The attractions of Hong Kong are often thought of as being the skyline glitters with sleek financial skyscrapers and flagship stores.  What is forgotten is that the city extends beyond the rampant streets into beautiful countryside and islands of great underwater scenery and coastal topography.  And one of the best natural landscapes along the serene coastline is Sai Kung District.

Often known as the back garden of Hong Kong, Sai Kung is the ultimate place for hiking, camping, fishing, sailing, barbequing, sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling.  It is characterized by charming scenery of the green country parks, stunning seascapes and pristine beaches.  It is also home to one of the world’s largest geological formations of hexagonal columnar jointing.  Crafted by powerful and relentless tides and wind, the hexagonal columnar joints along with its unique sea caves are spectacular – a must see if you ever sail out here to the Ninepin Group (a.k.a. “Kwo Chau Islands (果洲群島)” in Cantonese).

Like many other Hong Kong people, you are probably less familiar with the Ninepin Group, which is a group of 29 islands located in the south easternmost waters of Clear Water Bay.  Its English name “Ninepin” is so named because their appearance is reminiscent of a bowling game to the British seamen.  Its Chinese name “Kwo Chau” means fruit island because they look like fruits being dispersed from an overturned platter when looked above. 

As a group of closely scattered islands, the Ninepin Group stands out in open water without any barriers nearby, the coastlines are subject to massive wave scour and wind erosion.  The severe weathering made the islands a natural geological gallery, featuring magnificent landforms, rock formations and sea caves.   And out of all the islands, the imposing hexagonal columnar joints of North Ninepin Island are the most impressive. 

Other than the Ninepin Group, Ung Kong Group, lies northwest of the Ninepin Group in Port Shelter, also showcases some marvelous columnar joints and precipitous cliffs.  Comprised of a group of islands including the more familiar Bluff Island, the islands contain steep cliffs, sea caves and sea arches.  The steep cliff along the southeast coast of Bluff Island is the highest in Hong Kong.  Called “Sha Tong Hau Shan (沙塘口山)” or “Ung Kong (甕缸)” in Chinese, Bluff Island is also known for its Sha Tong Hau Cave, which is one of the four biggest and well-known sea arches in Hong Kong.  With lushly wooded slopes of the rounded hills roll gently down to scenic sandy bays, climbing up of Bluff Island can give you a splendid view of the area.  In addition, Bluff Island may look quite cute when viewed above since it resembles a turtle with four legs stretched out wide.  

Beside the Sha Tong Hou Cave on Bluff Island, the sea arches at Wang Chau, Basalt Island and Jin Island (a.k.a. “Tiu Chung Chau (吊鐘洲)” in Cantonese) are four famous sea arches in Hong Kong.  Among all four caves, the Tiu Chung Cave at Jin Island is often rated the most beautiful arch of its kind.  If you go through the cave entrance in a small boat, you’ll see another smaller cave entrance on the other side, making you travel cave after cave.  This smaller cave is named “Bi Tsim Cave (筆尖洞)” in Cantonese and is located on the northern side with a shape like the narrow tip of a pen.  Such amazing scenery is quite rare in Hong Kong, making it a truly awesome sight to behold.

For those who love nature and photography, you might want to visit Yim Tin Tsai too.  It is an abandoned island that was once a village for Hakka people where members of the Hakka Chan clan first settled 300 years ago.  It is known for its Catholicism since all villagers were baptized as Catholics in the 19th century with the current St. Joseph’s Chapel being the island’s main attraction.  With a hundred-year-long history, the beautiful chapel was restored and won an Award of Merit at the 2005 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.  But now, all other buildings on Yim Tin Tsai have been abandoned and most are surrounded in lush green wild foliage.  Such moody, deserted-looking makes Yim Tin Tsai a hot spot for photography.

With breathtaking masterpieces of natural geological design, Sai Kung offers more than the stereotypic image of Hong Kong as a shopping paradise and business hub.  It has all the natural beauty many people dream of in oversea destinations.  It is simply a relaxing and easily accessible escape from the hectic city life.   So instead of flying overseas in your upcoming holidays, venture to these islands and waterways for awe-natural wonders.