Hong Kong: The Star Ferry

Star Ferry ,Hong Kong
Star Ferry, Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock

From ancient to modern; from Rolls-Royce to rickshaw; Hong Kong offers every mode of conveyance for rich and poor. But the territory’s quintessential transport is the Star Ferry. Shunting back and forth across Victoria Harbour, these green-and-white ferries link the community together in a way that is both symbolic and endlessly practical.  

The 12-strong Star Ferry fleet crosses the harbour between Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon side from 6.30am–11.30pm every day.There are also routes from Hung Hom to both Central and Wan Chai. Departures are every six to 12 minutes depending on the time of day, and the journey takes about eight minutes Central–Tsim Sha Tsui, and around 15 minutes Wan Chai–Tsim Sha Tsui.  

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Shop for jade, silk and wooden handicrafts in markets,
wander around temples and historic sights, take a sampan around the harbor
or climb Victoria Peak. Perfect trip for a family break.

The fleet would win few prizes for glamorous design. Even the grandly named Celestial Star (other names include Morning Star, Meridian Star, Shining Star and Twinkling Star) is just one of a dozen juddering, smoke-belching people-movers. Yet the clanking gangways, weather-beaten coxswains, and solid wooden decks have a timeless character.   

The first of the current “Star” fleet made their maiden voyages in 1898, although earlier ferries began operating a quarter of a century before that. Until Hong Kong Island was connected to Kowloon by road tunnel in 1972 and the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in 1979, the Star Ferry was the prime way to cross the harbour – these days it is generally quicker to use the MTR unless you are travelling between points close to the piers.       

Top deck seats are more expensive but provide slightly better views. Seat backs can be moved back and forth, depending upon which way the ferry and the view are headed. Tourists, local or otherwise, are easy to spot on the Star Ferry – they are  looking at the scenery. Commuters, on the other hand, will be looking at the horse-racing news or reading a novel, looking up only when the ferry eases to the gate.  

The reclamation projects that are narrowing Victoria Harbour saw the loss of the old Star Ferry pier adjacent to City Hall with the service now docking at piers 7 and 8 in front of the International Finance Centre. This move prompted great protest and has since seen a drop in the number of passengers. Despite this, the service still carries around 26 million passengers a year across the gradually shrinking harbour.

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