Hiking Hong Kong, Lantau Island and The New Territories

I knew nothing about hiking Hong Kong until I met a fellow traveler in a noodle shop on Canton Road in Kowloon.

She was so enthusiastic about a recent hike she'd taken to Dragon's Back above Shek O that she drew me in from the start.

Between sips of her soup she told me about the wonderful landscapes, scenery and peaceful quiet a mere few hundred Meters from the bustle and noise of Hong Kong City.

"It feels like entering another world," 'Hiker Girl' began, "You'll see rugged mountains, old villages, waterfalls, Islands, lush lowlands, Bamboo and Pine forests, panoramas of the South China sea, and even secluded beaches with nothing but the sound of chirping birds in the background."

The wilderness is not unspoiled. The Hong Kong Hiking trails and wilderness is constantly under siege from seasonal wildfires. Few upland areas escape for more than a few years before being burned to the soil.

Fires are often caused by dried-out vegetation and they just don't have 'Smokey The Bear' in China. Other fires are purposely set to cleanse the area around an ancestors' eternal resting spot. Wildfires often result.

Then you see a shocked Chinese guy in the newspaper the next day. He'll wear a guilty, shock-riddled face and below his picture a caption will read:

"Once the fire got started, we couldn't put it out." The point is that even the locals don't know how easy it is to start a wildfire. So be careful if you're heading up there in a non-guided group. I t would not make my mom very proud.

You won't see a lot of Wildlife while hiking Hong Kong. There are very few sightings of anything but birds and thirsty mosquitoes. The constant wildfires keep all Wildlife from building a home.

There are many trails to explore. They can range from gentle strolls to tough, exhausting hikes. Hiking Hong Kong is strenuous because of the steep trails, mosquitoes that bite like Dragons and the hot, humid weather makes you sweat like a soaked sponge.

A day hiking Hong Kong can turn a leisurely day into a workout because of this combination . If a workout is what you're looking for then I'll tell you about them and how to contact the guides you'll need.

You can also just put on your gear and do it all yourself. I would recommend buying blueprints of the trails and the 'Countryside Series' maps from the Government Publications Centre:

Government Publications Center,
Pacific Pl.,
Government Office,
G/F, 66 Queensway,
Admiralty.
Tel. 2537-1910

If you plan on hiking Hong Kong Island or Lantau Island then book a room nearby. If you have a room in Kowloon but want to hike a Trail on Lantau Island then it's a 2 hour drive each way for you. If you book online the hiking company will also ask for your address. This is so they can pick you up early in the morning.

The best quality, cheapest rooms for online bookings are at either Hostelworld.com or Hostelbookers.com.

Hiking Hong Kong: A light Hike

  • Tai Tam Country Park and the Dragons Back Hiking Tour

Dragon's Back above 'Shek O' makes for one of the best short hikes in Hong Kong. The trail is the city's finest and most surprising is how close it is to the city yet could hardly feel farther away. Once you leave Wong Nei Chung Gap and enter the Tai Tam Country Park, this is rural walking at its best.

Wilder is the stretch of the Trail that heads North from Parkview. You'll climb hills, then circle downwards past the Tai Tam reservoirs.

Hiking Hong Kong: The Tough Hike

  • Lantau Big Buddha to Tai O Hong Kong Hiking Tour: Mountain Route

Southern Lantau Island is one of the most remote and scenic areas for hiking Hong Kong. If you've got the legs for 12Kms of hiking dramatic 'Ngong Ping plateau' at 460 meters above sea level then you're in for a beautiful hike.

Monks settled here in the early part of the 20th century. They eventually grew in numbers to establish Po Lin Monastery and construct the famous Giant Buddha.

This hike is 8.5 hours long but most of that time is spent getting you to and from your hotel and Southern Lantau Island. The hike is 12kms in length and will take about 4 hours at a reasonable pace with breaks and a good lunch included.

You'll take a ferry ride and a short bus trip to get to the 'Ngong Ping plateau' on 'Lantau Island' where the 'Po Lin Monastery' and 'Big Buddha' are located. You'll get a chance to explore the Buddha, Monastery and Wisdom Path before beginning the Hike.

