Scuba diving around Hong Kong’s 260 islands is a fabulous leisure activity. And as none of the diving is very deep or dangerous, much of it can be conducted from your own boat after basic scuba training. In fact, Hong Kong scuba diving offers some of the world’s best city diving and most of the sites are easily accessible by boat.
Hong Kong’s underwater world is surprisingly diverse. This is partly due to its subtropical location at the outer fringe of the coral triangle, the world center of marine biodiversity. An estimated 26% of all marine species recorded in China are present in Hong Kong—over 6500 species in total.
Hong Kong’s underwater world boasts almost 100 species of corals and over 500 species of fish—a diversity comparable to a top-notch Caribbean reef—and includes clownfish, lionfish, angelfish, barracuda, moray eel and even frogfish. Over 200 species of nudibranchs have been recorded in these territories. Despite general fear there are no sharks in Hong Kong, but harmless stingrays can be found with wingspans of up to two meters.
When to Scuba Dive in Hong Kong?
The water temperature fluctuations between a chilly 15C in January and a balmy 28C in August bring different animals. In the cooler winter months, nudibranchs can be found everywhere and seasonal sargassum forests spring to life.
The absolute sweet spot for diving is April to June, when temperatures are around 21-22C and the winds are low. The summer monsoon brings pleasant, warm water—but the visibility is often lower.
Low visibility isn’t a reason to not dive, however. Divers can easily learn to use a compass. At usual diving depths of 10-15 meters, it is safe to slowly ascend to the surface to re-orientate. Divers should generally dive close to the ground to be able to discover critters and bottom-dwelling animals, but take care not to come in contact with long-spined sea urchins and camouflaged scorpionfish.
There are a few considerations when diving from your own vessel. Even if you are a very experienced diver, it is recommended to dive with a local divemaster first to learn about Hong Kong diving. In many locations, even large yachts can anchor close enough to the dive sites to start your dive at the back deck.
In other cases, smaller boats can be used to get closer and facilitate pick up. But in any case, make sure you own a Surface Marker Buoy, know how to use it and make sure your captain knows to look out for them. It is possible to rent tanks and dive gear from shops such as Mermaid Diving in Hebe Haven. And for boat owners wanting to dive off their own vessel, it’s suggested to take an advanced course that includes navigation.
Where to Dive Around Hong Kong
There are seven marine parks in Hong Kong and several coral protected areas. Generally, the diving is better the further East you go. The Pearl River carries sediment and pollution that heavily impairs visibility which is why most dive sites are dotted around the Sai Kung country park.
Underwater visibility is a drawback of Hong Kong diving: better days have up to 15-meter visibility, but bad days can be as little as a meter. The two major monsoons either push the river water East or West. Winter and Spring have the clearest diving when the cooler and clearer water comes from the Northerly Taiwan strait.
Hong Kong Scuba Diving: Ninepin Islands
The two groups of Ninepin Islands reach out of the ocean like the claws of giants. According to the WWF, this is the epicenter of Hong Kong’s biodiversity, with the highest biomass in the territory. In the coral protected area on the inside of the bay, the floor is covered with clownfish-inhabited anemones, lionfish, pufferfish and schools of damselfish that dart around.
The deeper water in the channel between the North and South Island features some of the best soft coral gardens in Hong Kong. Ninepin is also known for its special sightings like velvet fish, pegasus fish and even Rhinopias Scorpionfish.
The best place to anchor is in the protected bay of South Ninepin Island at around 8-to-10 meter depth. This site is best dove on flat-tide days in the middle between full and new moon and with low winds.
Hong Kong Scuba Diving: Tsim Chau / Tai Long Wan
When visiting the “Mother of all Hong Kong Beaches”—Tai Long Wan—there are some great dive sites right ahead. Tsim Chau and Tai Chau Islands have typical Hong Kong underwater fare of clown fish, moray eels, scorpion fish and regular sightings of cuttlefish. Sometimes in spring there are even sightings of the rare green turtle.
Tai Chau is known for its diveable sea cave, one of the very few “caves” in Hong Kong. It is possible to enter the vertical cave up to 20 meters. There is no imminent danger as it’s not a real cave—divers can surface anywhere during the dive. The sea cave is a wash-out created by centuries of wave impacts, so the only limitation to dive this cave is when there’s swell. Plus, there are more underwater caves and canyons around the islands.
