Hiking in Hong Kong is great. But, if you’re like us, you don’t always want to sacrifice a morning snooze.
By Time Out Hong Kong|
Local hiking expert Pete Spurrier leads us along the trails that allow you to start late and still be back in time for dinner __
High West and Pinewood Battery
Time: 2 hrs Family-friendly: Yes Shaded: No Difficulty rating: 4/5
Not many people know about High West – it’s overshadowed reputation-wise by its famous neighbour Victoria Peak. But an ascent gives you wonderful views without the crowds.
At least five roads lead off from The Peak’s open plaza. Take Harlech Road – it’s the track just to the right of the green postbox. No cars are allowed along here and it’s a flat, tree-shaded start to the walk. Through the foliage you’re looking down at Pok Fu Lam Reservoir, nestled in thick forest, and across to the villa-studded ridgeline of Mount Kellett.
Shortly the road opens out on to a garden where many tracks meet. Keeping the pavilion on your right, take the leftmost path, which leads into the trees. This opens into a sunny clearing. From here you can look up and see the aerials on the top of Victoria Peak, a summit which is closed to the public. High West, almost as high, is the next best thing.
It doesn’t take long to reach the top of High West. Take a breather and enjoy the panoramic views of western Hong Kong, Kowloon, the harbour and the outlying islands. Lamma is closest – and Lantau beyond it. Signboards point out landmarks on the horizon in every direction.
The path descends sharply from here towards Pok Fu Lam but the powers-that-be have closed the route on safety grounds, so you must retrace your steps to Harlech Road. Carry on through the garden this time, turning on to Hatton Road, which leads downhill. This, too, is free of traffic. Soon a path marked ‘Pinewood Battery’ appears on the left. Follow it and ignore the next couple of right turns. You’re now amid the remains of the battery, a beautiful spot high above Western District. The fortifications were built in 1905 to ward off a feared Russian or French attack on Hong Kong. Hatton Road was built to carry heavy guns up the hill. Signboards around the site explain its wartime history. Ironically, it’s now a peaceful place popular with those escaping the urban canyons below for a bit of sunshine.
A paved track slopes up to the battery. Follow it past other military ruins and you’re back on Hatton Road. Turn left and continue down through the trees, passing one of the original 1903 city boundary stones, until you meet the towers of the Mid-Levels at Kotewall Road, opposite the upper gates of Hong Kong University. Bus 13 takes you back to Central.
How to get there Take the Peak Tram from Garden Road, bus 15 from Central ferry piers or green minibus 1 from IFC to the Peak Tower. The 15 is best for views along the way.
Wan Chai Green Trail
Time: 1 hrs Family-friendly: No Shaded: No Difficulty rating: 4/5
Impatient to start hiking? A trail leads directly uphill from the busy streets of Wan Chai to the green heart of Hong Kong Island.
On the corner of Wan Chai Gap Road, where this walk starts, there’s a tiny old building on high stone foundations. It houses an environmental resource centre but it was in fact Wan Chai’s original post office, built in 1913. The main entrance is up a flight of steps, in a courtyard shaded by a mango tree. Step inside to see the old PO boxes set into the wall. The centre has a lot of free booklets available, including a map of this Green Trail, so go in and ask for one. It’s open every day except Tuesdays.
The narrow Wan Chai Gap Road strikes steeply uphill. Plaques point out items of interest, such as banyan trees whose roots have spread through the cracks of stone retaining walls in search of water. Some of these plaques are now hard to read, so that map from the resource centre comes in handy, as it repeats much of the information. At Kennedy Road, loop to the right and cross the thoroughfare before climbing up the steps. The surroundings are now more quiet and leafy. A giant India rubber tree towers over the path. Beyond it, you can see the ruins of houses and gardens, all now lost in thick foliage.
You may hear running water now, as the trail rises beside a steep stream which becomes a mighty torrent during the rainy season. There’s a welcome water fountain at the trail’s junction with Bowen Road. You could make a detour to the left to see Lovers’ Rock, a phallic standing stone which women still visit in hope of a husband or fertility. Otherwise, carry on uphill. Passing through cool forest, the trail is similar in appearance to Old Peak Road. Maybe it once carried the same Victorian sedan chair traffic.
Your climb ends at Wan Chai Gap Park. You have many choices from here: take bus 15 back down to Wan Chai; visit the Police Museum, two minutes’ walk away on your right; take the Black’s Link path to Wong Nai Chung Gap; or even follow Aberdeen Reservoir Road all the way down to Aberdeen Harbour.
How to get there From Central, take buses 6, 10 or 15 and alight beside Wan Chai Market on Queen’s Road East. Or leave Wan Chai MTR by Exit A3 and walk straight ahead down Tai Yuen Street.
