Hiking in Hong Kong
Although most visitors to Hong Kong don't come for the lush lowlands, bamboo and pine forests, rugged mountains with panoramas of the sea, or secluded beaches, nature is never very far from all the city's towering skyscrapers. About 40% of Hong Kong's territory is protected in 23 parks, including four marine parks and one marine reserve.
Don't expect unspoiled wilderness, however. Few upland areas escape Hong Kong's plague of hill fires for more than a few years at a time. Partly because of these fires, most of Hong Kong's forests, except for a few spots in the New Territories, have no obvious wildlife other than birds—and mosquitoes. Still, you can enjoy magnificent views along many of the hiking trails, most of which are easily accessible by public transportation.
Necessities include sunglasses, hat, bottled water, bug repellent, day pack, and sturdy hiking boots. Weather tends to be warm during the day and cool toward nightfall. Check the weather before you set off: Hong Kong Observatory (www.hko.gov.hk) has special forecasts for hiking and mountaineering.
Remember to familiarize yourself with your trail to avoid getting lost. Pick up a guide like Hong Kong Hikes from any bookstore.
Dragon's Back. One of the most popular trails crosses the "rooftop" of Hong Kong Island. Take the Peak Tram from Central up to Victoria Peak, and tackle as much or as little of the range as you feel like—there are numerous exits downhill to public-transport networks. The surprisingly wild countryside feels a world away from the urban bustle below, and the panoramas—of Victoria Harbour on one side, and Southside and outlying islands on the other—are spectacular. You can follow the trail all the way to the delightful seaside village of Shek O, where you can relax over a casual dinner before returning to the city by bus or taxi. The most popular route, and shorter, is from Shek O Country Park, which has three hiking trails. To get here, take the MTR from Central to Shau Kei Wan, then Bus 9, and alight after the first roundabout.
Lion Rock. The easiest way to access the trail to Lion Rock, a spectacular summit, is from Kowloon. The hike passes through dense bamboo groves along the Eagle's Nest Nature Trail and up open slopes to Beacon Hill for 360-degree views over hills and the city. The contrasting vistas of green hills and the cityscape are extraordinary. There's a climb up the steep, rough track to the top of Lion Rock, a superb vantage point for appreciating Kowloon's setting between hills and sea. The trail ends at Wong Tai Sin Taoist Temple, where you can have your fortune told. To start, catch the MTR to Choi Hung (25 minutes from Tsim Sha Tsui) and a 10-minute taxi ride up Lion Rock to Gilwell Campsite. At the end of the road you'll see a sign indicating the start of the trail. From Wong Tai Sin, return by MTR.
MacLehose Trail. Named after a former Hong Kong governor, the 97-km (60-mile) MacLehose Trail is the grueling course for the annual MacLehose Trailwalker charity event. Top teams finish the hike in an astonishing 15 hours. Mere mortals should allow three to four days or simply tackle one section on a day hike.
This isolated trail starts at Tsak Yue Wu, beyond Sai Kung, and circles High Island Reservoir before breaking north. A portion takes you through the Sai Kung Country Park and up a mountain called Ma On Shan. Turn south for a high-ridge view, then walk through Ma On Shan Country Park. From here, walk west along the ridges of the mountains known as the Eight Dragons, which gave Kowloon its name.
After crossing Tai Po Road, the path follows a ridge to the summit of Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain), which, at 3,140 feet, is Hong Kong's tallest mountain. Continuing west, the trail drops to Tai Lam Reservoir and Tuen Mun, where you can catch public transport back to the city. To reach Tsak Yue Wu, take the MTR to Diamond Hill, then Bus 92 to Sai Kung Town. From Sai Kung Town, take Bus 94 to the country park.
An easier way to access Tai Mo Shan is via an old military road. En route you'll see the old British barracks, now occupied by the People's Liberation Army. Take the MTR to Tsuen Wan and exit the station at Shiu Wo Street, then catch Minibus 82.
Wilson Trail. The 78-km (48-mile) trail runs from Stanley Gap on the south end of Hong Kong Island, through rugged peaks that have a panoramic view of Repulse Bay and the nearby islands, and to Nam Chung in the northeastern New Territories. You have to cross the harbor by MTR at Quarry Bay to complete the entire walk. The trail is smoothed by steps paved with stone, and footbridges aid with steep sections and streams. Clearly marked with signs and information boards, this popular walk is divided into 10 sections, and you can easily take just one or two (figure on three to four hours per section); traversing the whole trail takes about 31 hours.
Section 1, which starts at Stanley Gap Road, is only for the very fit. Much of it requires walking up steep mountain grades. For an easier walk, try Section 7, which begins at Sing Mun Reservoir and takes you along a greenery-filled, fairly level path that winds past the eastern shore of the reservoir in the New Territories and then descends to Tai Po, where there's a sweeping view of Tolo Harbour. Other sections will take you through the monkey forest at the Kowloon Hill Fitness Trail, over mountains, and past charming villages. To reach Section 7, take the MTR to Tsuen Wan, then catch Minibus 82. Get off at the bus terminus and walk for 15 minutes towards the main eastern dam. Turn left where the dam ends and you'll find the start of the trail.