Hidden Hong Kong: Waterfall Bay and an Icon Cemetery

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The look on the taxi driver's face was pure confusion - confusion with a dash of concern. 'This is not good' he mused, 'there's nothing there!' He was the third driver to stop for me, but only the first to entertain conversation on hearing my destination. Clearly no one else thought dropping tourists off at a Hong Kong housing estate - however salubrious - was good for business.

Doubtfully assured I knew what I was doing, we sailed past the Peak and the Military Cemetery, until the roads became quieter and the sights residential.

My day had started firmly on the tourist trail. Rising from my Hollywood Road base, I'd meandered through the temples and antique shops of Hong Kong Island, watching devotees burn incense in a scaffold-covered Man Mo and haggling for trinkets on Cat Street. But my plan for the afternoon involved some deviation - I was on the hunt for a place I'd seen but a glimpse of in a Instagram photo, but had been fascinated enough to know I had to see it for myself.

Waterfall Bay

The first part of my excursion required some trespassing, as Waterfall Bay has long been closed to the public since a spate of accidents. I headed through the Wah Fu Estate resident's playground, clambered over the steel gate and followed the sound of the sea to the beach - in reality a rubbish strewn cove of sand, but one harbouring a novelty; a narrow waterfall cascading in front of a typical Hong Kong high-rise.

Despite official efforts, the bay was far from deserted. A couple of teenagers photographed each other in front of the waterfall, while on the rocks above the beach a small Hindu shrine was carefully tended. Its owner explained the significance of the beach to me; even when buffeted by storms, somehow the icons stayed firm.

Golden hour descended on the beach as I sat watching the fishermen cast their lines into the sparkling sea. On the rocks beside me, a small Buddha statue looked as serene as I felt. But I knew there was one more curiosity to be seen in the Wah Fu Estate, and I roused myself before the light grew too dim.

The 'Icon Cemetery'

A little way across the other side, all but hidden beneath a canopy of trees, was a sea of abandoned household icons. Once sacred possessions, these objects were still too precious to be thrown away as rubbish, and so had found a resting place looking out to sea.

The scene was both striking and tranquil. A small group of old men quietly chatted and played mahjong nearby, while as dusk descended a self-appointed caretaker wafted bunches of incense over his ceramic charges.

Heading back to a bustling evening in Central, I'd loved my detour to this strange and serene corner of Hong Kong. Wah Fu Estate might not appear in any 'Top Ten Hong Kong' lists or guidebooks, but visiting it made for a truly special afternoon.

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