Though it only takes a matter of seven or eight minutes, Hong Kong’s Star Ferry is one of the most memorable ferry-trips anywhere in the world.
The channel between mainland Kowloon and Hong Kong Island is perhaps a kilometre – rather less, for instance, than the distance between Liverpool’s Pier Head and the Wirral.
The Star Ferry was started by an Indian entrepreneur, Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, who arrived in Hong Kong as a stowaway in 1852, traded opium and became a hotelier.
His habit of naming vessels after stars is attributed to his regard for Tennyson’s poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ (1889) –
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea…
He named his company Star Ferry in 1898, just before he sold it to the merchant combine Jardine Matheson & Co and retired to India.
The vessels are double-ended, with two sets of bows to facilitate fast turnarounds. The oldest still in service, Radiant Star and Celestial Star, date from 1956: all but the two newest were built by the local Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co.
Until 1972, when the first cross-harbour road-tunnel opened, the ferry was the only practical means of travelling between Kowloon and Hong Kong Central.
Now there are three road and three MTR subway tunnels, and using the ferry is a deliberate choice rather than a necessity.
Though they carry far fewer passengers than in their heyday, the ferries remain popular with tourists.
A single adult trip costs roughly 25p, which is the second cheapest travel experience in Hong Kong: http://www.starferry.com.hk/en/service.
Day or night, it’s a superb way to see the spectacular skyline with its array of skyscrapers backed by The Peak.