First in a Series
A new rapid transit line - known as the MTR - has opened in Hong Kong, shortening travel times for beach goers to some of Hong Kong's most popular beaches. I decide to check it out, heading to the closest beach to a station on the newly opened South Island Line. Here's my report.
Many people think of Hong Kong as a concrete jungle. What they don’t know is that about 50% of Hong Kong’s landscape is undeveloped, virgin land.
I've done some traveling, and I must say: some of Hong Kong's natural scenery is breathtakingly beautiful.
There is mountainous terrain. There are inaccessible valleys and plains. There are more than 200 islands – most of them uninhabited. There are numerous country parks, which are crisscrossed by well-maintained hiking trails.
Hong Kong also has countless beaches, and 29 of them can be reached on land by car or public transport. These beaches are suitable for swimming although water quality can be an issue at some of them.
Gazetted beaches, as the government approved beaches are known, not only have changing rooms and lifeguards.
Fully 28 of them also have shark protection nets, so you won't end up as an unwilling extra in a Hong Kong version of Jaws.
Many of them have floating pontoons that you can swim out to, sunbathe on, and dive off of.
There are many other beaches, which can only be reached by boat. It is not uncommon for pleasure craft to sail to them and drop anchor off shore.
Hong Kong’s swimming beaches can be grouped into three geographical locations: Hong Kong Island, the New Territories, and the Outer Islands.
Ten of the beaches are located on Hong Kong Island, and these beaches tend to be the most popular.
South Island Line
With the opening of the MTR’s South Island Line earlier this year, some of the most popular swimming beaches on Hong Kong Island are now within much easier reach of city dwellers and visiting travelers than in days of yore.
The closest beach to an MTR station is Deep Water Bay, which can be reached on foot from the Ocean Park MTR Station, which is less than five minutes by train from the Admiralty MTR Station, a key transit hub.
- Admiralty is a transfer point for the Island Line, which runs along the Northern coast of Hong Kong Island, and the Tsuen Wan Line, which runs through Kowloon to the Northwestern New Territories.
The walk from the MTR station to Deep Water Bay Beach will take you about 10 to 20 minutes along a concrete path that skirts the rocky coastline, and the views are spectacular. It is a very pleasant walk in balmy weather.
During Hong Kong’s long hot summers, however, the walk can be debilitating as the humidity often soars well above 90%.
First Hand Hong Kong
Look over my shoulder as I make my way from my home in an isolated village in the Northern New Territories to a beach on the Southern shores of Hong Kong Island.
I set off from my home in the Northern New Territories at 3.15 pm on a hot and humid early summer's day. How long will it take me to get to Deep Water Bay?
I ride the minibus to the Sheung Shui MTR Station (too hot to ride my bicycle). I board a train headed for the Hung Hom Terminus.
I get off at Kowloon Tong, making my first of three transfers. I arrive at the Ocean Park MTR Station at about 4.40.
I could continue to the beach on foot, but it's too hot so I decide take a bus, arriving at Deep Water Bay at 5.00 pm.
Total travel time: 1.45 minutes. Now that I've done it, I'm sure I can shave several minutes off that on my next trip.
- If you're traveling from Admiralty, Central, Wanchai, or Causeway Bay, you could probably do the trip in 30 minutes or less.
Move over Beverly Hills! Make room Upper East Side. Deep Water Bay is home to many of Hong Kong’s most famous business tycoons, making it the richest residential neighborhood on earth.
According to Forbes magazine, 19 of the billionaires with the SAR's deepest pockets maintain at least one residence in the neighborhood, where you will find some of Hong Kong’s few remaining private homes.
Many of these well-heeled billionaires and their families live in palatial villas dotting the emerald cliffs overlooking the beach. The Hong Kong Golf Club, where many of them play golf, is directly across the street from the beach.
But don’t expect a scene out of the French Riviera. This is not Cannes. When you arrive at the beach, it all seems pretty low key.
With the exception of those Bentleys, Rolls-Royce's, and Ferrari's parked in the parking lot of the golf club across the street, of course ...
Welcome to Deep Water Bay Beach!
One of the first things you will notice as you search for a spot to cross the street is a make-shift Taoist shrine to the side of the road.
