The Central Star Ferry Pier sits on iconic Victoria Harbour, against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers, with more high-rises on the shores of Kowloon opposite. This is in keeping with Hong Kong’s image as a modern hub of travel and commerce — but board one of the ferries to Lamma Island and, a mere 30 minutes later, you’ll find yourself in a vastly different world.
Ellie Hann, a kindergarten teacher who moved to Hong Kong from Bath in England, has been living on Lamma Island for five years. “I liked the idea of living on an island away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong,” she says. “It’s so green and tropical with plenty of wildlife, plus there’s lovely beaches nearby as well as great hikes. And there’s Lamma Rainbow Restaurant, which is second to none.” Among the array of restaurants are cosy cafes, some of which combine tea and food with enjoyment of the surrounding wildlife, such as teahouse and organic herb farm .
Lamma is only one of 263 such outlying islands in Hong Kong, each with their own unique, relaxed way of life., the largest among them, is where the airport is located. However, it’s also full of hidden gems — from serene Shui Hau Wan in the south, where the beach is teeming with clams ready for the picking, to Tai O Fishing Village in the west, where houses are built on wooden stilts over the water and where locals create delicious street snacks such as barbecued oysters and ‘husband cake’, a savoury pastry filled with red bean, peanuts and sesame.
Mainstream attractions such ascan also be experienced differently. While many visitors will take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the top, it is possible to hike up to it following the Lantau Trail, which starts at Mui Wo Ferry Pier and offers terrific sea and mountain views along the way.
Lantau Island diversity is one reason why Hong Kong resident Annora Ng decided to vacation there with a visiting friend, giving rave reviews of the hiking and cultural curiosities. “There’s just so much to see on Lantau,” she recalls. “Monasteries, heritage preservation, local food. You could spend one day at a monastery, and another at a village. The people are much more laid back, too. I thought it was a very good introduction to Hong Kong.”
[ Remarks: The Big Buddha is currently undergoing renovations. The Big Buddha statue is covered and the halls under the statue and upper part of the steps are closed. All religious ceremonies and events will continue as usual, please check the official website before you visit. ]
While Lamma and Lantau are relatively easy to travel to via ferry or train, there are plenty of other islands further afield that might take more planning to get to — but the journey is well worth it. Connie 'Maoshan' Yuen, an illustrator and former 'architectural conservationist', first discovered the charms of Peng Chau, a sparsely populated island about 40 minutes from Central, cat-sitting at her aunt’s seaside flat. “It’s a little island frozen in time,” she comments. “Serene and peaceful, but lively in its own way. My favourite thing to do is to sit and watch the boats go by,” Yuen says.
Locals sell freshly caught fish, eat dim sum together every morning, and gather at the village square along the single main street, or head to, where it’s believed that touching the sculpture of the dragon mother and her bed brings good luck.
There’s also , a remote beach paradise with an excellent seafood restaurant, , and Cheung Chau, site of the annual 'Bun Scrambling Competition', where participants clamber up towers to grab the luckiest buns at the top. Cheung Chau is also a popular haven for water sports.
The islands are reminders of Hong Kong’s past, when fishing villages dominated rather than skyscrapers, and which today remain tranquil getaways with beautiful natural landscapes and insights into local living that should not be missed.
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