Off the Beaten Track: Nanji Island

Never heard of Aojiang? This sleepy little coastal town just outside of Wenzhou is the gateway to a hidden beach on Nanji Island. Although it is ranked among the top 10 islands in China, the archipelago of 23 islands remains shrouded in secrecy to many foreigners, but it is famous among the Chinese for both its beauty and its abundant marine resources. The islands are home to over 400 varieties of seashells, a trait that is abundantly apparent if you check out any young beachgoers’ sand pails. If digging for seashells isn’t your favourite beachside activity, the locals have the job covered for you. Visit one of the several island shops, and you can pick up seashells and coral jewellery in every imaginable style and colour.

Hardly a car can be found on Nanji Island. The roads are small, and all long distance transportation occurs by bus. Stone steps guide the way for a beautiful hike through mountains from one side of the island to the other. Massive rocks and quaint gazebos adorn the path, offering the perfect rest spots for snapping pictures. Fishermen make daily hikes through the mountains with baskets of dried fish to feed your appetite should you get hungry.

After your hike, head to the beach for a stroll along the water’s edge. The scene is a surprising departure from the typical Chinese coastline. With clean sand and sea, you won’t want to miss an opportunity to soak up the hot Nanji sun or cool down with a refreshing dip. If you’re itching to check out some of the archipelago’s outlying options, two small islands are just a short swim away. Inner tubes and inflatable rafts are available for those in need of a relaxing float in the water. For the adventurous traveller, there are jet skis for rent and beach volleyball nets inviting you to bump, set, spike your way to fun.

Where to Eat

Swimming in the Nanji waves is certain to work up an appetite, so stop by the plethora of beachside restaurants to taste the seafood. Lively restaurant workers eagerly show off tanks filled with freshly-caught fish, crabs, eels, octopi and squid. Seafood lovers will be in paradise, as the freshest fish of your choice are prepared to order in a matter of minutes. If you don’t like seafood, there are plenty of traditional Chinese food options. But diners beware! Restaurants try to squeeze as much money out of tourists as possible, so bargain hard and visit multiple eateries before deciding on your feast.

When night falls, island locals and visitors alike flock to the beach to sing Chinese karaoke and dance in the sand. Join the Chinese island party, or rent tables and chairs to create your own beach bonfire. Food options abound, with juicy grilled squid on a stick, vegetables, fresh fruit and other treats from night market street vendors. The best part? You’ll be dining under a breathtaking view of the stars. And, who knows? You may even run across a goat.

Getting There

There are several ways to get to Nanji Island. Fly or take a train to Wenzhou from Shanghai, then take a fast train from Wenzhou to Aojiang – the latter journey takes less than 20 minutes. Or you can hop on a sleeper bus from Shanghai to Aojiang (8 hours). Once you’re in Aojiang, board a boat from the harbour to the island (2 hours, RMB 230). Be sure to bring your passport; Nanji Island has a military base and you will need it to visit the island.