Grass Island is known as Tap Mun in Cantonese, meaning “pagoda door” – the island’s rock formations are said to resemble the doors of a stupa or pagoda. In English, the name is rather more self-explanatory – the island features patches of verdant grass overlooking the sea, a departure from Hong Kong’s usually rugged tropical foliage. All that open grassland makes for a steady year-round breeze, a welcome relief in the sweltering months.
A large meadow on the island’s main trail is a popular camping, kite-flying and picnic spot. You’ll have to be a little careful with a picnic, though: the island’s wild cows roam freely and will help themselves to anything that looks sufficiently delicious. Make sure to look into the abandoned King Lam School: when it closed in 2003 it had a grand total of one student. The island’s main restaurant, Sun Hong Kee, dishes up a seafood feast to reward all that hard hiking.
Getting there: Take bus 96R from Diamond Hill MTR station to Wong Shek Pier. From there it’s a 20-minute ferry ride to Tap Mun. Tickets cost HK$9.50 (weekdays), HK$14 (weekends).
Built on matchsticks
It may not look like it these days, but the crescent-shaped Peng Chau was once an industrial centre. After decades as the centre of Hong Kong’s lime industry – an old kiln still exists on the island – it became the site of the city’s largest match factory. The Great China Match Plant employed almost the entire population of the island until it shut down in the 1970s, when the rise in popularity of the cheap cigarette lighter snuffed out the demand for matches.
After the factory closed, Peng Chau reverted to a quiet island life of fishing and farming. The island’s older inhabitants still shoot the breeze in the open square by the supermarket, while the main drag of Wing On Street is packed with traditional eateries – try Fai Che (53 Wing On Street) for excellent classic Cantonese fare. Wilderness reigns to the north and south, with well-maintained paths surrounding the island. Its highest point, Finger Hill, offers panoramic views of the massive Tsing Ma Bridge and the rather smaller Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island, as well as the city’s urban confusion on a clear day. Grab a pint at the Old China Hand pub (75 Wing On Street) before catching the ferry back.
Yim Tin Tsai means “Little Salt Pan” – it was originally settled back in the 1700s by the Chan clan, who made their living farming salt. Once upon a time this little island had as many as 1,000 inhabitants, but that dwindled to zero by the 1990s. The island is still home to plenty of deserted village houses, abandoned with crockery still on countertops and televisions still on cabinets.
In the past five years, however, the ghost town has been resurrected, with younger members of the Chan family breathing life into the island via conservation work, and winning Unesco plaudits.
They’ve revived Yim Tin Tsai to create a snapshot of village life in times gone by, even putting the salt pans back into production. Although plenty of spooky abandoned houses remain, the once abandoned village school is now a heritage centre, and a trail around the island leads you past the refurbished Catholic chapel, built in 1890 by missionaries. A bridge also connects Yin Tin Tsai to neighbouring Kau Sai Chau, which features the only public golf course in Hong Kong.
Bring your bag of chalk with you to Tung Lung Chau. The romantically named “Eastern Dragon Island” is widely thought of as the best rock-climbing spot in the territory, and the craggy “Technical Wall” is often swarming with Hong Kong’s most accomplished climbers.
The island also holds the ruins of the Tung Lung Chau Fort, built in the 1700s to defend Hong Kong from the pirates who marauded the coast. There’s a campsite with barbecue pits next to the fort, and a few stores selling essentials. The island’s main path winds up to a hilltop, with beautiful views out over the channel and the fabulously expensive Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club just beyond it. The trail also passes by the oldest, largest rock carving in Hong Kong, said to be a prehistoric rendering of a dragon — although it can be hard to discern fang from tail.