Here is why we heart this little town by the sea.
1. That Shek O feeling
“Coming home at the end of the day, passing the quarry and seeing the view and the beach, it just gives you that feeling that you’re back home,” says long-time resident Jennifer Pollard. “That and the sense of community, you can always guarantee you know someone in the playground.”
2. Ben’s Back Beach Bar
This oceanside watering hole is a Shek O institution for sundowners. Sand, cold beer, reggae and good company. Chill. 273 Shek O Village, 2809 2268.
Whether you’re five or 55, Shek O caters to golf lovers of all ages. It can be tricky to wrangle tee time at the Shek O Golf and Country Club, but you can always wield a putter at Shek O’s Mini Golf Course behind the beach. Open 9am-5.30pm, $13 a round.
4. Great grills
Shek O draws the barbecue brigade year round, with 39 public pits. Get there early and stock up on snags and shrimps beforehand – Shek O has no supermarkets or 7-Elevens. Alternatively book a place at one of the private barbecue sites such as Liu’s Barbecue, which charges from $200 for a pit, charcoal and five hours of cooking time. Shek O Main Beach, 2809 4579.
5. Bird’s-eye view
Jumping off Dragon’s Back is a popular activity with paragliders, who often fill the skies. In winter, they land on the main beach, but busy summer days relegate landings to the Back Beach. To take off with the Hong Kong Paragliding Association you must hold a valid license and be at an advanced level. Instructor Yuen Wai-kit offers lessons for beginners in Sai Kung and Ma On Shan ($1,000 a session; some people qualify in three lessons). Details at email@example.com, 9620 0577.
6. Dragon’s Back
My, but you love this trail. Winning Best Hike in our 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards by a country mile, section 8 of the Hong Kong Trail follows the ridge from Wan Cham Shan to Shek O Peak, with fabulous views and a chance to end the walk with a dip and a meal in Shek O.
7. Lip-smacking food
It may be small, but Shek O punches above its weight when it comes to food. Choose from Chinese, Thai and Mediterranean cuisines, cha chaan tengs, alfresco barbecues, dessert cafes, quirky cafes, or beach-side fine dining. All with good food, great atmosphere.
8. Home from home
With the rise of Internet sites such as airbnb.com, weekend breaks are now available in Shek O. Bunk in town, seconds from the beach, for as little as $560 a night, or treat yourself to an entire apartment, rooftop, barbecue and all. Visit Airbnb for listings.
10. Surf culture
Just down the road, Big Wave Bay is home to some of the finest swells in the 852. Hip surf and skate company X Game (2366 9293) offers surfing lessons for $500 a person for groups of two to four people, or $800 for a private one-to-one lesson. Hang ten, dudes. (Sorry.)
11. Rainbow village
Shek O is a visual feast – just check out the mailboxes and brightly coloured exteriors with doors painted every and any colour. The beach is a fiesta of sun umbrellas and beach balls in eye-popping shades of red, yellow, blue and white, brightly painted paddle boards and even fluorescent budgie smugglers.
12. Philanthropy on the beach
Big-hearted Shek O came out in a good cause on December 8 to raise money for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan with tag-team
yoga on the beach organised by local yogi May Nogoy, with instructors Claudia Whitney and Lindsay Jang. All those positive vibes were immediately put to good use at a rocking beach party – sorry, tea dance – with cocktails and tapas by Cococabana. We applaud you.
13. Big sand
Shek O Beach always surprises with the sheer quantity of sand available. Even on the busiest Sunday, there’s space to lay your towel. Go early to guarantee a prime location.
14 Hong Kong’s last island village
This is real island life. All the residents seem to know their neighbours, strangers greet each other with a friendly “cho san”, and everyone comes out for community parties to celebrate occasions from Halloween to Lunar New Year (we’re assured the beach will be a blast at midnight on February 1). Shek O even looks like it came from central casting for a sleepy Mediterranean village with its small whitewashed and brightly coloured houses on narrow winding streets. Just thinking about it makes us want a siesta.
16. Inflatable toys
Dolphins, whales, giant octopuses, boats, rings in all sizes and colours… if it floats, Shek O’s beach shops have it.
17. Red prawn curry at Shek O Chinese & Thai
Mighty fine. (Try the prawn cakes too.) 303 Shek O Village, 2809 4426.
18. Chinese opera
The biggest event of the year is the annual Chinese opera performance, which is held in a bamboo theatre that has been constructed in the beach car park every November for the past 50 years. A lion dances from the temple to the theatre to kick off proceedings, which costs a whopping $650,000 to mount. Last year the community ponied up $800,000, says organiser Raymond Yip.
19. Cape D’Aguilar
Hong Kong’s southernmost point is a wild and wave-lashed place with a 20-hectare marine reserve, mangroves, a coral reef and a heritage lighthouse dating to 1875. But we love it best for the whale skeleton mounted outside the Swire Institute of Marine Science (www.swims.hku.hk).
20. Weird and wonderful
From sandcastle sculpting competitions to tightrope walking over the beach, Shek O has more than its fair share of fun. And we’re looking forward to more of it in 2014.