Natural Hong Kong
By Laura Gelder
Paint a different picture of Hong Kong by drawing more attention to its green spaces, beaches and small villages.
When most people think of Hong Kong an urban jungle of soaring skyscrapers and buzzing markets comes to mind. But that’s just the starting point.
Covid-cautious travellers will be reassured by the high-tech anti-coronavirus measures – including disinfecting robots – but they might also be interested to know that 40% of Hong Kong is made up of country parks and nature reserves. Should they want to, they can avoid the crowded concrete cityscapes and venture to the mountains, forests and beaches.
My most vivid memory of Hong Kong is riding the world’s longest outdoor escalator system between Central and the leafy Mid-Levels. I remember thinking that it encapsulated fast-paced urban life as I effortlessly glided past a dizzying array of aromatic restaurants, enticing shops and neon bars. But even those well-trodden escalators in densely-packed Hong Kong Island pass green spaces – oases amidst glinting skyscrapers like Hong Kong Park and the Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
Also on Hong Kong Island, the tree-smothered Victoria Peak offers spectacular views of the city and harbour and the Peak Circle Trail winds through bamboo groves, past a reservoir and alongside the Pok FuLam Country Park. The Dragon’s Back Trail combines panoramic views from Shek O Peak and a beach finish at Big Wave Bay.
Lantau Island is best known for its Big Buddha, which is currently being renovated, and Disneyland. The Buddha is reached via the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, which terminates at the tranquil Ngong Ping Village with its teahouses and traditional architecture. Close by is Wisdom Path, a grassy route winding past 38 giant columns inscribed with Buddhist scriptures, and Po Lin Monastery with its peaceful garden and vegetarian restaurant.
Tai O village is a glimpse of pre-colonial Hong Kong. The once nomadic Tanka people first built their precarious stilt houses over the tidal flats during the Ming Dynasty. Visitors can sample the hawker snacks, photograph the dried fish swaying in the sea breeze and look for wading birds in the Yim Tin Mangrove Forest.
Many trails traverse Lantau and pass hidden gems like the chilled out surfer beach Pui O, the waterfront seafood restaurants in the sleepy village of Mui Wo, Sunset Peak’s misty vistas and the pretty Silvermine Waterfalls.
Foodie Cheung Chau
Famed for its annual bun festival, Cheung Chau balances traditional fishing villages with hipster hangouts. The island is mostly car-free and flat roads mean bike hire is popular. Cyclists can go in search of its mini Great Wall of China, offering pleasant sea views; Cheung Po Tsai Cave, where pirates once stashed their booty, and sandy beaches like Tung Wen.
The island is a foodie paradise thanks to the seafood restaurants of Pak She Praya Road and Hong Kong institutions like Cheung Chau Bing Sutt selling its desserts of shaved ice, condensed milk and chewy taro balls or Valor Cheung Chau and its instagrammable coffee.
Another pedestrian-friendly island, Lamma’s most popular trail connects the island’s biggest villages. It starts in Yung Shue Wan, full of cafes and quirky shops, and continues past the pale sands of Hung Shing Yeh Beach; a Tin Hau temple, dedicated to the goddess of the sea and the Kamikaze Cave, where Japanese forces hit their speedboats before using them on suicide missions against the Allies. The trail ends in Sok Kwu Wan, famed for its fresh seafood.
Hong Kong’s territory includes around 250 islands, many of them uninhabited. Lesser known islands such as Po Toi (population now 200 ) with its eerie abandoned villages, Bronze Age rock carvings and pretty lighthouse; Tap Mun (or Grass Island), an old smuggler’s haunt of rolling hills and grazing cows with rocky beaches, and striking Tung Ping Chau with its brightly coloured, fossil-filled rocks.
Mainland Hong Kong
Outdoors enthusiasts who take the famous Star Ferry to Kowloon will be rewarded if they head further out. Beyond the frenetic energy of Nathan Road, Lion Rock offers some of the most spectacular views of the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island on a good day. Just north of here is the ancient walled village of Tsang Tai Uk, a time capsule from the days of pirates.
Closer to mainland China’s Shenzhen, Yuen Long is home to the Hong Kong Wetland Park, teeming with birds and aquatic life. For culture enthusiasts, the Ping Shan Heritage Trail passes ancient ancestral halls with traditional teahouses and open-air hawker stalls.
Country parks on mainland Hong Kong include Plover Cove, with its bamboo jungle, waterfalls, atmospheric 400-year-old walled village, mangroves and marshes. South of here, the Sai Kung Peninsula has two country parks with rugged hiking trails.
Where to book it
Book it with... Ramblers Walking Holidays
The 14-night Discover the Real Hong Kong trip focuses on the country’s many hiking trails, including Dragon’s Back and the MacLehose Trail, plus walks on Lantau, Lamma and Cheung Chau.