This hike begins at Ngong Ping Plateau. It's 460 metres above sea level and your job will be to hike down the entire Plateau to the picturesque fishing village of 'Tai O' at sea level.

This hike follows the ridge of the mountains which encircle the Keung Shan Valley. The views are spectacular from the tops of the hills but the walking is more strenuous and there are a number of steep hills both up and down.

Along the route you will pass a monastery with a flying dragon on the hillside behind and the mansion of a rich merchant built in traditional Chinese style with green tiled roofs and a lily pond.

You don't Want to do an Organized Hong Kong Hiking Tour?

I get that. Most of the time I don't take the tours because I want to make my own mistakes. Plus I'm cheap as heck also. But getting lost in the vast wilderness while hiking Hong Kong scared me into taking a small group hike with a trained guide.

I took the Tai Tam Country Park and Dragons-Back Hiking Tour. It was the shortest and cheapest of all the guided treks. You'll understand why I took the easy trail once you see the vastness of the wilderness around Hong Kong.

During the hike we stopped for a short break. I started up a conversation with a couple of guys who had also stopped for a break on the same spot along the trail.

"There are 2 kinds of people hiking Hong Kong and Lantau. They are either first-time tourists and locals or they are the hardcore people who do 15-20Kms a day.

There is an important difference between the two. The hard core guys and girls study the trail maps and bring compasses and always a means to contact others in case of emergencies.

Their biggest bits of advice were:

  • Join a hiking Hong Kong club if you are a resident and study up on the trail maps. If you are a first-timer looking to just taste the wilderness and its majestic beauty then join a small guided tour.

  • Get a guide or join a small guided tour if you're unfamiliar with the terrain around Hong Kong, especially if you're thinking of trying some of the more challenging trails.

  • Stay on the main trails. There are some trails you can do without a guide but do some research before and don't be tempted to take one of the many side-trails you'll come across.

  • Get out of the woods before nightfall.

Do It Yourself Hiking Trails in Hong Kong

Most of the major Hong Kong Hiking trails are simply too long to hike in a single day. They are divided into sections that vary in length from a few Kilometers to as much as 15 Kms. Any thing above 10Kms hiking Hong Kong Island or Lantau or even the New Territories should be considered a 4-5 hour hike.

The trails are often deceptively challenging because the terrain is very uneven and the heat and humidity in Hong Kong is strong enough to tire you quickly.

Here are the Major trails and some other short samples of the ever growing Hiking Hong Kong scene.

The Maclehose trail is usually broken up into 7 or 8 separate Hong Kong hikes. 97 Kms is the total length of this trail and I couldn't do it all even if there was a pot of gold at the end of it.

  • MacLehose Trail

This is the longest trail on the Hong Kong hiking circuit at 97kms in total length. It's a grueling hike and not a trail that anyone can do in a single day's hiking.

There is an annual Charity Hike held each year in November on the MacLehose Trail. The fastest teams are some of the best conditioned athletes in Asia. They run like Gazelles with wings through this trail. Even still, the fastest runners complete the Marathon in around 15 hours.

Average people take 30-36 hours to run the whole trail, which starts from the Eastern end of the New Territories (Sai Kung) and finishes at the Western end ('Tuen Mun').

36 hours! People who know the trails prefer to do no more than 10Kms - 12Kms in a single day. That is still a long Hike. Either take a guided tour of one section of MacLehose Trail or get the proper Trail Maps and have a go.

This isolated trail in the New Territories starts at 'Tsak Yue Wu' just beyond 'Sai Kung' before circling 'High Island Reservoir' and then veering Northwards. You'll cut through 'Sai Kung Country Park' and then Hike up 'Ma On Shan' mountain.

'Sai Kung Country Park' is not a place to be missed if you decide that spending some time hiking Hong Kong is your thing.

