As a port city that has drawn much of its cultural identity through the sea, Hong Kong’s history of junk boats goes back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Originally referring to Chinese wooden sailboats, which are still in use, nowadays “junk boat” is a blanket term for any charter boat in the Harbour City. Private companies and individuals alike hire them to host parties, touring the secluded beaches that make up Hong Kong’s outlying island. With winters here only reaching 15 degrees Celsius at its worst, junk boats can be enjoyed year round.
Growing up in Hong Kong, I slowly began to see summers as being incomplete without a “junk trip”. Comprising of a day out on a rented boat, junk trips usually comprise ten or more people spending the day bathing in the sun, swimming in the cerulean blue waters, or enjoying various water sports. And of course, a day out in the summertime would be incomplete without a veritable feast and ice-cold alcoholic drinks to keep the spirits as bright as the sun shining above.
Our trip took sixteen of us to Bluff Island (Chinese: Sha Tong Hau San沙塘口山, also known as Ung Kong甕缸). More than a perfect title for a spy novel, Bluff Island is located in Port Shelter, a habour south of the Sai Kung Peninsula. It is the key fragment of eight separate areas that form the Hong Kong Global Geopark, a UNESCO natural site. On a perfect day, there is much to enjoy and admire about the secluded island. Its southern side holds Sha Tong Hau Cave, which is one of the four biggest sea caves found on Hong Kong’s eastern waters. Rolling mountains stand sentry behind the narrow beach strip. The rocky coastlines zigzag in height, with the tallest at approximately 140 metres. These columns take on the form of hexagons, staggering to create the remarkable impression of multiple entryways into the island’s lush hills. As Hong Kong’s highest sea cliffs, more and more divers flock to the island to enjoy the high elevations and explore the marine life that thrives here. From above, this natural wonder bears striking resemblance to a swimming turtle.
Most of Bluff Island came into being roughly 146 – 145 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic Period. Waves of magma activity occurred in the area, breaking through stacking fault and pressure points underwater until it came to surface. Huge volcanic eruptions occurred, and the amazing explosions oozed lava onto ancient rock. Ash and fume danced in the air as fires burned below. As the lava cooled, rocks as wide as 400 metres were formed. They connected in a honeycomb pattern, leading to the multi-level hexagonal rock columns that dot the island’s perimeter. Hong Kong faced four stages of volcanic activity, which is sorted into four groups: the Tseun Wan Group, the Lantau Group, the Repulse Bay Group, and the Kai Sai Chu Group, the last of which formed Bluff Island.
I started the day bright and early. Though we weren’t meeting until 9 – 9:30 in the morning, I woke up at 6am. Living on the opposite side of Hong Kong, it took around two and a half hours for my sister, her husband and I to arrive at the meeting point in Sai Kung. After caffeinating at both Pret a Manger and Starbucks, we joined the others at the main pier. After boarding, the boat sped off into the horizon. Quickly, Sai Kung’s low-level buildings became the size of pinpricks.
Two other junk boats left the pier as we did. Cutting through the waters, the heavy storm clouds bothered none of us on our day off. The sun peeked out every now and then, promising occasional reprieves. This was more than enough for us. We anchored a ways from the shores of Bluff Island, joining two junk boats that were already settled there. After inflating the paddleboard, rafting tube, and inflatable mattress, a number of us headed off to enjoy the ocean. I used this time to take photos of the merry makers and sneak in a few crisps between shots. When the sky burst open and the rain beat a steady tattoo on the water’s surface, everyone laughed and screamed out in surprise. Surprisingly, everyone stayed as they were – enjoying themselves on either the dry boat or the rolling waves.
Thankfully, the sun decided to have mercy on us. Winds pushed the heavy clouds away, and warm rays of light reflected on the water. It was then that I joined those in the ocean. First joining the sun-soakers on the rafting tube, I switched to swimming with a colorful noodle before finally asking for a turn on the paddleboard. One impressive athlete had spent a significant portion of the afternoon encouraging others to try the sport, teaching them techniques and offering supportive words. Following the advice I had heard her dole out to others, I utilised my core and kept my knees slightly bent. For my first time on the paddleboard, things weren’t too bad. I fell all of twice and got back on by myself, even accomplishing two circuits around the junk boat. Without the aid of my glasses, on the second circuit I overestimated the boat’s distance and accidentally paddled to a different boat! The partygoers on the stranger ship were very understanding, encouraging me on as I slowly and steadily course-corrected back to my group.
We spent the rest of the day in typical junk trip fashion, eating foods we had all brought and drinking what had been prepared and purchased. Homemade tortilla wraps, chocolate and vanilla cake, sushi rolls, copious bags of crisps, cold beers, champagne, prosecco, and sangria all came together to form the most perfect food babies in our stomachs. Exhausted from the sun, the sport, and the food, the boat headed back to shore at around six in the afternoon.
Spending over six hours together, the time flew by in easy conversation, good food and great weather. At only 6,500 HKD (around 830 USD) for all sixteen of us, the day’s value was far more than the money we all put into making it possible.