Hong Kong Beaches
Hong Kong's summer is a tough time for hiking and so forth, but can be great for heading to a beach.
Hong Kong is dotted with beaches, some grotty, some wonderful. With locals fond of heading to the seaside - especially during weekends and holidays - many of these beaches have facilities for swimmers, including changing rooms with showers, lifeguards, and shark nets (thanks to over-exploitation, sharks are rare in Hong Kong waters, but during the 1990s, there were several shark attacks, some fatal).
The Environmental Protection Department measures water quality at Hong Kong beaches (reports for previous years). During summer, there are frequent reports on their findings in the local media.
Essentially, the worst of Hong Kong's beaches are along the west coast of Kowloon - where it seems the water channel, which is partly an outlet of the Pearl River, is almost an open sewer. Other beaches in the Pearl River's influence may also be rather dirty; those further away are cleaner, with water quality generally rating medium to good.
I've seen item in the South China Morning Post, about rubbish like plastic bags and polystyrene floating in to beaches on southern HK Island. This mentioned that the problem is worse after heavy rain, which washes rubbish to sea. I think it's also worse with onshore winds - on eastern Cheung Chau, get more such lap sap arriving in autumn northeasterlies (yet the water might then be cleaner than for much of the summer, I think because the Pearl River doesn't flow as strongly [kind of perverse, really: dirtier sea and cleaner air in summer; vice versa by winter]).
For cleaner, better beaches, try Hong Kong's islands
On Cheung Chau, where I live (and often swim), I've found the water tends to be cleanest at high tide; can be murky when the water is low - if I swim, I try to keep my head clear of the water! If you want to try aiming for high tide when you visit a beach, you can check the Hong Kong Observatory's Predicted tides at selected locations in Hong Kong (if it's only hours before your trip, check the real time tides).
So, which Hong Kong beaches do I reckon are worthwhile?
Rather obviously, I like Cheung Chau: the two beaches on the east coast are good. Tung Wan is the larger, and more popular; smaller Kwun Yam Wan (Afternoon Bay; photo above and at right), just south of the Windsurfing Centre, is generally a little quieter and is especially good for a swim late on a fine afternoon.
Kwun Yam boasts a small hut that serves drinks, with a smaller crowd of regulars on many summer afternoons (sometimes, I'm amongst them). The hut also offers kayak rentals; but when my wife and I rented one, it sank thanks to a couple of holes that had been crudely patched with duct tape (!) - I've since rented from the Windsurfing Centre, without mishap.
The small "Italian Beach" (Po Yue Wan), tucked away in the southwest of the island, is far quieter; lacks facilities, but pleasant if you want somewhere more peaceful.
You can reach Cheung Chau by First Ferry, chiefly from the Outlying Islands piers in Central, Hong Kong Island. To find the beaches: walk ahead and slightly right from the ferry pier, then follow the small road across the island (narrow here), and you'll arrive at Tung Wan. Turn right here if you want to try Kwun Yam Wan.
Lantau Island beaches
Cheung Sha on southern Lantau boasts two long, beautiful beaches: Upper Cheung Sha to the west, Lower Cheung Sha to the east. Looks exposed to southerly winds, so unless you're a surfer it's perhaps best avoided during southwest monsoons. There are open air restaurants, including the Stoep, just above the tideline of the Lower Cheung Sha.
There are stretches of beach w lifeguard services, plus facilities including changing rooms and showers, at Lower Cheung Sha, and western end of Upper Cheung Sha. Sand perhaps rather better at Lower Cheung Sha: v fine sand; at Upper Cheung Sha, there are some stones and rocks, but great views of Lantau as you swim.
Buses from Mui Wo to places including Tai O pass Cheung Sha; there are stops right above the beach.
Nearby Tong Fuk has a smaller beach, but also seems wonderfully secluded, even though just metres from the main south Lantau road.
Hong Kong Island beaches
Repulse Bay on southwest Hong Kong Island has one of the most popular beaches in Hong Kong. It isn't splendidly scenic, thanks to all the high-rises on the hillsides, and the sand is a tad coarse, but is easily reached and has plenty of facilities. At the southern end is a big statue of Kwun Yam, Goddess of Mercy, as well as a longevity bridge (cross to supposedly extend your life. Hmm).
Nearby Deepwater Bay is generally rather less crowded, but with a road close by it's no tranquil haven.
Buses from places including Central run right by both these beaches.
Shek O, on Hong Kong Island's east coast, is a village with a great looking beach to its south. This beach looks wonderful when there's some surf rolling in. I've seen it packed during summer weekends, but as it's relatively far from the city and few people live here it should be fairly quiet on weekdays (pictured top right, and right).
A little to the north is Big Wave Bay, which is in a more rural setting, and is Hong Kong's only designated surfing beach. (The "big" waves would disgrace Hawaii or other real places for surf dudes; surf's only really up during strong winds, such as with tropical storms or typhoons.)
There are buses (9) to Shek O from Shau Kei Wan (MTR station), also a public light bus service that stops at Big Wave Bay; and on Sundays and public holidays there's a bus service (309) from Central to Shek O.
Eastern New Territories beaches
The two Clearwater Bay beaches are in fine settings, on the east coast of the Clearwater Bay peninsula (east of Kowloon). I've only tried once for swimming - and was surprised how murky the water was; maybe I was unlucky, as both ranked Good last year.
Bus 91 from Diamond Hill MTR station serves both these beaches.
Tai Long Wan, on the Sai Kung Peninsula, boasts fabulous beaches - but with no lifeguard service and some dangerous currents, they're not ideal for swimming.
Kiu Tsui (Sharp Island), reached by a short sampan ride from Sai Kung, has two small beaches with lifeguard services and barbecue facilities; also a chance to snorkel - just south of a tombolo (sand spit to an islet) there's an area of coral.
Tung Ping Chau, east of most of Hong Kong, has a pleasant beach that's easily overlooked when thinking about beaches in Hong Kong. It's especially noteworthy for the coral offshore; a good place for snorkelling, or for heading off in scuba gear. I've covered Tung Ping Chau elsewhere on this site.