Less than 25% of Hong Kong’s landmass is developed, and 40% of the SAR are designated as Country Parks and Natural Reserves. This provides for quite a few getaways, which may take up to one day of your time. One of my favorite day trips is to cross Lantau on its south side. There is a lot to see, and plenty of opportunities to hang out or hike.
Lantau is about twice the size of Hong Kong Island and Lantau Peak 鳳凰山 (Chinese Phoenix Mountain) is with 934m the second highest mountain (20m lower than 大帽山 Tai Ma Shan). There are endless hiking opportunities, but be prepared and bring plenty of water.
We start the trip in the morning at the 梅窩 Mui Wo Ferry Pier in Central (Pier 6). Ferries leave about every half an hour during the week, and hourly on Sundays and public holidays. For a ferry schedule refer to the New World First Ferries website. The trip takes about one hour and costs between 15 and 30 HK$.
Mui Wo became of importance in the second half of the 19th century, when silver was found in the nearby mountains. Before the exploration of north Lantau, notably the creation of 東涌 Tung Chung, the nearby airport and the MTR link, Mui Wo was the entrance point for many more tourists than today. Old large hotels, bars and the beach show this past. Today it serves as a laid back, but modern town just an hour away from Central with cheap rent and quiet nights. There isn’t anything in particular to see in Mui Wo, so we take bus number 1 (see here for a schedule and prices) in the direction of 大澳 Tai O.
長沙泳灘 Cheung Sha and 塘福 Tong Fuk Beach
On this route, there is one great beach that you might want to stop at if the weather is nice. Cheung Sha and Tong Fuk Beach stretch about 3km along the island (the longest beach in Hong Kong), and you will most likely find your own deserted spot. There are rumors that Tong Fuk Beach serves as a nude beach, but the truth is that is probably so empty that noone cares what you do there (as long it is consensual).
石壁 Shek Pik Prison
We continue on bus 1 to Tai O, and as the bus climbs the mountains the tour becomes more and more scenic. The highlights are all around the Shek Pik Reservoir, the third largest in Hong Kong. From there you will be able to see the Buddha Statue on your right in the distance, and the Shek Pik Prison, one of six prisons on Lantau and the largest in Hong Kong.
Tai O used to be a famous smuggler and pirate town about 200 years ago. After the Chinese Civil War it regained importance as an entry point for refuges from China and continued to do so until the 1980s. The area around it used to be flooded and then sundried to produce salt from the ocean water. It is quite a neat little fishing village especially with the buildings being built into the river. A large fire in 2000 destroyed many tilt houses, and not all of them have been rebuilt. The young people of the town are moving into the city, and those who are left rarely make a living as fishermen.
Just west of Tai O and south of the 赤鱲角機場 Chek Lap Kok Airport lives a colony of about 250 dolphins. Their numbers are increasing, surprisingly, despite all the noise and water pollution in the busy Pearl River Delta. The planned Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai link is planned to go right through their refuge, leading to widespread concern. There are a couple of people taking you out to their area in small boats, which should not cost more than 25 HK$. Seeing dolphins is far from guaranteed, though it is not unlikely. If you do, it is a far more rewarding experience than anything at Ocean Park.
天壇大佛 Tian Tan Buddha
From Tai O, bus 21 takes you up to the 35m high Tian Tan Buddha at 昂坪 Ngong Ping. Ever since the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car was built, Ngong Ping has been converted into some kind of theme park. The Buddha however is still worth the visit and free of charge.
From Ngong Ping we can take bus 1R or 23 to Tung Chung. Alternatively you can also take the cable car, though the system engineered by South Tyrolean maker Leitner seems to have major issues and regularly fails. This town was founded in 1994 and will soon have a population of 250,000. Many hotels and serviced apartments cater only to guests and staff of the major airlines that use the airport as their major hub, most notably Cathay Pacific and the airlines of Star Alliance around Lufthansa.
You may find good shopping opportunities in the big outlets around the MTR station as well as good dining options.
The MTR will also take you back into the city conveniently.