With Hong Kong being a city by the water one would expect to see a larger number of ferries, and a quick glance at the waters of Victoria Harbour will confirm this.
Public ferry routes in Hong Kong are franchised or licences by the government, with the service levels and fares being detailed in the official Transport Department listing of ferry services. A total of 49 million journeys were made on Hong Kong ferries in 2010, on 23 routes:
- seven crossing Victoria Harbour, linking Hong Kong Island to Kowloon,
- seven departing from Central, linking Hong Kong Island to various Outlying Islands,
- two departing from Aberdeen, linking Hong Kong Island to Outlying Islands,
- two departing from the New Territories to Outlying Islands,
- the remaining five routes operate between the islands themselves.
The Star Ferry is the best known and the most popular among tourists. The white and green double ended ferries being an icon of Hong Kong, with each ferry having ‘star’ in the name. The company currently operates two routes across Victoria Harbour, having abandoned two routes to Hung Hom in 2011.
However, Hong Kong’s biggest ferry operator is New World First Ferry (NWFF): they operate a mix of old-fashioned single hull vessels and modern catamarans on their network of routes, both cross harbour and to the Outlying Islands. Their fleet naming is methodical but boring: one group named “First Ferry I” to “First Ferry XI”, and another group named “New Ferry I” upwards. I thought ships were supposed to have character?
By comparison Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry is a much smaller operator, with three routes linking Central to various Outlying Islands.
An interesting pair of ferry operators are Park Island Transport and Discovery Bay Transportation Services: independent yet having a lot in common. Operating ferry routes from Central to Ma Wan and Lantau Island respectively, both companies were formed by land developers in the early 2000s to provide transport services to their middle-class housing complexes.
A rather different type of ferry in Hong Kong are the “kai-to” services: smaller vessels used on fixed routes to serve remote coastal settlements.
Cross-border services are the final type of ferry service in Hong Kong, linking Macau and mainland China across the Pearl River Delta. The casinos of Macau are the main attraction, the journey taking a little over an hour to complete aboard one of a flotilla of vessels. Customs and immigration controls are carried out at each end of the journey, with three terminals in Hong Kong handling these services:
- Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, at Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island.
- China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, the secondary cross-border terminal, located on the Kowloon side.
- SkyPier at Hong Kong International Airport, used by transfer passengers.
TurboJet is the largest operator on the Hong Kong – Macau route, serving the main ferry terminal at each end with their fleet made up of both ‘conventional’ catamarans and the world’s largest collection of Boeing 929 Jetfoils.
Their main competitor is New World First Ferry, who operates a fleet of large catamarans. Unlike TurboJet, their Hong Kong base is the China Ferry Terminal in Kowloon, instead of the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan.
The rest of the Macau market is taken up by two smaller companies, who operate in Macau from the Taipa Temporary Ferry Terminal, located near the Cotai casino district.
Cotai Jet operates a fleet of catamarans like the other companies.
Macao Dragon is a bit different to the others, operating a pair of much larger vessels which allows them to offer private cabins and other luxuries to passengers.
As for the ferries into mainland China, Chu Kong Passenger Transport serves a number of cities in the Pearl River Delta from the China Ferry Terminal.
This does remind me of an amusing anecdote when I was travelling to Macau many years ago. It seemed everyone sitting beside me was violently seasick. I was too terrified of the bouncing motions of the boat to feel sick, the adrenalin probably keeping me on my toes! XD