If you turn to the South you'll find a high-ridge to climb and 'Ma On Shan Country Park' just beyond. Walk West from 'Ma On Shan Country Park' along the ridges of the mountains called the 'Eight Dragons'.

Continue West down to the 'Tai Lam Reservoir' and 'Tuen Mun', where you can catch Public Transport back to the city.

To reach 'Tsak Yue Wu' (Start of MacLehose Trail), take the MTR to 'Choi Hung' station. Outside the station you'll see the bus loop directly in front. Get on Bus #92, #96R or Minibus #1. All 3 will take you to 'Sai Kung Town'. From 'Sai Kung Town' take Bus #94 to 'Sai Kung Country Park'.

Hiking Hong Kong Jardine

  • Wilson Trail

The 'Wilson Trail' Starts at 'Stanley Gap' on the South side of Hong Kong Island. It takes you through some rugged peaks where the views of 'Repulse Bay' and the nearby 'Round Island' and 'Middle Island' are spectacular.

The 78Km 'Wilson Trail' ends at 'Nam Chung' on the North-eastern part of the 'New Territories'. You'll have to cross 'Hong Kong Harbor' by MTR at 'Quarry Bay' to complete the entire walk.

The most user-friendly trail for people hiking Hong Kong. The bumpy sections of the trail have been paved with stones. There are footbridges at every river or stream crossing and the trail is clearly marked out with signs and information boards along the way.

The 'Wilson Trail' is usually cut into 10 different sections that people hiking Hong Kong can do in about 3 - 4 hours per section. It would take about 30 - 35 hours to do the entire trail but you can cut that to about 22 hours if being chased by a large animal.

  • Hong Kong Trail

Most people think there is very little wilderness to bother hiking Hong Kong Island. It's easy to think that Hong Kong Island is without any decent trails because of all the Massive skyscrapers.

That's far from the truth. The South side of the island is virtually untouched in some areas with pristine hiking trails that will shock and astound you.

The 'Hong Kong Trail' is the most famous and at 50Kms one of the shortest

To reach the start of the walk take the MTR to 'Central' station. Exit the station and get to 'Exchange Square' where the bus loop is at. Take bus #6 or #61 to your final stop at 'Wong Nai Chung Gap', which is at the top of the incline from 'Happy Valley'.

Get out of the bus and walk up the hill to the left. You'll see an information board and the flight of steps that lead into the trail and towards Jardine's Lookout.

  • Lantau Trail

'Lantau Island' is about twice the size of Hong Kong Island. It's a great destination to get away from the bright lights and the pollution of the city.

The 70Km Lantau hiking trail snakes through open countryside, traditional fishing villages, secluded beaches and Monasteries packed with Monks seeking to calm their minds.

The Southwest corner of Lantau Island has some of the best trails and vistas. Head to Kwun Yam Temple and look for the small road just below the Temple.

Follow that road until it joins up with the Lantau Trail.

Hiking Hong Kong Lantau

Smaller Trails for Hiking Hong Kong

  • Tai Mo Shan

This is Hong Kong's highest mountain at 957 Meters above sea level. The only way to get to the summit of Tai Mo Shan is by a restricted access road.

It's off limits to the public because there is some pretty expensive and sensitive Global Communications equipment kept up there. Or a Death Ray?

I am a tourist and didn't read the signs. Along the road you'll pass the old British barracks. They're still in use today but now used by the People's Liberation Army.

You only have to walk up the road about halfway before coming to a nice spot that affords views of rolling green hills in the foreground and the urban development in the distance.

Take the MTR to the 'Tsuen Wan' station and exit the station at 'Shiu Wo' street. You'll find a bus stop just outside where you can catch Minibus #82.

  • Lion Rock

I met an American guy in a pub in Tsim Sha Tsui. He told me about a hike he had done the previous weekend to a place called 'Lion Rock'.

He wouldn't stop talking about it and I was a captive audience.

"Lion Rock is a spectacular summit nestled in the hills just North of Kowloon," he began. "I think it's number Eight of the 'Nine Dragons' or the 'Gau Lung'. The view was so spectacular from the summit. We could see the Cityscape of Hong Kong in front of us and the green hills of the Countryside behind us.

