Big Wave Bay is on the relatively wild, east coast of Hong Kong Island, below Dragon's Back.
Think of beaches on Hong Kong Island, and I guess you first picture beaches with main roads right beside them – Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay, even Stanley. They're fine if you just want to drive up or hop off a bus, and dash into the sea. But there are other beaches you can reach after a hike, rewarding your efforts with relaxing scenery and, perhaps, rolling surf.
Indeed, if you're dead-set on a serious hike before you hit the sand, you could start at the Upper Peak Tram station, then curl around the Peak, and walk the length of the Hong Kong Trail before you at last arrive at Big Wave Bay, north of Shek O. Phew! – Sounds like hard work to me, so I'm going to suggest a much shorter route.
You start with a bus ride, from Shau Kei Wan, or Exchange Square on Sundays and public holidays, heading towards Shek O but alighting shortly before the big old quarry that faces towards Stanley. (The bus stop is very soon after a small car park on the right, and beside a Hong Kong Trail map board.)
Big Wave Bay lies up and over the ridge above you – over Dragon's Back, along perhaps the finest short hike in Hong Kong. But if you have time to spare, maybe first head down from the bus stop, to the beach at To Tei Wan. Though not a fine swimming or sunbathing beach, it's a quirky spot, set by an abandoned village, and home to the Hong Kong Hobie Club – you'll probably find members' sailboats arrayed along the sand.
Now, start climbing, taking the Hong Kong Trail up through trees and bamboo, then up scrubby hillside. Turn right at the top of a steep flight of steps, and you'll come to a cluster of boulders, with great views across Tai Tam Bay to Stanley.
Retracing your steps from the boulders, continue along the meandering path, then take a right turn, uphill again. In minutes, you'll be on the ridge, savouring brilliant views down to Shek O, and across the sea to Tung Lung Island and the Clearwater Bay Peninsula.
When the northeast monsoon is blowing, Dragon's Back is popular with paragliders who climb up with their heavy packs, then launch themselves from grassy slopes, hang in the air, and eventually drift down to a beach at Shek O. Other people come to fly radio-controlled gliders. And birds of prey like the rising air currents too – you can invariably see Black Kites here, and could spot a White-bellied Sea-Eagle.
The trail heads north now, sometimes burrowing between bamboo and shrubs, then climbing to a hilltop with more outstanding views. Continue, and Big Wave Bay soon appears below you – a short stretch of sand in a narrow cove between rocky headlands.
Then, the Hong Kong Trail drops, turns away from the ridge, and you've seen the last of Big Wave Bay for some time. You follow an easygoing woodland trail, crossing occasional small streams. The trail emerges close by a Correctional Services centre near Tai Tam Gap. The beach is closer now; just follow the signs pointing along a service road, then take a right, to drop down, and at last arrive at Big Wave Bay.
As you've already seen from Dragon's Back, this bay seems far removed from most of Hong Kong Island – walking to it, you pass through a small village, with houses amidst fields, the hillside stretching above. Though it's small, there's a good beach, with a lifeguard service in summer, and facilities including showers, and is a fine place for unwinding and swimming after a hike.
Big Wave Bay is chiefly a magnet for surf dudes, who have only ripples to ride in calm weather, but are drawn here when a typhoon roars close and surf's UP! Maybe there'll be some surfers to entertain you, though chances are you won't see any sensational "Eskimo rolls" or "drop ins", as surfers are wont to say – so after a while you'll be happy to stroll along the rocky shore to the left.
A path leads to an old rock carving – which seems to me a bit boring to look at, though the location is good, with more views of this marvellous stretch of coastline.
You could find there's a minibus at the car park by the bay. But if not, you've a little more hiking left to do – south to Shek O, where you can check out the main beach and explore the headland before catching the bus back to the big city.