After three months, Hong Kong’s beach shutdown has officially ended – but you still won’t be able to legally visit a beach until next Tuesday.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages Hong Kong’s 39 public beaches, announced the lifting of the ban earlier this week.
The re-opening, which includes Lantau’s popular Cheung Sha, Pui O, Tong Fuk and Silvermine Bay beaches, coincides with the regular end of the lifeguard season, so there will be no lifeguards on duty.
The decision came six weeks after swimming pools were opened again and just three days after a critical South China Morning Post article asked why Hong Kongers were now free to visit Singapore but not the local beach.
Ocean Recovery Alliance founder Doug Woodring pointed out to the SCMP “there’s hundreds of people in Central standing right next to each other on every street corner every day.”
By contrast, “when people go to the beach, they like to stay separate naturally.”
An LCSD spokesperson said the closures were due to “the open environment” of beaches that made it “difficult to enforce the epidemic prevention and social distancing measures as implemented in sports venues and swimming pools.”
Three days later, these social distancing measure suddenly became enforceable as the department lifted its ban, although it did remind people to wear a mask “at all times” on the beach.
In reality, the beach closures have been somewhat farcical all along and there is no shortage of Lantau residents who have continued to swim, walk or exercise their dog on the beach despite the official closures.
That is because the restrictions apply only to the area inside the rope and the shark net. Outside are no limits, but there also are no lifeguard services and the waters are often more dangerous.
This has brought other problems. As Olivier Courret, who runs a group called Open Water Swimmers of Hong Kong, told the SCMP:
“The main issue is people swimming outside the safety nets because they don’t have a choice any more,” he said. “And some of them don’t have open water common sense, or skills, and I could see them putting themselves in dangerous situations.
Not for the first time, the government had made the right decision after exhausting all other possibilities.
Photo: Pui O Beach (file photo)
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Want to run or hike the hills of Lantau and promote conservation at the same time?
Hong Kongers have that chance next month with the first UTML – aka Ur Trail du Mont-Lantau – offering nine different events ranging from a 2km walk to a 100km endurance race.
Organisers Ms So and Ms Chung say they took the idea from the famed UTMB around Mont Blanc, the world’s biggest trail race.
Ms So said with the government pushing ahead with the Lantau Tomorrow reclamation, “we wanted to hold an event to encourage people to hike the hills and forests to save Lantau.”
The UTML comprises nine different races, starting with a 2km road walk around Tung Chung, moving up to 10km -16km courses for regular hikers, and then three ultra-trail routes 50km, 60km and 100km in length.
The other twist on the UTML is it’s a virtual event. It will run for all of November and people can complete their chosen course in their own time.
“You go to Lantau, you pick one of the routes that we provide, and then you finish the trail,” said Ms So.
“Then you get the GPS record through a smartphone app, Strava, Polar, or Garmin etc, and you can screencap it and share it, along with photos taken along the route.”
The hashtags are #HKUTML #and IloveLantau.
Ms So said that apart from promoting the preservation of Lantau, she hopes to help bring together people with similar views.
“It’s about community building. This belongs to everyone who loves Hong Kong and loves Lantau.”
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Villagers at Sha Lo Wan on north Lantau have erected a 2.5m iron gate to keep out visitors, closing one of Hong Kong’s most popular hiking trails.
The village closed the gate last Friday during the long holiday weekend, leading to heated scenes as hikers and runners tried to pass.
Two people who tried to skirt around the gate became lost in the nearby hills, sparking a rescue operation by the fire department.
HK01 reported that the gate was locked with iron chains and protected by barbed wire and tree branches. Around a dozen villagers stood guard.
A sign outside the village states it is a “private area.” Any person who enters “will be treated as a thief and will be reported to the police.”
Police said they had received a complaint from villagers on Friday morning after a heated dispute broke out with hikers who they accused of trespassing, HK01 said.
The hikers departed after police arrived, but were dissatisfied that the police could not explain whether the closure was legal or not.
One visitor, Ms Wong, told Apple Daily that villagers had threatened to beat her if she entered the village. She described them as “selfish and unreasonable” and questioned how they could forcibly occupy a public road.
Late on Friday afternoon two hikers decided to climb into the hills to get around the locked gate became lost.
The villagers refused to open the gate for firefighters, who were forced to use a ladder get into the village. The rescuers located the lost couple near Sha Lo Wan and evacuated them by boat from the San Shek Wan pier.
In response to reporters’ queries, the Lands Department said it would “follow up” the incident.
The Tung Chung pool and library and local fitness centres have reopened as the city begins its return to normal.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department last week announced the reopening of Tung Chung and 32 other local swimming pools across Hong Kong, starting Thursday.
It also has opened the Tung Chung library and sent lifeguards back to Pui O and Silvermine Bay beaches, allowing them to open for the first time since March.
