Throughout Hong Kong’s history, the city’s advance has been etched into the singular skylines that have grown on both sides of Victoria Harbour. As gleaming towers rose like phoenixes from the memories of colonial architecture, there has been one constant – the Star Ferry – which has voyaged between the Kowloon Peninsula’s southern tip to Hong Kong island for more than 120 years.
Cross-harbour ferry services were launched in the 1880s, by an entrepreneurial Parsee, Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, aboard his steamboat, the Morning Star. However, it only in 1898, when British-Armenian businessman Sir Catchick Paul Chater bought the fleet of four vessels, that the Star Ferry Company was born.
Nine double-ended bottle-green and ivory boats now ply the routes between Central and Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui. The current style of ship first set sail in the 1950s – although the design varied little from Naorojee’s Morning Star – quickly becoming an integral part of not only Hong Kong’s infrastructure, but also the scenery. Today they provide more than just a means of transport for Hong Kong’s inhabitants and visitors, they are also a source of inspiration for the city’s creatives.
For Young, however, it is not only the boats themselves, but those who work on them that make the journeys’ memorable. “The old sailors themselves are kind of endearing, I like their uniforms,” he says. “When I travel on the Star Ferry, I like to travel on the lower level because I like the smell of diesel and I like to be close to the sea.”
“I always enjoy taking the Star Ferry, it’s somewhere I take guests who are new to Hong Kong,” says Dautresme. “It offers an amazing, unrivalled viewpoint from which to experience the drama of the harbour. I go for the Symphony of Lights at 8pm and head to the starboard side at the back, which gives you an uninterrupted view of the skyline as the lights come on. People are mesmerised. There’s nothing like it; it’s one of the only harbours where you have such density and urbanism so close to the water,” he adds. “The Star Ferry allows you to absorb that.”
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