Then it is across the street, where a beach, two food and beverage outlets, swimming pontoons, and barbecue pits await.
Food + Beverage
There are two outdoor cafes overlooking Deep Water Bay. Both are relaxed and friendly. Why not order something cool to drink while you check out the action on the beach below?
Lido Cucina Italiana
This open air Italian eatery has outdoor seating with a view of the beach and the South China Sea. The menu includes pizza, pasta, a few other dishes, and beverages.
Lido Cucina Italiana – Ground Floor, West Block, Deep Water Bay Beach, Island Road, Deep Water Bay, Hong Kong Island. Telephone: (815) 2869-9631.
Situated on top of the changing rooms, this stylish Thai café offers a bit more shelter from street noise.
The extensive menu focuses on Thai cuisine. I start with an order of prawn crackers with chili dipping sauce and a glass of Spanish sangria.
I continue with an order of Phad Thai and another glass of Spanish Sangria. The bill comes to HK$345 (roughly US$44.50). It's a good thing they accept credit cards!
Because the eatery is situated on the roof, it has a magnificent view of the South China Sea. You can see the roller coasters of Ocean Park atop the hills across Deep Water Bay in the distance.
Coconuts – 2nd Floor, Beach Building, Deep Water Bay Beach, Island Road, Deep Water Bay, Hong Kong. Telephone: (815) 2812-1826.
Be Like a Local
Barbecuing is highly popular in Hong Kong, and there are 35 BBQ pits at the Southern end of the beach.
Get there early, however, as the sites fill up quickly. And brace yourself for noise, smoke, heat, and people that aren't used to having to clean up after themselves.
The beach has changing rooms, and they are free. There are also outdoor showers. Unfortunately, there aren't any lockers where you can stuff your stuff.
You can, however, rent beach umbrellas and lounge chairs at the food and beverage outlets.
Likewise, there are no mini-marts where pick up soft drinks or towels. So come prepared.
The key attraction: those three floating pontoons that you can swim out to.
When to Go
The beach is the only beach on Hong Kong Island that provides lifeguards year round. Other beaches suspend lifeguard services from November through March.
You will see mostly elderly swimmers braving the chilly waters on even the coldest days of winter. Why not join them if you've got the stamina!
Life guards are on duty from 9 am to 6 pm from April through October. Hours are extended on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays in June, July, and August to between 8 am and 7 pm.
Life guards are on duty 8 am to 5 pm from November through March. Swimming pontoons are removed for maintenance December through February.
What I Love
Deep Water Bay is much less crowded than the more popular beaches at Repulse Bay and Stanley. It's also much less touristy, offering a glimpse of the Real Hong Kong.
What I Hate
There aren't any mini-marts or kiosks, where you can buy snacks, soft drinks, and other essentials at standard prices. You've got a patronize the food and beverage outlets.
There's no place where you can check your stuff.
How to Get There
Several bus and mini-bus lines pass by Deep Water Bay on their ways to and from the more popular and crowded beaches at Repulse Bay and Stanley.
Take the South Island MTR Line to the Ocean Park Station. From there, you can walk along the promenade to the beach, which will take 10 to 20 minutes.
If you don’t want to walk, take exit C, cross Island Road, and walk left. You will find a bus stop, where you can catch a bus or mini-bus or flag down a taxi.
If you take the bus, Deep Water Bay is only one short bus stop away. No problem if you have to stand!
You can also drive to the beach – paid parking is available. Or you can travel all the way by bus from Central, North Point, and Wah Fu (and intermediate points) on Hong Kong Island or Tsim Sha Tsui (and intermediate points) on the Kowloon Peninsula.
The key advantage of traveling by MTR is that you can avoid the brutal traffic jams that can plague beach-goers on sunny days during Hong Kong’s lengthy beach-going season.
There can be a mass exodus from beaches at twilight, and lines at bus stops can be long. Many buses and minibuses will be full by the time they reach Deep Water Bay.
You can either try to squeeze your way on board. Better yet, why not take a leisurely stroll along the promenade to the Ocean Park MTR Station?
This is the first in a series of mini guides to Hong Kong's Best Beaches.