"Then I asked my girlfriend to marry me." He said it as though he had just bitten into a lemon

"What was her answer?" I asked. But I shouldn't have asked.

"She said no. But it's still a good hike." I could see the pain in his eyes as he raised another shot of Tequila to his lips and drank it in a quick toss of his head. I didn't want to get involved.

"What's the trail like heading up to 'Lion's Rock'?"

"You'll take the 'Eagle's Nest Nature Trail' up to 'Beacon Hill'. The Trail cuts through some dense woodland filled with Bamboo Groves of the slopes during the ascent up 'Beacon Hill'.

"'Lion Rock' has a fairly tough final ascent but it's a perfect vantage point to fully appreciate Kowloon's setting between bright green hills and rolling blue sea."

Then he started sobbing like a girl. I didn't know his story but I could do nothing for him. He was getting quickly drunk on Tequila shots and I knew he'd be in the toilet vomiting soon. People seem to suffer the effects of emotion more deeply when travelling alone. The goods are great and the falls are long.

The trail ends at 'Wong Tai Sin Taoist Temple'. Get your fortune told at the Temple while you're there.

To get there catch the MTR to 'Choi Hung' station (15 minutes from Tsim Sha Tsui) and then get a taxi for the 10 minute ride up Lion Rock.

Return home by the MTR station at 'Wong Tai Sin'.

What to Bring if Hiking Hong Kong

People who've hung around for the Summer months know that Hiking Hong Kong during that time is not recommended. It's hot as hell and the heat alone simply robs your body of water and energy.

Most local people choose the winter months to undertake the more demanding hiking trails. Many people who know the Hong Kong hiking trails take a bus or taxi to the highest point of the trail they want to hike. That way you're always walking downhill and is much demanding on your body.

There are some things that are considered essential for anyone hiking Hong Kong. Even if you do an organized tour.

  • The sunlight in Hong Kong is powerful and you'll need Sunglasses to protect your eyes or you'll be squinting through watery eyes an hour into the Hike.

  • Sunstroke is a common ailment that is damn painful and requires medical attention in some cases. Wear a hat and Sunstroke will not be a problem.

  • Carry sufficient water for your own needs according to the season. A day pack is nice for carrying water bottles and other necessities.

  • You must bring your own protection from the elements and insects. You'll need sunscreen, insect repellent and a raincoat.

  • Some people wear Sandals for even the short Guided hikes. They pay a heavy prices in pain. Wear trainers, walking shoes or walking boots, No sandals for any of the hiking Hong Kong Guided Tours.

The Dangers of Hiking Hong Kong

You should always hike with a partner or better yet in a group. If you're hiking Hong Kong island then you'll always have your mobile phone to call for help. Some areas on Lantau Island or in the New Territories don't have any Phone coverage.

Dial 999 for emergency assistance.

A number of hikers get lost each year. Most of them are rescued wihout incident but there is the occasional accident resulting in tragic death or permenent injury from falls. Hikers should know the trails and get detailed hiking maps and even a compass before setting off without a guide.

Beware that there are snakes to avoid, rocks to fall off and sometimes even the occasional robbery has been reported on some of the remote footpaths. Some of these areas are home to illegal immigrants living in the woods.

Don't mean to scare you but it has to be said even though you have a better chance of being hut by lightning.

The most famous guide to go hiking Hong Kong with is Michael Hansen. His guided hikes are the most expensive in town but you can always check out his website for more information on hiking in Hong Kong.

Hikes are described in detail, with photographs and ratings for difficulty. Every hike ends up at a restaurant for an inexpensive but tasty meal. Mr. Hansen charged 800HK dollars (about $105USD) for the day. He can also be reached at Ph. (852) 9552 0987.

Have a look at this video. It can give you a good Idea of what to expect if you're thinking of doing a Hiking Hong Kong Tour. Some of the Trails are challenging so hopefully you now have a better I dea if Hiking Hong Kong is for you.

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