What comes to mind first when you think about Hong Kong? The skyscrapers and cityscape of Victoria Harbour form the stereotypical scene that shows up on search engines and news articles.
What if I told you that Hong Kong has breathtaking natural beauty?
Hong Kong’s landscape represents a struggle between man and nature. Rugged mountains reduce man’s encroachments into nature. Tunnels and bridges extend man’s reach. All this is surrounded by seas, with high cliffs and sheer drops leading to the seas. The occasional typhoon and landslide attempt to restore the balance in favour of nature, but man is winning this one. Nevertheless, much of Hong Kong is restricted to development and protected as country parks, to the great benefit of nature lovers.
In more than three years here, I have had the opportunity to explore Hong Kong’s varied beauty: there are well-trodden hiking trails used by families and retirees keeping fit; steep trails which are for the enthusiasts; trails that show the beauty of the grassy hills, elevated views of the city, nearby islands, yellow sands, or even UNESCO world heritage sites with hexagonal volcanic rock columns. That was only the beginning.
It’s hard to say that hiking is a major pastime of Hong Kongers, but given the population of 7 million, one will come across many of them on the trails. Let’s get the first and most popular out of the way: Victoria Peak (“The Peak”). Victoria Peak is the highest peak on Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong S.A.R. consists of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and The New Territories including the outlying islands) at 552 metres, overlooking the heart of the city and Central. There are smooth roads leading all the way to the top and even a tram. Hardcore outdoor enthusiasts may not even consider a trip up there to be a “hike”. There will be more hikers on The Peak than on any other hike.
You can see parts of the city from unpaid areas of The Peak, but you can get better views from some tall buildings and other spots. If you pay for the rooftop, you may get a nice view – I have never tried it. Island residents who live nearby may hike / run up The Peak as part of their morning or evening exercise routines.
I once walked up The Peak in a suit.
Once we are done with The Peak, there are a variety of nice hikes which are suitable for people of varying levels of fitness, many of which are surprisingly beautiful. Here are a few well-known hikes:
The Dragon’s Back
This is a trail that snakes through the eastern part of Hong Kong Island, and has nice views of the eastern coastline as well as green hillsides. One is outside of the city and gets to see the famous “Dragon’s back”, a formation of hills. CNN ranked it as one of the best hiking trails in the world in 2019. The Dragon’s Back is part of section 8 of the 50 Km-long Hong Kong Trail which runs through Hong Kong Island, starting at Victoria Peak.
I have previously written about my trek up Lion Rock. Well located at the northern edge of Kowloon, and at 495 metres altitude, Lion Rock provides some of the best cityscapes. It was a little bit smoggy when I did the route, but there were plenty of people on the route. On that occasion I was more intrigued about the animals that I came across than the trek itself.
The name maybe off-putting, and it does provide some thrills and particularly impressive images to the adventurous. The most common way to do the route involves an easy trek to the helipad at the top. Then begins a steep descent on the other side of the hill.
This is where the fun begins. Huge rock outcrops jut out into the mountainside allowing for fantastic pictures of hikers taken high above the city. It was foggy on my first visit, but I got my share of awesome snaps on the second.
The second highest peak in Hong Kong S.A.R. at 934 metres; it is the highest on Lantau, the largest island in Hong Kong. I did not meet many people on the day I visited. It probably helped a lot that weather that day was suboptimal, with rain and strong winds that felt like they could knock me off if I did not keep my body low.
I was barely able to see The Big Buddha and the pillars erected on the Wisdom Path.