However, the Mui Wo library and swimming pool remain shut, as are – officially – the popular Cheung Sha and Tong Fuk beaches, although both beaches have attracted weekend crowds the past month.
But most sports centres have reopened, including the Mui Wo and Tung Chung centres.
The Mui Wo gym is available daily at slightly shortened hours. From Tues-Fri it is opening from 9am to 10pm, with one-hour closure for cleaning at 1pm and 5pm. On Sunday it is open from 1-5pm and 6-10pm.
Pui O campsite has reopened at half capacity, but other Lantau campsites are still closed.
Picnickers can use Lantau barbecue sites but in groups of no more than eight, LCSD says.
After decades of neglect, one of Lantau’s forgotten gems has been returned to its former quiet glory.
Lung Tsai Ng Yuen – the name means Garden of Enlightenment at Lung Tsai – has been restored as a retreat in the hills of southwest Lantau.
Founded in 1962 by textiles baron Wu Kunsheng as a secluded garden and religious haven, it fell into disrepair after his death.
It is well-remembered locally. Older Lantau residents recall visiting as children, where they played in the gardens and witnessed its exotic wildlife collection.
In the last five years Wu’s grandchildren have raised and spent a hefty sum on restoring Ng Yuen’s buildings and gardens.
A writer from Economic Times described a visit 18 months ago:
“Once upon a time, Ng Yuen was hailed as a ‘Hidden Paradise’ on Lantau Island. The valley was full of green bamboo plants and the zigzag bridge crossed the lotus ponds. In the glory days of the 1960s, the garden also raised peacock and deer. Recently, the desolate garden retreat has returned to life.”
The refurbished main building, with its green curved roof, now hosts occasional visitors.
The top floor offers a view of the revitalised garden. Once badly overgrown, it has been trimmed back to reveal its rich natural treasures. It is now carefully maintained.
Local botanic artist Sally Bunker, who helped restore the garden, says it is home to a number of rare and protected native plants such as rhodoleia and champaka.
The water pine that stands at the edge of the pond is one of only a few hundred in the world.
Founder Wu Kunsheng, born in Shanghai, was a devout Buddhist who used to go to the nearby Mancheung Po Temple to perform merits.
He was inspired by the quiet hills of western Lantau, which have long been a base for religious activity, and decided to build his own retreat.
According to EJ Insight:
Construction work started in 1962, and Wu’s garden took four years and HK$2 million [about HK$200 million in today’s money] to complete. He called it Ng Yuen and opened it to the public.
Lung Tsai Ng Yuen follows the classical architectural style of Jiangnan gardens. The two-storey main building lies in the south of the garden and houses various Buddhist articles.
As well as its beauty and serenity, the lovingly restored site is a link to Hong Kong history.
One of many Shanghai exiles to flee to Hong Kong after the communist takeover, Wu co-founded Wyler Textiles in the late 1940s.
Starting with a single spinning plant at To Kwa Wan, it became one of Hong Kong’s biggest textile firms in the ‘50s and ‘60s when textiles was the city’s largest industry.
One thing that has not changed about Lung Tsai Ng Yuen is its inaccessibility.
There is no road, though it can be be reached on foot by a number of ways (see below).
If you do travel there, remember it remains not only a quiet retreat but also a private property. Please respect the wishes of the occupants not to be disturbed.
GETTING TO LUNG TSAI NG YUEN
Up Lantau Trail Section 6 from Tai O (about 45 minutes-one hour);
Via Lantau Trail Section 5 from Keung Shan Road (Sham Wat turnoff) (one and a half to two hours)
Via Keung Shan Path (about 40 minutes)
Fun-runners fanned out across South Lantau this morning in the 10th Lantau International Beer Dash.
In overcast but warm conditions, more than 200 people ran the 5km course, starting from the catchwater above Tong Fuk, down the old Tung Chung Road and then along the expanse of Cheung Sha beaches (both of them).
To ward off thirst, five refreshment stations, generously provisioned by sponsors, waylaid them.
Organiser Mel Potgeiter said this year’s event had raised more than HK$60,000. The funds will go to local animal protection groups.
Today’s action as recorded by Lantau News’ photographic team:
Next week’s beer dash, a highlight in the Lantau calendar, marks two milestones.
Officially known as the Lantau International Beer Dash, it will be the tenth time the charity fundraiser has been held.
It will also be the last time that founder Melanie Potgieter will organise the event.
Mel (as everyone calls her) and her family are moving to Hong Kong Island for her daughters’ schooling.
They will be back in Lantau, but Mel has decided it is time to hand over the reins to someone else. Lantau News spoke to her this week.
Q: What gave you the idea with the idea for the beer dash?
In 2009 we had Typhoon Hagupit, which was quite devastating. We were then living at Upper Cheung Sha, and we were friendly with locals down on the beach.
Their whole house was flooded, so we sent out emails to the community to come help and they did. Everybody made donations and we were able to buy them a fridge and TV.
