Victoria Harbour

It’s pretty, it’s awesome and it’s a reminder of just why the British coveted (and wrested) this island from the Chinese 180 years ago – to further its supremacy over international trade. The harbour’s deep and sheltered waters and its strategic position on the edge of the South China Sea made Hong Kong a strategic location for the seafaring colonial power. Britain finally won the Island as the spoils of war – the First Opium War against China, and the island was ceded in 1841.

Fronting Hong Kong Island’s northern shore, Victoria Harbour now symbolises the essence of the modern city – glitzy, stylish sparkling, energetic and exciting. There are two elements that contribute to this impression. One, the city’s fabulous skyline framed by futuristic towers (In Hong Kong, ‘buildings' is ‘boring’!); and, two, for its views of all manner of seafaring vessels – traditional small junks and sampans, large freighters and barges, and modern ferries and cruisers – sailing up and down this narrow inlet.

The Hong Kong skyline is not only impressive; it is intense. Hong Kong Central, which is the city’s business district, stands on a narrow and partly reclaimed strip on the island’s north shore. As a result, the density of skyscrapers and towers is mind-boggling and intense. Hong Kong actually boasts two skylines – one on Hong Kong Island and the other on Kowloon, on the other side of the harbour. And if the skyline at Central once dwarfed the other at Kowloon, the latter is fast catching up. The impetus for this development was the lifting of height restrictions when the Kai Tak International airport was shut in favour of the current one, in 1998.

Victoria Harbour is one of the world’s busiest ports and grabbing some quiet time at the following vantage points is a soothing experience:

* From Victoria Peak
* From the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade on the Kowloon shore
* From the Sky100 Observation Deck at the International Commerce Centre’s 100th floor. The ICC is the tallest building in Hong Kong and a recent addition to the Kowloon skyline. At 1,289 ft (393 mt) above sea level, Sky100 is right opposite Victoria Peak and almost level with the mountain top! These vistas don’t come free but the panorama is worth every penny.
* From the Central Waterfront Promenade on Hong Kong Island. This relatively new promenade, which extends from the Star Ferry Pier to Admiralty, runs parallel to the massive towers that constitute the city’s skyline and offers a unique perspective of it. It’s a wonderful place to relax, thanks to open spaces, green areas and elevated viewing platforms along the walk. * From a helicopter tour. For a few hundred dollars, you can take a 15-minute helicopter ride over Hong Kong Island for a once-in-a-lifetime, jaw-dropping view. In the span of a few minutes, you go from skimming skyscrapers in Central, to gazing down at tranquil beaches on the back of the island, spotting small fishing villages hugging the coast to looking at a contrasting view of hills and concrete wonders all in the space of a few square kilometers. The most popular heliport is in West Kowloon and is easily accessed. Flights are limited so book in advance.