Hong Kong’s harbor has been criss-crossed by the Star Ferry since 1888. Many of its 12 snub-nosed, twin-deck boats date back to the 1950s, a clinging to old ways that is welcome in a city famous for continually reinventing itself.
One of my teenage memories is of being stranded on Hong Kong island without any money and asking half a dozen people for the Star Ferry fare before one kind stranger gave me the HK 10 cents I needed. A return now costs close to HK$2.50 (about 30 US cents), but that’s still quite a bargain – and still feels like an adventure.
Loading and unloading is as slick as you might expect in this efficient city, where 70,000 people make the crossing every day. The bang as the seatbacks of the worn iron and wood benches are flipped by boarding passengers to face the direction of travel is one of the most evocative sounds of this Asian wonderland
The view of Hong Kong island may be better up top in first class, but I always take the lower deck, where people-watching offers its own fascinations. The only problem is that the crossing is too short, especially as reclamation narrows the harbor every year.
In this age of container shipping, the harbor is not as busy as it once was but it’s still filled with craft of all sizes – from tiny wooden fishing boats to shining silver mega-yachts. The ferry plows its way through with the single-mindedness of a boat whose only mission is to get across the harbor and back as quickly as possible.
Eight minutes after I board in Kowloon, docking releases a pent-up flood of impatient locals, followed by a tail-end of visitors, as I land on Victoria’s skyscraper-lined waterfront. A river of people flows away into shops, offices and homes, while the ferry casts off behind us for another one of its hopefully endless voyages of adventure.