I was thinking that we are very lucky in Hong Kong. Most of us are financially well-off and it’s good to help those who are not.
I thought of doing a fun run like in DB, but one of my friends said: why don’t you do a beer dash? There had been a beer dash in DB some years before but they had stopped it.
Instead of it being a very competitive run we thought maybe we’d just have something fun.
Q: How did you choose the route, starting up by the prison?
Because we had alcohol involved we didn’t want to make the route too far.
I used to walk my dogs along the catchwater. It’s quite a nice flat route – and then goes downhill to the beach.
Q: What are your memories of the first beer dash?
It was quite a process because I’m not a charitable organisation. It was quite hard finding out how to get it going, with the correct procedure and the correct permits, and who to ask. There was a lot of red tape and hoops to jump through.
I think we had 120 runners that year.
A few local restaurants sponsored beers for the different stations. We decided to call it the ‘International Beer Dash,’ because we had a different type of beer at each station. There are five stations, so five different beers.
Q: After nine beer dashes, what are the highlights?
To me the best part of the whole day is how everyone gets on with each other. There must be a million photos taken. Everybody just mingles. It’s people from all over Hong Kong. There are locals, foreigners, tourists and they all just have fun.
The costumes and the amount of effort people put into their costume absolutely amazes me. And we have raised more than HK$600,000.
Q: Who are the beneficiaries?
I was friendly with Okka Scherer, who runs Villa Kunterbunt [a dog rescue organisation]. A lot of the dogs she gets have been left behind by foreigners. I see the dedication of people like her, so I have tried to do more for the animals.
We give money to PALS, Villa Kunterbunt, Lantau Buffalo Association, South Lantau Buffalo Society, Herdsup.
Q: This is your last Beer Dash. Do you have any special plans?
We have made it in memory of Mark Parlett, a board member of LIM, who passed away last year unexpectedly. He’s been at every dash and he’s always been an active supporter.
Q: You are moving away. Will you be coming back?
We’re moving away to Pok Fu Lam to be closer to our daughters’ school.
But definitely we will be back here. We are not going for good, we’re just going for a couple of years.
Q: Who’s going to take over the beer dash?
I have a few people who have contacted me. There’s nothing definite, although Lantau Base Camp have said they might be interested. They run a lot of events already.
Registrations are still open for the 2018 Lantau International Beer Dash. Click here to sign up.
Photo (top): Mel and Bighead Boy at feeding time
The AFCD will hold a tree-planting day in Lantau South Country Park on April 8.
Participants will plant tree seedlings on lower Lantau Peak on Lantau Trail Section 3.
The AFCD will provide the seedlings and planting tools. Volunteers are asked to bring their own gloves and a bag for carrying seedlings.
Volunteers can enrol at the registration point at the Pak Kung Au picnic area from 9am to 10.30am.
The planting site is approximately 45 minutes from Pak Kung Au.
Other tree planting days, jointly held with Friends of the Country Parks, will take place Shing Mun Country Park on March 18 and Sai Kung West Country Park on April 22.
It’s now a tradition that the Pui O campsite will spill illegally onto the beach during major holidays.
On Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, half a dozen tents were pitched on the beach at the far end of the campsite.
Illegal camping at Pui O and Cheung Chau beaches became a media issue during Golden Week last May, with the LCSD chief pleading for mainlanders to respect local laws.
The department has said its role is to manage the campsite, not the area outside the campsite.
However, after last year’s incidents hit the headlines, it promised to take action.
But that is not the case, as we see once again.
Illegal camping may not be the biggest problem on South Lantau, but in a district where powerful interests routinely flout the law it has become a symbolic one.
The Pui O camping ground, next to the wide sandy beach, has long been a popular retreat for local people.
Since the opening up of Hong Kong to mainland tourists it has become a magnet for mainland visitors and travel companies wanting to take advantage of its free accommodation.
A minor riot broke out during Golden Week in 2012 after a large number of visitors turned up at the site when it was already full.
Since then the LCSD has introduced a mandatory booking system for major holiday periods.
But still Pui O retains its appeal as a means to a cheap holiday in Hong Kong.
Some mainland travel groups are running tours promising ‘5-star camping’ at Pui O, with local media recounting tales of tourists lugging heavy suitcases full of shopping purchases around the campsite.
This weekend, an Apple Daily reporter visited Pui O and found a Shenzhen man, Mr Pan, who brought his family of “four or five” here for the holiday. He said he had saved thousands of yuan in hotel costs by camping.
A man was airlifted off Sunset Peak yesterday after suffering an allergic reaction after being pricked by a plant.
The man and a friend were hiking from Pak Kung Au to Sunset Peak when he began to feel dizzy after being stung by an unidentified plant.
His friend raised the alarm after he passed out at around 3pm.
A Government Flying Service helicopter was despatched to the scene and carried the man to GFS headquarters.
The man regained consciousness and was taken to North Lantau Hospital by ambulance for treatment.