The hike over Sunset Peak on Lantau is one of Hong Kong’s most beautiful walks – but it does require a fair effort. An easier trail with similar scenery crosses the southern slopes of the mountain.
From the road, follow the signs to the Nam Shan Tree Walk. This takes you up to a helipad. Down stone steps from here, there’s a crossroads where you must turn left, then quickly right, to join the barely-signposted South Lantau Country Trail towards Pak Kung Au. Don’t go straight ahead or you’re hiking over Sunset Peak!
The trail is a beautifully natural path of earth, stones, roots and leaves, with no cement or railings to ruin the scene. For half of its length, it’s shaded by trees. When it emerges from the forest, you get alternating views of the heights of Sunset Peak, with its rocky outcrops and tall grasses, and on the other side, the bay of Pui O. Later, the giant shape of Lantau Peak appears in the near distance and the view below extends to the long beach at Cheung Sha. The final section is again lush woodland, with creepers running across mossy boulders.
The path ends at Tung Chung Road. Buses from the near side take you back to Mui Wo. Buses from across the road go to Tung Chung. Or, for another hour’s walking, the trail carries on to finish at Tong Fuk village on the coast. Happy hiking!
How to get there From Central, take the ferry to Mui Wo. Take any bus from here, since you’re alighting at Nam Shan, just a few stops up the hill. The spot is marked by a ‘Lantau Trail’ archway.
Long Ke Wan
Family-friendly: Yes Shaded: No Time: 3 hrs Difficulty rating: 3/5
This walk is hilly and quite remote, so it’s recommended only for fit hikers. Bring a map and lots of water. Tai Long Wan is well-known as one of Hong Kong’s most spectacular beaches – but another bay on the same coast has an equally beautiful stretch of sand: Long Ke Wan.
The east dam of High Island Reservoir is a massive earthwork, strong enough to withstand the moods of the Pacific Ocean and the weight of the water stored in the reservoir. At its near side, a concrete ‘dolosse’ stands as a monument to its construction. Hundreds more are part of the dam. The geology here is igneous – Sai Kung’s islands are the result of a volcano, which erupted in distant prehistory – and you’ll see hexagonal columns of volcanic rock along the shoreline.
At the far end of the dam, turn left on to the trail. You have lovely views here of the placid reservoir. Hakka villages were submerged when it was built in the 1970s. After a short climb, you’re looking down at seawater instead – and there is the idyllic bay of Long Ke.
As you descend to the wide, deep beach, you pass a large expanse of gardens. People are working in the open air. This is a drug rehabilitation centre, far from the cares of the city. Walk through trees to the shore. It’s a beautiful beach, popular with boat parties on weekends, but it’s all yours on a weekday.
Carry on up the hill behind the beach lagoon. This path takes you up to the top of Sai Wan Shan, where you have views of the other bays to the north. A rubble-strewn descent brings you down to the main path to Sai Wan village. Turn left here to leave the MacLehose Trail and continue the short distance to Sai Wan Pavilion. The last minibus departs from here to Sai Kung town at 6.30pm on Sundays and at about 4.30pm on other days. Call 9325 6310 to ask about the timetable. If you arrive later than this, you’ll have to wait for a taxi or call one to come and get you.
How to get there From Sai Kung town, take a green taxi to the east dam of High Island Reservoir. This costs about $80. You can walk to the dam from Pak Tam Chung, following the first stage of the MacLehose Trail – but it’s a very long walk along a flat road. If you’re aching to get to the beach, hop in a cab to skip the road section.
This route is all downhill so doesn’t require much huffing and puffing, but you’ll need strong thighs to cope with all the steps.
Avoid the risk of sunstroke by hiking on shaded trails in the summer. This long-established village path runs through thick forest from the slopes of Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain, down to the plains of Pat Heung. And it’s easy to follow. To start, keep bearing to the right. The trail is marked by signs for a mountain bike practice route – but you’re on the right track. At a signposted crossroads, carry straight on for the Ancient Trail.
This path was originally used by villagers from Pat Heung who would carry their produce to market in Tsuen Wan and its roughly cut stone steps have been here for generations. Mountain streams cross it and you may see dragonflies moving through the air, as well as water harvesters on the surface of the pools. It’s now coming up to spider season but the path is wide enough to discourage all but the most ambitious arachnids from shooting their webs across it.
Tree roots and fallen leaves give the walk a natural texture. In summer, the stone steps are alive with dozens of tiny copper-coloured lizards chasing insects. Through the trees you can glimpse the pointy summit of Kwun Yam Shan, as well as a series of far-off white buildings in the bush, which used to house Royal Air Force families. Now, the Shek Kong barracks are occupied by the People’s Liberation Army, but their numbers are comparatively small and most of the buildings are no longer used.
