Victoria Harbour is a natural landform harbour situated between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong. The harbour's deep, sheltered waters and strategic location on the South China Sea were instrumental in Hong Kong's establishment as a British colony and its subsequent development as a trading centre.
Throughout its history, the harbour has seen numerous reclamation projects undertaken on both shores, many of which have caused controversy in recent years due to environmental concerns concerning water quality and natural habitats in addition to economic concerns that benefits of land reclamation may be less than the effects of decreased harbour width, affecting the number of vessels passing through the harbour. Nonetheless it still retains its founding role as a port for thousands of international vessels each year.
Long famous for its spectacular views, the harbour is a major tourist attraction of Hong Kong. Lying in the middle of the territory's dense urban region, the harbour is the site of annual fireworks displays and its promenades are popular gathering places for tourists and residents.
Some of the first recreational activities to take place in the harbour were water competitions such as swimming and water polo in 1850s within the members of Hong Kong's first sports club, the Victoria Recreation Club. During the Taiping Rebellion, armed rebels paraded the streets of Hong Kong. On December 21, 1854, the Hong Kong police arrested several armed rebels who were about to attack Kowloon City. On January 23, 1855, a fleet of Taiping war boats was on the verge of a naval battle against Chinese imperial war boats defending the harbour. The Chinese defenders were ordered away by the British colonial authorities. These incidents caused rising tension that would eventually lead to the Arrow War. The harbour was originally called "Hong Kong Harbour", but was later renamed as "Victoria Harbour", to assure shelter for the British fleet under Queen Victoria.
The subject of pollution arrived in the 1970s with rapid growth in the manufacturing sector. The water club races were stopped in 1973 due to pollution in the harbour, a year after the RMS Queen Elizabeth burned and capsized there. Other studies were done to show excessive nitrogen input from discharges of the Pearl River Delta into the harbour for decades.
After completion of the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation Feasibility Study in 1989, the Land Development Policy Committee endorsed a concept for gradual implementation of the reclamation. The reclamation consists of three district development cells separated by parks, namely, Central, Tamar and Exhibition.
The latest proposed reclamation extends along the waterfront from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay faced public opposition, as the harbour has become a pivotal location to Hongkongers in general. Activists have denounced the government's actions as destructive not only to the natural environment, but also to what is widely considered as one of the most prized natural assets of the territory. NGOs, including the Society for Protection of the Harbour, were formed to resist further attempts to reduce the size of the waterbody, with its chairman, Christine Loh, quoted as saying that the harbour "...is a precious national asset and we must preserve it for future generations. I believe an insightful and visionary Chief Executive would support our stance and work with us to protect the harbour".
Victoria Harbour covers an area of about 41.88km2 as of 2004. The eastern boundary is generally considered to be the line formed between the easternmost extremity of Siu Chau Wan (小酒灣) and A Kung Ngam (亞公岩). The western boundary is generally considered to consist of a line drawn from the westernmost point of Hong Kong Island to the westernmost point of Green Island, thence a straight line drawn from the westernmost point of Green Island to the southeastern-most point of Tsing Yi, thence along the eastern and northern coastal lines of Tsing Yi to its westernmost extremity, and thence a straight line drawn true north towards the mainland.
The following are major islands contained within the harbour
Due to land reclamation, the following are former islands that are now connected to adjacent lands or larger islands:
The Victoria Harbour is world-famous for its stunning panoramic night view and skyline, particularly in the direction towards Hong Kong Island where the skyline of skyscrapers is superimposed over the ridges behind. Among the best places to view the Harbour is at the Peak Tower on the Victoria Peak, or from the piazza at the Culture Centre or the promenade of Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side. Rides on the Star Ferry to view the harbour are also widely popular.
As the natural centre of the territory, the harbour has played host to many major public shows, including the annual fireworks displays on the second night of the Lunar New Year. These shows are popular with tourists and locals alike, and the show is usually telecast on local television. To add to the popularity of the harbour as a sightseeing location, the government introduced a show dubbed A Symphony of Lights
Also recently opened, was the Avenue of Stars, built along the promenade outside the New World Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. Modeled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it honours the most illustrious people the Hong Kong film industry has produced over the past decades.
By the end of November every year, the outer walls of buildings in the central business districts on both sides of the harbours are dressed with Christmas-related decorations, and replaced with Lunar New Year-related ones by January.
Victoria Harbour is home to most of the port facilities of Hong Kong, making Hong Kong amongst the world's busiest. An average of 220,000 ships visit the harbour each year, including both ocean going vessels and river vessels, for both goods and passengers. The Kwai Chung Container Terminals in the western part of the harbour is the main container handling facility, operating round the clock and handling about 62 percent of the 21,930 TEUs handled by the territory in 2004. Some 400 container liners serve Hong Kong weekly, connecting to over 500 destinations around the world.
For many years until 2004, Hong Kong handled the most containers (measured by TEUs), but it faces competition from the ports in nearby Shenzhen in recent years, with the ports in Shenzhen combined handling more containers than the Kwai Chung terminals since August 2004. Overall, the Hong Kong port has also lost out to the Port of Singapore in containers handled, with Singapore's port outpacing Hong Kong's since the first quarter of 2005.
There is no bridge crossing the harbour, but there are three cross-harbour tunnels: Cross Harbour Tunnel (opened 1972), Eastern Harbour Crossing (1989), and Western Harbour Crossing (1997). They connect Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula across Victoria Harbour. The three tunnels act as important linkages between the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Three MTR routes also have tunnels under the Harbour. They are namely:
The Star Ferry has been crossing the harbour since the late 19th century. The operated ferry routes today are: Central to Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai to Tsim Sha Tsui. But, on 31 March 2011, Star Ferry has ended operations from Wan Chai/Central to Hung Hom because they were unprofitable. Some other regular ferry services also operate in the harbour.
The Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry Company used to operate numerous cross-harbour routes between various piers of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Many of the routes are now operated by First Ferry. Some of the piers no longer exist because of reclamation projects, or many of the routes became unprofitable. Currently, the company continues to operate vehicular ferry services for vehicles carrying dangerous goods that are prohibited within tunnel crossings.
For international passenger traffic and traffic to mainland China and Macau, there are two ferry terminals, namely Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal and Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal, and a terminal for cruises, the Ocean Terminal. Another cruise terminal (Kai Tak Cruise Terminal) has been proposed.
See also: Victoria Harbour crossings.