage points, it becomes clear just how gorgeous the outlying islands are. They mostly follow the same formula – steep hills rising almost immediately from the sea, covered in vegetation and largely untroubled by roads. They lie across the sea, sprinkled like a packet of Skittles dropped on a table. And suddenly it strikes – Hong Kong was built here for a reason. After all, you don’t pick somewhere ugly to live if you don’t have to, do you?