An engineering marvel that extends 55 kilometres, the Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macao Bridge opened to great fanfare in late 2018. It’s perhaps the most visible example of the growing infrastructure network that is making it easier for Greater Bay Area residents to access Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) – and take advantage of Cathay Pacific’s service to more than 100 destinations worldwide. Adventurous Zhuhai locals are among the beneficiaries since the city’s airport only services domestic destinations.
On a clear day, it almost feels as if you could reach out across the Pearl River estuary from Zhuhai and touch Hong Kong. To make the crossing, there’s a choice of taking a ferry directly to the airport or riding a bus across the Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macao Bridge and transferring to another at the Hong Kong end. I’ve done it both ways. Read on for my first-person account of each experience, including tips to set yourself up for a hassle-free transit from Zhuhai to Hong Kong International Airport.
How to Travel by Ferry to HKIA
Zhuhai Jiuzhou Port ferry terminal, set back from Jiuzhougang Road a short way north of the border with Macao, is an unremarkable, low-rise block plastered with billboards. I found the passenger entrance for Hong Kong beside the police post; once past security, tickets are dispensed by vending machines or by staff at a counter next to Starbucks. Signage is in English and simplified Chinese. (Alternatively, you can purchase tickets online; site is in Chinese only.)
I rode the people-mover up to the second floor and the airport check-in counter, which is remarkable for its cheerful staff who seem thoroughly eager to help the few people in the queue. Cathay passengers can collect their boarding pass here – and leave luggage as well as long as there are at least 45 minutes left before your ferry’s departure. A machine near the check-in counter supplies free water, both scalding hot and slightly less so.
Once past Security and Immigration, it only remains to embark (you must have a confirmed and valid same-day flight ticket to board the ferry). Note that photography is forbidden in this area: a fellow passenger who blithely snapped a pic with her smartphone was called out of the queue for an audible dressing-down.
There are three classes on the ferries: economy is on the lower deck, first on the upper, while VIPs are cloistered in their own compartment. After the 70-minute ride, the ferry docks directly at SkyPier at HKIA.
Since I’d already checked in at the ferry terminal, I was able to bypass the counter here. Instead, a Cathay ground attendant pointed me toward the Air Passenger Departure Tax (APDT) refund counter: passengers arriving by ferry who head for onward departure in Hong Kong are eligible for a HK$120 refund. Afterward, the Automated People Mover brings you to the Terminal 1 departures hall.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon passengers can purchase sea-to-air passes online. The pass includes a round-trip ferry ticket between seven major ports in China’s Greater Bay Area and HKIA, plus a round-trip flight ticket to fly from Hong Kong. It is APDT free so there is no need to queue up for refund.
Keep in mind that you’re required to check in at Zhuhai Jiuzhou Port ferry terminal at least 180 minutes before flight departure – or, if waiting to check in at Hong Kong SkyPier, at least 120 minutes before flight departure.
How to Travel by Bus to HKIA
I’ve traversed the US$19 billion bridge that links Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macao several times and never cease to be amazed. It’s a feat of engineering – actually three bridges, four islands and an undersea tunnel, all joined up – as well as a work of art and a sightseeing trip all rolled into one.
The bus journey begins at Zhuhai Port, a gargantuan steel-and-glass complex within sight of Macao’s skyscrapers. Once through Security and Immigration (photography expressly prohibited), an escalator leads to ground level. Ticket vending machines only accept WeChat and Alipay, so I bought mine from the main desk. You can pick up a boarding pass at the HKIA Check-in Service counter, but they do not accept luggage. I bypassed the Duty Free shop but did fill up my water bottle at the free dispenser.
The exits for the shuttle bus are clearly marked, and it takes just a couple of minutes to walk (under a canopy) cover) to the bus. Both double and single-deckers ply this route: there’s plenty of room for luggage to be stowed in the bottom belly, and the seats are perfectly comfortable given that it’s a 50-minute journey.
Staff members patrol the bus before departure, admonishing laggards who’ve failed to fasten their seat belts. It’s worth getting on board early to find a seat with a good view – the final stretch of the bus ride passes right alongside HKIA’s apron, and I enjoyed watching aircraft taking off and landing.
When the bus arrives at Hong Kong Port, it’s a matter of minutes to go through immigration and then there’s another chance to pick up your boarding pass at the check-in service counter, if you’re flying Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon. You can also check luggage here provided there are at least two hours before your flight departs.
The final hop is easy: board the B4 double-decker bus for the 10-minute ride to the passenger terminal. The bus stops beneath the covered section of Cheong Hong Road which passes between Terminals 1 and 2. Trolleys are lined up on the pavement, and it is only a short walk to the check-in counters and Security.
Although the ferry sails straight to HKIA, the bus ride across the bridge and past the business end of the airport makes for a more inspirational start to any trip. Despite the minor hassle of having to change buses, I’d go for the bus every time. It’s also worth noting that bus service is cheap and frequent (6am-midnight, every 5-15 minutes; midnight-6am, every 20-30 minutes), far more so than the ferry, which only departs from Zhuhai four times a day (8:40am, 12:40pm, 3:40pm, 7:20pm).
Psst! Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon passengers in premium economy, business or first class may be eligible for free cross-boundary shuttle or private car service; find out more here.