The Great Outdoors
Rachel Wright lived and worked in Hong Kong for many years, and has also enjoyed living and working in Beijing. She has written on education and social issues for the South China Morning Post.
As well as admiring the fantastic views and getting some fresh air, outdoor explorers may be lucky enough to come across some interesting flora and fauna. Hong Kong provides a habitat for leopard cats, barking deer, pangolins, civets, mongooses, dolphins, ferret badgers, porcupines, bamboo snakes (bright green and very dangerous), pythons, cobras, water buffalo, macaques, brown kites, bats, butterflies and several endangered species of fish, coral and birdlife.
There are altogether 23 country parks in Hong Kong and five marine parks and reserves. Information on all parks can be found at http://parks.afcd.gov.hk. Most country parks are equipped with barbecue pits and some also have visitor centres. Several areas of Hong Kong, such as Tung Ping Chau and Mau Shi Chau, are rich in fossils and of significant geological interest.
Hiking at the weekend is a great antidote to the stress of the working week. For those who like their hiking in small and manageable doses, there are the green, shady walks above Central and Wanchai, spanning the Peak and Bowen Road: for instance, Black’s Link and Lady Clementi’s Ride. For others who are happy to hike for five to six hours or more, Hong Kong’s efficient public transport means it’s easy to get out of the city to the beautiful scenery of the New Territories for the day.
The YWCA and YMCA run hikes where you follow the leader, but there are also informal hiking get-togethers organized by the Hong Kong Trampers (www.hktrampers.com) who tramp every Sunday and the Saturday Hikers Club (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/saturdayhikers).
Other informative websites include Martin Williams’ www.hkoutdoors.com, which has postings on different walks and eco-tours in Hong Kong, forums and logistical information on how to get out to the farther reaches of the territory. Fellow hiker Phil Benson’s website http://ec.hku.hk/hiking/ allows the browser to choose a trail according to level of difficulty. He is particularly informative about trails in the Shatin area. A selection of fitness, tree and family walks are given on the website http://parks.afcd.gov.hk. There are several excellent hiking trail books in print, including the laminated cards Hong Kong Hikes by Christian Wright.
Government countryside maps are available for purchase at Map Publications Centres in North Point and Yaumatei, major post offices, selected bookshops or online at http://bookstore.esdlife.com/eng/default.asp. Information on how to get to the country parks is provided at http://parks. afcd.gov.hk.
The best time of the year for hiking is from September to May, when the sun is not as fierce and the humidity is less stultifying – typically, year-round humidity is 75–90%. Hikers should take plenty of water and cover up to avoid mosquito bites and sunburn. Heatstroke claims several lives every year, so take precautions. Although hiking is generally safe, there have been more than a few muggings attributed to illegal Chinese immigrants in recent years, including on the Peak and in Tai Tam Country Park, where victims were tied up and robbed of their ATM and credit cards.
The only other nuisance to watch out for are the bands of macaques that roam Lion Rock, Kam Sham and Shing Mun Country Parks. The monkeys have become used to being fed, which is illegal, and have been known to harass strollers and even their dogs in pursuit of food.
- Hong Kong Trail, which goes through Pok Fu Lam, Aberdeen, Tai Tam and Shek O Country Parks.
- Wilson Trail, encompassing Violet Hill, Stanley Mound on Hong Kong Island, and Shing Mun and Pat Sin Leng Country Parks in the northern New Territories.
- Maclehose Trail, used for November’s Trailwalker charity race (www.trailwalker.com), Hong Kong’s longest trail stretches the width of the New Territories.
- Lantau Trail, which runs from Mui Wo down through Lantau North and South Country Parks past Sunset and Lantau Peaks.
Other popular trails
- Dragon’s Back (Shek O).
- High Junk Peak Trail (Clearwater Bay).
- Clearwater Bay Peninsula.
- Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail and Bride’s Pool waterfalls (Plover Cove Country Park, near Tai Po Market).
- Discovery Bay to Mui Wo.
There are 39 campsites in country parks around Hong Kong. For more information on campsite locations and facilities, as well as a camping guide, visit http://parks.afcd.gov.hk/newparks/chi/recreation/campsite/eindex.htm. It’s also possible to camp at many of the HK Youth Hostels Association hostels (www.yha.org.hk). Camping at public beaches is not allowed, nor is nude bathing.
Areas of the New Territories and Outlying Islands provide a perfect environment for cycling – bikes can be hired quite cheaply at about $40 for the day. Cycle paths in the New Territories – for example, starting at Tai Wai and cycling up to Shatin – can be found around the Tolo Harbour area.
A number of local private companies offer outdoor adventure trips and courses. Paul Etherington at www.kayak-and-hike.com (tel. 9300 5197) runs a selection of hiking, kayaking, snorkelling and exploration trips, including transport by power boats. For a minimum of four to six people, prices start at around $595 per person including equipment, instructors, guides, safety gear, drinks on board and lunch.
Heliservice Hong Kong Limited (www.heliservices.com.hk) combines hiking and kayaking with helicopter tours. Price per person starts at $1,400 for a group of five.
Dimensions Access Services (www.dimensionsaccess.com) provide challenging outdoors activities and training, including caving, abseiling and can-yoning. Dragonfly (www.dragonfly.com.hk) offers outdoor sports, recreation and leadership courses.
Companies that hire out junks for the day include Pana Oceans (www.panaoceans.com; tel. 2815 8235), Viking’s Charters (tel. 2814 9899) and Traway Travel (tel. 2527 2513). Junks, which are usually licensed to carry 30 people or more depending on their size, cost from about $1,800 for weekday hire and $2,600 or more for weekend hire. Buffet lunch can usually be provided for around $80-plus per person. Jaspa’s provides a one-stop junk and party catering service that costs $550 per person (tel. 2792 0970).
BIRD- AND ANIMAL-WATCHING
The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (www.hkbws.org.hk) runs regular field outings around Hong Kong. Their website features a map of prime birding spots. A key bird-watching territory is the Mai Po Nature Reserve, a 380-hectare wetland area home to birds such as storks, egrets and endangered black-faced spoonbills. More information on the Reserve is available at www.wwf.org.hk. The website www.drmartinwilliams.com has photo galleries, as well as information on bird-watching in China and regional conservation issues.
Hong Kong Dolphin Watch (1528A Star House, 3 Salisbury Road, TST; www.hkdolphinwatch.com; tel. 2984 1414) organizes half-day boat trips out to the sea off north Lantau to see Hong Kong’s pink dolphins (Sousa chinensis).