The trail ends at a peaceful catchwater road. Bear left and take the first turning ahead to walk through Lui Kung Tin village, which has views across the Pat Heung plain to Yuen Long. Turning right at the village hall takes you through the barracks area. It’s guarded by lonely soldiers but you’re allowed to pass through to Route Twisk. Cross the road to take bus 51 back to Tsuen Wan – or board it from the near side to end up at Kam Sheung Road MTR station.
How to get there Take the MTR to Tsuen Wan West and board bus 51 from the bus station underneath Nina Tower. Alight at the highest point of Route Twisk, marked by a ‘Welcome to Yuen Long’ sign, just after you’ve passed the turning to the country parks visitor centre. From the bus stop, walk ahead. The trail strikes off into the forest to your left.
Nam Sang Wai (wetland)
Family-friendly: Yes Shaded: No Time: 2 hrs Difficulty rating: 1/5
Near Yuen Long, there’s a wetland which became well-known after a campaign to save it from housing developers. For now, the watery beauty of Nam Sang Wai is safe from the wreckers and it’s popular with bird watchers and photographers.
The name Shan Pui may ring bells – it was in this river that ‘Pui Pui’ the crocodile was spotted in 2003. An Australian reptile hunter was flown in to catch the croc and Mainland experts also tried – but all failed. Finally she was caught by government staff. Pui Pui is now living in the Wetland Park at nearby Tin Shui Wai.
On the other side of the river, a gangplank leads to a café where you can buy drinks. Nam Sang Wai was originally an area of farmed shrimp pools and fish ponds, which fell out of use and have become overgrown with tall reeds. Now it’s an important habitat for birds, including egrets, cormorants and rare spoonbills. Some of these birds stop off in Hong Kong as part of their annual migrations across East Asia. Otters have also been seen in the ponds.
Turn left and follow the track lined by large paper-bark trees. You can make any kind of criss-crossing route through the wetland, since it’s a network of narrow bunds between ponds. If the path you’re following gets too narrow and seems to disappear, simply go back and make another turning. The trees have grown tall and, as you walk through, sun shining through the waving reeds, you can almost believe you’re in the English countryside.
Two spooky ruined houses in the wetland have been used as sets for Hong Kong movies. One of them has a large kitchen with stoves for three woks. It may have been built as a police post in the 1960s to look out for immigrants swimming in from across the border.
It’s best to keep to the southern half of the wetland and aim to make a circle back to the jetty. In the early evening, flocks of birds are flying home to roost.
How to get there Take the West Rail to Yuen Long station and leave by Exit A. Bear left to find Yuen Long Kau Hui Road and follow it to Shan Pui village. A few signs, some hand-made, point you to Nam Sang Wai. If you don’t see them, just follow anyone who looks like a hiker or a biker. At Shan Pui village there’s a wooden jetty. Pay $5 and a boatman will ferry you across to the wetland.
More mini adventures
Tap Mun Far away in Hong Kong’s northeastern waters, Tap Mun retains its old-world charm. To do an easy circuit of the island, taking in fishing villages, coastal vistas and temples, takes two hours.
To get there: Take MTR East to University Station and follow the signs over the bridge to Ma Liu Shui pier, 10 minutes’ walk away. The morning ferry leaves at 8am, and there is an extra midday departure on weekends. (Don’t take the 3pm sailing, as it gives you no time to explore). Call 2272 2022 to confirm the timetable. The journey to Tap Mun takes 90 minutes. The boat back to Ma Liu Shui leaves at 5.30pm, and there are hourly sailings to Wong Shek pier in Sai Kung. Pok Fu Lam Reservoir to Aberdeen Stage two of the Hong Kong Trail takes you from scenic Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road to Peel Rise. The shady trail is just under 5km long and should take a comfortable 90 minutes before Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau arrive into view. Follow a flight of steps down to Peel Rise to complete.
To get there: Many buses head towards the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir bus stop from all corners of HK Island. Alight at that stop and walk for five minutes to the sign marking the start of stage two of the Hong Kong Trail. Check hiking.gov.hk for the bus that suits you best.
Tai Mei Tuk Family Walk This jaunt in Plover Cove is perfect to do with kids and takes only about one hour max. It begins near Bradbury Camp and takes in the scenic Plover Cove Reservoir and surrounding mountain ranges. There are also 12 columns along the way showing the signs of the zodiac, which are sure to enchant little ones.
To get there: Buses 275R (Sun and holidays only), 75K and the 20C green minibus all go from Tao Po Market MTR station to the Tai Mei Tuk bus terminus. Get off the bus there, walk along Tai Mei Tuk Road for five minutes until you reach Bradbury Camp. The trail is on your left.