Proposed revival of Walla-Walla water taxis in Hong Kong

“If you missed the last Star Ferry at 1:30am, [back in the 1960s] you could hire a walla-walla (jip6 laa1 jip6 laa1 嘩啦嘩啦), a kind of small motorised water taxi that plied the waters between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. “The name came from the sound of the boats when they were cruising,” says retired journalist Li Ping-sum,who grew up in Yau Ma Tei. Each walla-walla could hold 20 to 30 people, and the driver would only set off when the boat was full – just like red minibuses today. (1)

Walla Wallas went out of business when the first cross harbour road tunnel was opened in 1972 though they may have continued to ferry crews of ships anchored in the outer harbour. Larger, presumably contracted, ferries can still be seen taking workers to and from Lamma Power Station on a daily basis.

The ubiquitous kai-to sometimes kaito or kaido (街渡) a type of small, motorized ferry continue to operate throughout Hong Hong waters. They are used to serve remote coastal settlements and for example can be hired to ferry people and goods from HK Island to Lamma and Cheung Chau islands when the normal ferries are not operating.

Don’t hold your horses, so to speak, but walla wallas may be making a come back accrording to this SCMP article:-

“Crossing the Victoria Harbour may just be a taxi ride away, if a Hong Kong government proposal to boost flagging tourism by reviving “water taxi” services gains approval, almost 50 years after the smaller boats ended their run.

Under the plan, the boats, which will offer passengers more flexibility, would take them to popular areas such as Central, West Kowloon, Kai Tak and Tsim Sha Tsui, according to the latest tourism development plan released by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau on Friday.

In a written reply to the Post’s queries, the Tourism Commission said it would work with other departments to study the feasibility of launching water taxi services.

Though no clear details have been revealed, the tourism industry applauded the “innovative” idea, claiming it would put Hong Kong on par with major cities such as New York, Venice, Sydney and Bangkok, which offer waterway transport services.

Water Taxis New York Variety Image SCMP 14 Oct 2017

New York water taxi Courtesy SCMP/Shutterstock

“It is a good idea as Hong Kong is famous for its harbour. Introducing the water taxi [service ] can help build the image of our harbour,” Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said.

He expected the water taxi routes to be longer than those of the existing ferry services, which currently take passengers across the harbour within about 15 minutes. Having a longer route would allow tourists to fully appreciate the views on both sides of the waters, he said…(1)

These evocative photos come from IDJ’s archives and provide some indication of the wide variety HK walla walla’s took, at least immediately before their demise presumably with the opening on the first cross harbour tunnel and then the MTR.

A history of walla walla’s in Hong Kong would be warmly welcomed.

The following photos showing a variety of types of HK Walla Wallas have been kindly sent by IDJ.

Walla Walla Image A Blake Pier 1956 IDJ

Blake Pier 1956

Walla Walla Image B Blake Pier 1956 IDJ

Blake Pier c1976

Walla Walla Image C Blake Pier 1956 IDJ

Abererdeen 1970s

Walla Walla Hong Kong Central District Blake Pier Walla Wallas & Work Boats 1997[4295] IDJ

Blake Pier Walla Wallas and Work boats 1970s

Walla Walla Image E Blake Pier 1970 IDJ

Blake Pier 1970

  1. Sources:
  1. Waterworld: A short history of ferries, kaitos and walla-wallas in Hong Kong Christopher DeWolf Zolima Citymag 1st July 2017
  2. ‘Water taxi’ idea floated to boost Hong Kong tourism SCMP 14th October 2017


  1. Walla Walla boats – gwulo
  2. Plain sailing for water taxis in Hong Kong as survey finds high demand for proposed service SCMP 26th February 2018
  3. Victoria Harbour circular ferry service ready by September 2019, Hong Kong government says in response to calls for ‘water taxi’ SCMP 28th August 2018

This article was first posted on 20th December 2017.

One comment

  • We have a design for this. All electric / or Electric Hybrid. We need partners.
    These are essentially water taxis that can accommodate a small group of people and go anywhere in Hong Kong for a reasonable price.
    They must be safe – sustainable – reasonably fast.
    This needs an innovative design – that does not exist in the world yet and we can supply that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *