I am going hiking in Hong Kong. This is not a usual phrase you will hear from people visiting the former British colony, known for its dazzling city skyline and shopping scene.
Within this housing-hungry city, there is serious pressure for space and land. Yet amazingly, within this dense metropolis lie many relaxing green spaces and hiking trails where one can escape from the hustle and bustle.
Having visited Hong Kong in 2013 for the first time, I developed a fondness for the city’s great public transport system, friendly people and picturesque outlying islands. This time, my reintroduction was to experience its great outdoors.
The hiking routes range from easy to difficult. While conquering the hills, you get views of rustic villages, remote beaches and cultural landmarks.
The best part is that these rural escapes are a stone’s throw away from downtown Hong Kong.
“Hiking in Hong Kong is great at this time of the year as it is not so hot,” explained tour guide Frederic Cheung.
In the Hiking and Cycling Guidebook (published by the Hong Kong Tourism Board or HKTB), there are seven recommended hiking trails among the different islands that make up Hong Kong.
We were set to explore Dragon’s Back, which was voted as Best Urban Hiking Trail in Time Asia 2004.
“There is no special story about this trail, only that it is a moderate to easy hike and the road is well maintained. People of all ages can do it,” said Cheung.
The approximate distance of the Dragon’s Back trail is 8.5km and the terrain is undulating along the ridges from Shek O Peak to Wan Cham Shan. At 284 metres high, it looks like a flying Chinese dragon, hence the name.
The entrance to the hike is on Shek O Road near To Tei Wan Village. You will need to look out for the sign, but you won’t miss it. If you are taking public transport, from the MTR Shau Kei Wan station exit 3, take bus no. 9 at Shau Kei Wan Bus Terminus to To Tei Wan on Shek O Road.
An important thing to know is that there are no replenishing stations along the hiking trail, so you will need to stock up on food and water in Shau Kei Wan before starting the hike.
Dragon’s Back is actually part of the Hong Kong Trail which is 50km in total. There is next to no chance of getting lost as there are Distance Post signs everywhere and there is full mobile phone coverage along the way. Be sure to wear proper hiking shoes with good traction, as some parts on the trail are rocky and slippery.
The best time to hike is towards the end of the year (from November to March) as the weather is cool. It’s advisable to wear a sweater and long track pants to keep warm.
You will cross lush greenery and woodlands within the first two kilometres. From then on, there are open hillsides.
“Hong Kong is one of those places where you can see the countryside and be within the city at the same time,” said Cheung.
While I consider myself a novice hiker, I found Dragon’s Back particularly special, merely because of the undulating trail and contrast from the woodlands, hillside and verdant jungle. Once you reach the top of Shek O Peak, the panoramic view is amazing. Here, you can see Shek O Beach, Shek O Country Club and Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay Beach). This is where thrill seekers do paragliding.
As you make your descent towards Tai Long Wan, you will come across Pottinger Gap. This lush green area is where various trails intersect and marks the start of the Pottinger Peak Country Trail. I quite appreciated the serene and quiet walk here next to a picturesque creek.
In winter, the sky at Tai Long Wan was grey, but in summer, the place is known as a surfer’s paradise. Nonetheless, it is a great meetup point for a picnic or just to laze around on the sand.
From here, you can walk to Shek O and take bus no. 9 back to the Shau Kei Wan MTR station.
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Apart from this hike, we also went on the Hong Kong Observation Wheel. Here you can get stunning day and night time views of Victoria Harbour. Its 42 luxurious gondolas come equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi so you can even upload the photos immediately for your friends to see – but try not to miss out on the views!
For those who don’t want to hike, an easier way to experience nature and the outdoors is at the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, located on the northern slope of Victoria Peak. This is a nice getaway near the city for a jog and to see various primates and hundreds of birds.
All in all, it’s amazing that Hong Kong manages to maintain these lovely pockets of greenery amidst one of the world’s busiest cities.