With abundant streams tumbling down Hong Kong hills, there’s a fine variety of waterfalls. The sadly defunct Waterfalls of Hong Kong website listed over 50 waterfall sites across the territory. Some are easy to reach, while others take effort to find, maybe requiring arduous stream trekking.
During long dry spells, even the best of the falls might be unexciting, with slender streams wending down rock faces. But in the rainy summer, swollen streams form mighty columns of roaring white water, crashing onto rocks and shattering into cooling spray over deep pools. Even normally overlooked cascades come alive, foaming over and around boulders.
If you do head out in rainy weather, take care: people have been swept to their death in streams that have become torrents; just one slip in the wrong place can mean doom. Aim for safer trails, and vantages; and remember that flash flooding is possible – downpours can result in stream flows suddenly surging. The MyObservatory app helps show when heavy rains may be imminent [via radar imagery], but of course requires phone signal. Soon after heavy rains, caution is also advisable.
Here’s a selection of three contrasting waterfall sites. One, in the northeast New Territories, is among the best of the readily reached waterfall locations in Hong Kong. The other two are on Hong Kong Island – as reminders that there are waterfalls even close to the city.
Near Chung Mei: Bride’s Pool, Mirror Pool and Dragon Ball falls
At Chung Mei, a stream plus the flow from a water catchment tunnel enter the northern tip of Plover Cove Reservoir. This was the world’s first reservoir to be built “in the sea”, by enclosing a former tidal bay. The expansive waters are tranquil, but upstream there are wild stretches of water.
You can walk north from the reservoir, then cross a footbridge to a path leading towards the best known of the three main waterfalls here: Bride’s Pool and Mirror Pool falls. Just beyond the bridge is the confluence with Wang Chung Stream, which flows in from the west.
Though the area near the footbridge is picturesque, with fast flowing streams hemmed in by thickly forested slopes, there’s an impressive fall along the Wang Chung Stream, perhaps best reached from a road bridge.
This is the Dragon Ball Waterfall, which plunges around 35 metres in two main drops. Approaching the base of the fall could be relatively straightforward when there is moderate or low flow, but clambering and scrambling are needed for anyone wanting to explore the higher stream course.
It’s far easier to get to a vantage for admiring the Bride’s Pool Waterfall: you could simply alight from a bus or other vehicle, walk down a few steps to a barbecue site, stroll along, and there’s the fall in its splendid verdant setting.
Cascades and pools below the fall are fun places for roaming and cooling off on steamy days. There’s another sublime stream confluence here, beside a footbridge to a barbecue site.
Cross another footbridge – which a stone tablet notes was built in 1906 –and there’s a trail into a ravine. The path ends at a vantage overlooking the Mirror Pool Waterfall, which is among the highest and most beautiful local falls.
Bus 275R, on Sundays and public holidays, from Tai Po Market East Rail station.
Tai Tam Mound Waterfall
With no official signage pointing the way, and its location tucked away amidst rolling woodland above Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir, you could easily walk close by Tai Tam Mound Waterfall and not even realise it exists. Which would be a pity, as it’s a natural gem.
A stream drops over a low cliff, tarries in a tranquil pool, then continues through a languid stretch between jungle-like greenery, before dropping away, and out of sight. If there’s no one else around, this can seem like your very own part of wild Hong Kong, the kind of place you might be glad to visit whether in Hawaii or Honduras, and yet on Hong Kong Island.
As well as visiting the fall, you could also explore the area, such as by walking trails past streams and reservoirs, or simply completing most of the circuit of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir.
Walk northwest along the Hong Kong Trail, from just north of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir dam. After perhaps 10 minutes, cross a bridge with a handrail, and at the next, wooden bridge, look for a scramble down a rough path/tiny stream on the left.
Though Waterfall Bay can’t boast the most gorgeous of falls, it may be of historic significance.
As the waterfall plummets to the coast, it became a source of freshwater for early seafarers. It was described in a 1748 account of a voyage around the world, and later mentioned by Clarke Abel, a member of a British mission to China, who wrote of his experiences in 1816: “As seen from the ship, this island was chiefly remarkable for its high conical mountains, rising in the centre, and for a beautiful cascade which rolled over a fine blue rock into the sea. I took advantage of the first watering boat to visit the shore, and made one of these mountains and the waterfall the principal objects of my visit.”
Visiting sailors are said to have asked the name of the place, and were told “Heung Gong [Jai]”, as nearby Aberdeen was the “fragrant harbour” exporting incense. British sailors took to pronouncing this “Hong Kong”.
Much of the stream flow has since been diverted to Pokfulam Reservoir, so you might need to visit after heavy rains for a chance of seeing a beautiful cascade. Yet even then, with Wah Fu Estate to the south and the towering Bel-air apartment block looming above, it is hard to picture the idyllic scene conjured by Abel.
The bay is tiny, a roughly rectangular shape carved between joints in volcanic rock. On the north shore are the remains of a World War Two pillbox and searchlight position, installed here because of commanding views westwards, to Lamma and Lantau. It seems these views still attract some people – photographers keen to shoot sunsets, with the fall tumbling behind them.
Head to Wah Fu, and walk down to find Waterfall Bay Park along the coast. The bay is beside the northernmost part of the park.
Ng Tung Chai, in a ravine on the north slopes of Tai Mo Shan, has an outstanding series of waterfalls: three reached by a steep path, a fourth found only by stream scrambling.
The Great Fall at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden is a less spectacular but more accessible waterfall in a neighbouring valley, beside the lovely Rainbow Pavilion.
Silvermine Bay has two waterfalls, one that’s simple to get to from Mui Wo on Lantau, the other hidden away in a valley above.
Yi O, on the west coast of Lantau, has a series of fine cascades in a ravine. The easiest to reach is close to the shoreline, and those above might be best viewed from the shore, or even via drone. Sadly, the once popular Infinity Pool area has been fenced off after too many visitors and their rubbish were considered a risk to the pool used for drinking water supplies.
Sheung Luk Stream, on the east Sai Kung Peninsula, has a series of falls that are favourites with stream trekkers. The lowest is a short walk from Sai Wan.
Ping Nam Stream, near Nam Chung in the northeast New Territories, is another hotspot for stream trekkers, with highlights including Hula Skirt Fall.
Published in SCM Post 48hrs magazine. [Some revisions made here.]