His hair glistens in the torchlight as he skillfully climbs the rocks from the inky black ocean below. Not wearing any shoes he is mostly naked except for a loincloth. His ears are pierced with fish bone ornamentation, his long hair held back with a polished stone ring. Arriving in front of a fresh stone carving, the shape of a human form is illuminated by torchlight. In front of the carving he places a baked clay pot with geometric patterns adorning its surface, the smell of fresh fish from within. Next to the pot, he places a small pile of shellfish and a pile of stone fish hooks; an offering to appease the gods. He hopes to have an abundance of food for his family.
Or at least this is how I imagined a night much like this one went, some 3,000 years ago. Right now I’m alone with this old rock art. Not much is known about Hong Kong’s ancient rock carvings, scattered amongst the islands, 8 in total have been found. They have been estimated to be from the Bronze Age, which for Hong Kong is about 3,000 years ago. This is based on similar patterns found on pottery from this time period.
Po Toi Island
I made a trip to Po Toi, one of Hong Kong’s Southern-most island and often referred to as the South Pole of Hong Kong. My plan was to camp for a few nights and explore the island. The infrequent ferry meant that for a few days I had the place almost to myself, there is a small fishing village but there aren’t many residents. So I packed a 3‑pound jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread and some noodles and set off on an adventure, like Frodo, but with peanut butter sandwiches. That evening after a spectacular sunset accompanied by a peanut butter sandwich, instant noodles heated over a portable butane stove and a glass or two of wine (yeah I hauled a box of wine too) I left my tent, heading out to the rock carvings, headlamp in hand, toting my camera and tripod.
As is the case with all of the ancient rock carvings of Hong Kong it is close to water. The beautiful Caribbean like waters of Po Toi splash below me, but under the night sky, they’ve turned almost black.
I discovered that the rock carvings, barely visible during the day, take on an entirely new dimension at night when I can shine my 1,000-lumen headlamp (about as bright as a car headlamp) at a 90-degree angle and reveal all the nuances of these worn rock carvings. Pretty impressive considering they have probably been here for 3,000 years.
As I set up my tripod and begin clicking away, my imagination starts drifting. I wonder what it was like, right in this spot, some 3,000 years ago when they were carved. I’m not sure if it’s the thought of an ancient man or the spirits he was probably trying to appease, or perhaps it was the faces I began to see in the shadows of the rock as I move my headlamp, trying to make out the hidden patterns, but my usually calm demeanor from being alone in nature begins to turn toward a slight unease.
I want to get back to my tent now. My plan to visit the haunted mansion of Poi Toi at night will have to wait, besides I need to wake up before sunrise and go skinny dipping in the Caribbean colored water of Po Toi.
Getting to Po Toi Island ‑Ferry Schedule
Take the Ferry from Aberdeen (departing near the fish market) on Hong Kong Island or the ferry from Stanely on the weekends. The ferry schedule is as follows
Tuesdays and Thursdays:
Departs Aberdeen (near the fish market) at 10 am.
Departs Po Toi at 2 pm.
Departs Aberdeen (near the fish market) 10 am & 3 pm
Departs PO Toi 2 pm & 4 pm (to Aberdeen via Stanely)
Departs Stanely Pier 1:20 pm
Departs Po Toi for Stanely (Blake Pier) 12:40 pm (the ferry at 2 pm and 4 pm also stops at Stanely)
Sundays and Public Holidays
Departs Aberdeen (near the fish market) 8:15 am
Departs PO Toi 6 pm (to Aberdeen via Stanely)
Departs Stanely Pier 9:15 am, 10:45 am, 3:00 pm, 4:30 pm & 6:00 pm