Southside Secrets: Pok Fu Lam’s 1740 discovered waterfall

Shreena Patel takes a trip to Pok Fu Lam’s Waterfall Bay.

waterfall

Nestled in a park along the coast of Wah Fu Estate, Waterfall Bay is no Niagara Falls, but it is of historic importance.

The spot was marked on Admiralty survey charts as far back as the late 1740s and became well-known among British and European sailors in the nineteenth century as a source of freshwater. In fact, Hong Kong’s reputation as one of the few places on the coast of China with an abundant supply of potable water is what first attracted British attention.

The story goes that when visiting sailors asked the name of the area, local shermen replied, “Heung Gong” – literally, “fragrant harbour” – in reference to nearby Aberdeen Harbour which exported incense. The British pronounced this “Hong Kong” and the name was eventually used to refer to the entire island.

The first images of the waterfall appeared in 1816, the year of Lord Amherst’s (failed) diplomatic mission to China aboard the Alceste. He used the bay as the rendezvous point for his ships.

Sailing with the mission, British surgeon and naturalist Clarke Abel wrote of Hong Kong Island in his account of the trip, Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China, and of a Voyage to and from that Country in the Years 1816 and 1817, “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.”

Much of the landscape has changed since Abel’s visit: most noticeably, a Bel-Air apartment block now towers above the falls. The intensity of the waterfall is also greatly reduced: after British colonisation of Hong Kong, many of the streams that once led to the waterfall were diverted to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir – the first key water storage facility in the colony.

Next to the waterfalls are the ruins of a pillbox and a Lyon searchlight dating back to World War II, when the area was used as a bunker by British troops to defend the colony from the Japanese.

buddha statuesFor something more surreal, head further along the coast, to the other end of the park. Here lie hundreds of porcelain figurines of (mostly) Chinese deities, stuck onto the rocks and looking out towards the sea. Many consider it unlucky to discard a statue of a god; instead, they bring it here for a seaside retirement of sorts. Retired locals also gather here at weekends to play cards and Chinese chess.

How to get there:

Head to Wah Fu via taxi or bus (from Central, take the 40, 40M, 30X or the 4; from Repulse Bay, take the 73).

Once there, head northwest along Wah Fu Road, then left onto Waterfall Bay Road. The park is just down the road, to your right.

Follow the signs to the waterfall, located at the northernmost part of the park.

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