Header images courtesy of @chankarying and @kchanpixel (via Instagram)
Basalt Island, one of three islands in the Ung Kong Group, features neat geological fissures and outcroppings, photogenic locations, and plenty of explorable spots, both under and above water. Just south of Wang Chau, next to Bluff Island, and a 30-minute speed boat ride from Sai Kung, Basalt Island is a great spot for those keen on exploring unknown terrain and hoping for a physical challenge outdoors that does not involve a four-hour hike. It also offers plenty of bouldering challenges and entry spots for a dip in the clear, blue waters of the South China Sea! Here is your guide to all the things you can see and do on Basalt Island.
One of the best (and only) ways of getting to Basalt Island is via chartered speedboat, although very experienced kayakers have been known to paddle out. Kayaking is only recommended if you have a proper athletic background or are kayaking with trained guides who know what they are doing.
Sai Kung Public Pier has many speedboat options, or you can hire a private boat for an agreed-upon pick-up and drop-off time. It takes about 30 minutes to travel to Basalt Island by boat.
If you’re headed to Basalt Island for bouldering, you can request to be dropped off at the pebble beach on the northern side, closest to Sai Kung. Additionally, considering the difficulty of the trek, boats are also able to drop you off directly in front of the Sea Palace or Lam Wan Kok Cave, the famous archway of Basalt Island.
Given the isolation of Basalt Island from the mainland, there are no tuck shops or bathroom facilities. Likewise, the overall make-up of the island is mostly rocky terrain and overgrown paths, with little to no shade. Stock up on water and sunscreen, along with snacks to keep your sugar levels in check.
In regards to hiking, keep in mind that the paths are not regularly maintained. Long sleeves and leggings are recommended to prevent scratches, as is sturdy athletic footwear. If you choose to hike along the coastline to see the geological sites, bring gloves, as the terrain can be tough on the hands when you boulder over rocks.
Many of the sites will involve swimming to get to, both over shallow sections with rocks and barnacles, or just into the open ocean to get from one island to the next. Water shoes are recommended for entering and exiting the water to prevent cuts, but a popular alternative is to just swim in whatever shoes you are hiking in.
A waterproof bag big enough to carry your belongings as you swim is necessary. If you are not a strong swimmer, it is recommended to bring some type of floatation device (or a waterproof bag that can be inflated) or a life vest, as the waves can get a bit rough around the island edge.
Hikers and scuba divers are drawn to Basalt Island for its ample reefs, sea stacks, and wave-eroded bays, the constant impact of water causing erosion and dissolution to the shoreline. Basalt Island is part of the Kau Sai Chau Volcanic Group and makes for an excellent geological lesson on columnar joints and fissures, as well as an opportunity to observe the way in which the island’s geological process is impacted by the ocean.
There are a handful of geological sites that visitors like to check out during their visit. If you choose to get dropped off at the northern end of the island by the pebble beach, your trek to the famous archway should take you past these spots, although it may require some exploration to find the right path!
Less a claim to fame and more of a tragedy, Basalt Island also holds the title for the site of Hong Kong’s first commercial airline accident. Due to excessive fog over the area, a flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong crashed on 21 December 1948, killing all passengers on board. One of the passengers was Quentin Roosevelt II, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, who was serving as director of the China National Aviation Corporation at the time. A memorial plinth was erected on the eastern side of the island in memory of the victims.
On the northern side of the island, the 10-metre-wide entrance of the Sea Palace Cave (海上龍宫; hoi2 soeng5 lung4 gung1) makes for easy exploration of the rock enclosure. When the ocean is calm, the area is accessible via swimming. From an aerial point of view (great for drone shots!), the cave looks a bit like a lion lying down, with the cave entrance between its two paws. Next to the cave is a stretch of beach as well.
The pièce de résistance of Basalt Island, however, is the Lam Wan Kok Cave (欖灣角洞; laam5 waan1 gok3 dung6), an archway standing at 16 metres tall and offering a Narnia-esque visual. As part of the famous “Four Sea Arches of Hong Kong,” visitors can wade (during low tide) or swim over to one of the small neighbouring islands, Tai Pai (大排), Yi Pai (二排), and Sam Pai (三排), to snap photos and drone shots.
Less so a scenic spot than an overall activity, Basalt Island makes for a great place to explore the rich marine life of Hong Kong. As part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark and officially classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Basalt Island houses a whole new world under its waves and its rocky shoreline, with an ecosystem of coral reef and aquatic life, and a smattering of sea caves. It is now a popular location for free-divers and scuba divers alike. Just be mindful of the waves and the tidal changes!