On calm days, it’s possible to anchor south of the islands facing the cave where the better diving is—but mostly, it’s safer to anchor on the North side. Best time of the year to dive here is April to July, before the Easterly winds pick up in typhoon season.
Hong Kong Scuba Diving: Basalt Island
Basalt Island is one of the best dive sites in Port Shelter, offering both shallow and deeper areas to explore. The most popular area is the sheltered bay on the west side of the South tip which can be dove almost year-round.
Sheer cliff walls drop into the ocean with several giant “teeth ”-like canyons cut into them. Diving starts where these walls meet the sand at around 5 meters. Huge boulders that have collapsed from the walls over time provide launching pads for lionfish and scorpionfish looking to hunt. The rocks also provide habitat for boxing shrimp, blue-ringed octopus and frogfish.
At 6-8 meters, the seafloor is covered in anemones and their clown fish inhabitants. Large cuttlefish can be seen here quite often as well as angel fish, butterfly fish and occasionally cowfish. Venturing to the deeper plateau around 15 meters is well worth it for the huge black coral bushes that provide home to many fish, cowrie slugs and occasionally xeno crabs.
It is very easy to anchor in the South-West Bay which is sheltered, even on rough days. On calm days, there is also good diving in the northeast and southeast.
Hong Kong Scuba Diving: Eastern Dam
The Eastern Dam of High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung Country Park is one of the area’s most unusual dive sites. Nestled between cliff walls of hexagonal rock formations of the Sai Kung Geopark lies this massive man-made wave barrier, offering an unusual topography for divers and snorkelers with its rich marine life.
It leaves a magical impression of a sunken underwater city that’s often frequented by huge schools of damsel fish and wispy sawtooth barracudas. The cement dolosses rest on top of each other and on the bottom on sandy sea bed creating caves, caverns and bridges that provide habitat for shadow-loving fish such as squirrel fish, bigeyes and sweepers.
Yellow footed rock carbs are easy to observe here as well as hermit crabs. Sting rays have been seen hiding in the shadows and some very large octopus use the area for hunting. For line-equipped cave divers there are possibilities of entering far into the crevices between the cement boulders.
Anchoring can be done anywhere along the barriers, but the diving is most diverse on the Western edge. Best time of the year to dive here is spring and summer, but it can be dove year-round on all calm days without swell.
Hong Kong Scuba Diving: Hoi Ha Wan
One of the earliest Marine Parks to be established in the 1990s, Hoi Ha Wan offers varied dive opportunities. Dotted along the shores of the double bay are some of the best hard coral gardens in Hong Kong.
Discarded fishing vessels were sunk here to provide obstruction to the rampant bottom-trawling and to create reef habitat for corals and water-cleaning shellfish like oysters and clams. Some of these wrecks can be dove in the comfort of shallow water as they rest at 15-16 meters.
There are only two spots where anchoring is allowed in Hoi Ha Wan. The wrecks are best dove off a speed-boat with the larger vessel anchoring just outside of the marine park.
Snorkelling in Hong Kong
What a great way to impress—hopping into the water with a mask and snorkel and marveling at the underwater world. There are some very nice spots in HK that can be snorkeled where the corals are shallow. Most of these are protected and marked by coral no-anchoring zones.
The water becomes murky when it gets warmer in summer, so the best time to snorkel is in spring and early summer.
Hoi Ha Wan – By far the best shallow reef is in Hoi Ha Wan, and conveniently, there is an anchoring site right in front.
Sharp Island – In the Northern tip of the bay created by the Sharp Island Sand Levee are some marvellous hard coral fields.
Bluff island – some of the largest hard coral blocks can be found while anchoring in the picturesque beach on Ung Kong on Bluff Island.
Double Haven – Many boat owners’ ultimate weekend getaway is the large marine park of Double Haven or Yan Chau Tong.
Maps to all these sites can be found on AFCD website.
About the Author: Simon Lorenz
Underwater photographer Simon Lorenz is a regular author for dive magazines and speaker at events. A PADI instructor and photo coach his aim is to further the dive and photography skills of his guests. His travel company Insider Divers offers guided group trips, combining unusual dive experiences with photo training. A seasoned traveler he speaks 6 languages and has dived all continents. In Hong Kong he operates Pool Portrait, the first underwater photo studio. Simon supports various marine NGOs and is on the advisory board of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.