Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Hong Kong: Blown away in Big Wave Bay

Nida sends Grant Bradley in search of epic surf; instead he finds a tranquil haven minutes from bustling Kowloon.

Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong, an unforgettable place. Photo / Grant Bradley
Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong, an unforgettable place. Photo / Grant Bradley

The warnings were ominous.

The worst typhoon in more than 30 years was forecast to hit Hong Kong while my wife, Estelle, and I were there for a short break.

Typhoon Nida had closed down the city. Buildings were boarded up, scores of flights cancelled, schools, shopping malls and markets closed. The No8 signal on a storm scale of 1 to 10 was issued from the Hong Kong Observatory, which meant gusts of 180km/h were possible. So, after doing some research, we made plans to head for the beach.

Deep in the noggin was a recollection of the possibility of a surf in the territory and it didn't take much detective work to zero in on Big Wave Bay.

Typhoon Nida had closed down the city. Buildings were boarded up, scores of flights cancelled, schools, shopping malls and markets closed. Photo / Grant Bradley
Typhoon Nida had closed down the city. Buildings were boarded up, scores of flights cancelled, schools, shopping malls and markets closed. Photo / Grant Bradley

The swell forecast was a bit confusing so I tracked down a surf-school operator who happily shared some local gen on the set-up there.

Of course, I got the old "you should have been there yesterday" when waves were overhead and it was offshore as Typhoon Nida lurked further out to sea and delivered cleaner lines.

But even windblown slop was worth a look, especially on a day when in the city, where selling never seems to stop, the wheels of commerce were virtually at a halt.

Roads were near-empty and a 15-minute taxi ride ride later we were a million miles away from our hotel in Kowloon (one of the most densely populated places on the planet), past the skyscrapers reaching up to 100 storeys in the financial heart of the city on Hong Kong Island. We were deep into one of the surprising number of green, thickly forested parks dotted around 1100sq/km Hong Kong.

Our intrepid driver, Bosco, expertly piloted his trusty Toyota Comfort taxi around some chunky branches blown down on to the winding roads of Shek O Country Park.

And at the end of a HK$170 ride (about $35) we were at Big Wave Bay or Tai Long Wan.

In spite of what had been a fearsome storm, the predicted swell had abated. It was cross shore and waves were half a metre, but beggars can't be choosers.

Grant Bradley has been surfing the tail end of Typhoon Nida in Hong Kong. Photo / Grant Bradley
Grant Bradley has been surfing the tail end of Typhoon Nida in Hong Kong. Photo / Grant Bradley

There was a nice surf vibe with a handful of places that rented boards of every shape and size.

I rented a nice Chinese-made long board for HK$50 (no apparent time limit) from an old master at Ho Lok Store and had a nice hour among a gaggle of friendly locals sharing what waves there were. Not an epic surf but an unforgettable place to be.

The water temperature was the same as the air - 28C - and remarkably there was barely a sign of civilisation looking around the bay and out to sea. No ships, no buildings on outlying islands, crystal clear water and all this within a few kilometres of a city of more than seven million.

The beach had beautiful white sand and there were some interesting looking coastal walkways to historic sites.

It's fair to say the watery typhoon weather would have kept the crowds down, so it may not be such a laid-back place on a sunny, pleasant day - parking meters up on the road suggested it's a popular place.

Before calling Bosco to take us to the coastal settlement at Stanley, we had a good-value drink and a tasty meal at one of the food stalls and counted our blessings that we'd been blown in an unexpected direction by Typhoon Nida.

Grant Bradley on a very small wave at Big Wave Bay. Photo / Grant Bradley
Grant Bradley on a very small wave at Big Wave Bay. Photo / Grant Bradley

The weather

October to December is clear and sunny and these are the most popular months to visit. June to September can be hot and muggy but there are fewer tourists, great hotel deals and you're mainly shopping among locals. We were there during a No.8 typhoon; it was a bit like a blowy day in Auckland and wet for a few days. The forecasters raised the balloon a bit too high.

Getting around

Getting around Hong Kong is easy and taking one of the ubiquitous Toyota Comfort taxis is one of the pleasures of being there.

According to government figures, there are more than 18,000 taxis, mostly in the red colours of the Hong Kong urban fleet.

At current exchange rates fares are much cheaper than taxis in New Zealand. They're about equivalent to standard rates charged in New Zealand by Uber (which is barred from Hong Kong). A taxi from the airport to Kowloon will cost about HK$250 (less than $50) for the 30-35 minute ride. Carrying animals or birds is reasonable too, at HK$5.

There are about one million passenger journeys a day in the heavily regulated and price-controlled taxis. Apart from having either four or five seats for passengers, these sturdy workhorses are nearly identical although most often differentiated by the driver's choice in beaded seat covers.

Dodging the storm debris in a taxi on the way to Big Wave Bay. Photo / Grant Bradley
Dodging the storm debris in a taxi on the way to Big Wave Bay. Photo / Grant Bradley

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Home carrier Cathay Pacific flies daily at this time of the year, and from October 31 is introducing the newest widebody plane — the Airbus A350 XWB — to the route, replacing the A340. From December to February capacity will be further boosted with a Boeing 777.

- NZ Herald

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