Before Disneyland, the Ocean Park was Hong Kong’s premier theme park. It may have been overshadowed somewhat in popularity, but it can still hold its own despite Mickey Mouse and Friends’ onslaught. I consider it one of the testaments of Hong Kong’s attractiveness as a travel destination – that two large theme parks can co-exist and flourish in such a compact area, and when discussing about Hong Kong, it’s hard to talk about one, without mentioning the other.
Is one better than the other? It’s a question often asked, but I think the answer boils down to age. For small kids, denying them the Disney experience would almost be a crime. But if you’re a bunch of tweeners out for some fun, then forget Mickey and head out to the Admiralty MTR station to catch bus 629. Destination – Ocean Park Hong Kong.
Ocean park covers a wide expanse on Aberdeen, on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island. Half of the park sits close to the shore, and the other part sits atop a hill, where one can get a good view of the sea. This makes Ocean Park much more scenic than the Disney, as the latter just sits on flat reclaimed land in Lantau. The former’s rolling terrain also makes going around a more thorough cardiovascular work-out. It’s also got more thrill rides for those who need an adrenaline rush, and it’s got a good collection of animals, for those who are drawn more to educational stuff. Ocean Park, in a way, is like an amusement park, a zoo and a carnival in one.
The “lower half” of the park is called the Waterfront, and if you’re taking the public bus from Admiralty, this is where you’ll be dropped off.
This is what I would call as the more “educational” half. There are few rides here, but you’ll get to see a lot of animals. Among the highlights here are the large aquarium in an area called the Aqua City and the giant pandas at the Amazing Asian Animals. The most visually interesting sections for me though was an area called Old Hong Kong. This strip is a replica of late 19th and early 20th century Hong Kong, during it’s heyday as one of Britain’s flourishing commercial outposts in the east. Here you’ll see shops and food outlets in buildings that, in my view, very closely resemble what structures in Hong Kong looked like back then. The stuff they sell here though are real, from food to souvenir items. This is also the jump off point if you are taking the cable car to the other half of the park.
Amazing Asian Animals
Old Hong Kong
The other half of the park atop the mountain is called The Summit. With its highest point at the apex of a hill, this is the more “scenic” part of the part, with a commanding view of the sea to the south of Hong Kong. This is also the “Thrill” part, with various “scary” rides enough to pull your guts out, the highlight of which is the Hair Raiser, an “open” roller coaster that spins to a 360-degree loop and a full barrel roll all in one go. Just looking at it is enough to raise on your skin. There are also animals here, including a dolphin show and an area for arctic animals, and it gave me my first ever encounter with a real life walrus.
Ocean Park Hong Kong is indeed a very large area to cover on foot, and we really didn’t get to sea every area of it, granted we didn’t really stay until evening. Travel between the two halves can also be as exciting or as boring as you’d like it. The boring – there’s this high tech cogwheel train called the Ocean Express that travels through a tunnel from one side to the other. It’s the fastest way to get across – a ride takes a couple of minutes and queues aren’t long, but really, what’s exciting about a tunnel? The exciting – there’s this longish cable car that skirts through the slopes of the hills. It is also a very scenic ride I would say – more scenic than even the Ngong Ping cable car in Lantau which we rode two years ago. I was also surprised that it was quite a long ride. I was expecting a short hop over a hill but it wasn’t that short at all. I didn’t exactly time it, but it felt like it took more than five minutes to get across. The cable car is a very popular ride though so prepare to queue up, but it’s all very much worth it. Five minutes with just you, the hills, and the sound of the wind – priceless. A third option is to take one of the world’s longest outdoor escalators, but we didn’t get to see this though.
* Photos taken May 2013 using Olympus EPM-2 with M. Zuiko 14-42mm IIR.