Back in 2016, my escape route from the cold overcast skies of the Sichuan Basin took me to Weizhou, a small picturesque volcanic island that rises out of the sea forty kilometres off the coast of Beihai北海 to the south.
I first set eyes on Weizhou Island涠洲岛 from a plane window on a flight from Chongqing to Sanya, the southernmost tropical paradise in China. The features that caught my eye were two stag beetle like fingers of land that encompass a long bay area, and a long manmade structure that extends more than a kilometre out into the sea. From that moment, I determined to find the island on Google Maps and try to explore the island one day in the near future.
All over China, you it’s possible to find advertisements from wedding photographers offering this destination for nuptial wedding albums. The natural scenery, beaches and craggy shorelines make for a great backdrop and adventure.
When the day arrived, our first day of driving took us past Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province, into a rather forgettable city called Longli龙里. On the second day, we passed fantastic karst scenery to the attractive city of Liuzhou, in Guangxi Province. Finally, we drove straight to the ferry passenger terminal in Beihai, and managed to buy tickets for Weizhou leaving within an hour.
On arrival, each tourist pays a one-off entry fee to island that is really a ticket to the Volcanic Park. We visited the park on our second day in pouring rain and lashing wind, but we later discovered that it’s possible to walk the beach and over the rocks from Dishui Village, then hop over the railing and enter the park this way. We did this once the weather picked up later in the holiday, and nobody pays any attention when you leave out the main gate.
We stayed in Dishui (Waterdrop) Village on the southwest peninsula, in a clean and comfortable guesthouse called Bababell芭芭贝尔. On the terrace, there were beautiful sea views, and the beach was accessible by walking a few minutes down a stone walkway. The sea is certainly too cold for swimming in the winter months, but when the weather is nice, you can consider hiring a jet-ski or boat to explore the neighbouring Xieyang Island斜阳岛. There’s not much there other than a tiny community of fisherman and some pretty coves, but it certainly makes for a fun little adventure.
Walking into the village itself, there are many places to rent electric scooters, and these offer you the greatest freedom to explore the island by yourself. The only issue is that you need to watch the battery, as they seriously run down and struggle up climbs as you exceed 20 kilometres. The good news is that you can return them to the original hire place and take away another fully charged scooter at no extra cost.
There are also many local drivers who offer to drive you round for the day in tuk-tuk like vehicles. These have the advantage of extra seating, and you needn’t worry about getting lost. You should negotiate down their quotes for the day, as distances to anywhere on the island are nowhere near as far as they’ll try to claim.
The biggest pulls on the island are the two christian churches built in the 19th century by French missionaries, and beautifully preserved to this day. The bay area is very pleasant, and there’s a seafood market right at the end where you can buy local catches to take back to your guesthouse, which will cook them up for a fee.
On the northeastern face of the island, there is a long platform that extends over a kilometre out to sea, and is owned by a natural gas company. You can find the entrance if you look hard enough, and can walk out around a hundred metres before finding the rest is off limits.
When in season, it’s also possible to visit the many banana plantations on the island.
Most visitors tend to stay two or three days. The weather here in winter can vary drastically. For the first few days, it poured with rain, was cold, and the gales howled intensely through the night. Then, one day, it all cleared, and we spent time sunbathing under cloudless skies with temperatures in the high twenties.
On the journey back to Chongqing, we took the ferry back to Beihai. After spending some time in the city, we drove to Nanning南宁 for the night, then Duyun都匀, another rather forgettable city, before making the final seven hour drive to Chongqing on the third day.
During the seven day Chinese New Year, the motorways nationwide don’t collect tolls, so you can save a considerable amount of money by planning an outward or inward leg of a road trip to coincide.
Stay tuned for the summer. I plan to take a drive to northern China over a fortnight, and will post the experience as the next installment of my road trip series.