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Hiking in Hong Kong #3 – Stream hikes

Pitiless Traveller: Stream hiking is a really fun adventure activity in Hong Kong which extends your hiking horizons.

If you’ve already covered the standard hiking trails, how do you raise the fun a notch? Try stream hiking! This is the third entry in my Hong Kong hiking series. Read the first part on the best-known hikes and the second part on another bunch of good Hong Kong hikes

Stream hiking is, simply, hiking up a stream. Where the average hike allows a person to stay dry hiking on well-marked trails, stream hikes may involve getting wet and going through routes that are not as straightforward. But more importantly, they include scrambling using both legs and hands, and you get to see scenery that is out of reach of the average hiker. This is definitely the case in Hong Kong. There is also the advantage that many streams have nice pools in which to cool off when you’re hot from the hiking!

Hong Kong has plenty of streams, and there is a community of adventurous types who do hardcore hiking in its countryside. A bunch of these have laid ribbons and ropes in many places, marking trails through which they have passed. I’m not entirely convinced of their reliability, but it is not very often that one would arrive at a place where absolutely no one has passed by before. 

Man Cheung Po

I discovered this not as a hike, but as a “secret waterfall” in Lantau back in 2017. I went with a group. A few of us climbed about 50 metres up the waterfall, but we did not explore far. We hung out and played at a big pool close to the bottom for about four hours – only two other people showed up in that time.

Wong Chung Stream

I did my first proper stream hike in Hong Kong in late 2019. My friend Clemens and I spent a fair amount of time figuring out where exactly to diverge from a standard hiking trail to get to the stream. Once we did, it was an unusual experience of walking around and on mossy rock, wading through pools and climbing up small waterfalls.

We came across one spot with vertical rock walls on either side and a deepening pool in the middle. I tried to wade along the pool but found that it was deeper than my legs could safely touch the ground. Ultimately I made it to the waterfall at the end by holding on to the wall at the left (there was also a well-placed foothood on that wall); I could have swum but it would have been uncomfortable in the heavy hiking boots that I wore that day. Clemens, the more experienced climber, climbed the mossy and slippery wall on the left. The waterfall was climbable.

Victoria Peak

I had mentioned Victoria Peak in the first post in this series. A bunch of us decided to try hiking up streams to The Peak. It was not stream hike season when we did this in March. There was no water at all, so we scrambled over a bunch of rocks with dry moss on it. It did not look like many others had taken the trails that we had chosen; we had to brush away a number of thorny plants on our way up. At one point we merged with a regular hiking trail and continued on that trail before branching off to another stream. Unlike most stream hikes, probably the greatest entertainment came this day from observing the bemused regular hikers as our group joined paths and tarred roads from our unconventional route up.

Tung Man To or How I nearly got my friend killed

Not every hike has gone smoothly. Tung Man To was a particularly challenging hike that Clemens and I did. It took a while for us to figure out the route to the starting point of the hike proper. Once we did, we found ourselves on rarely-used paths that were filled with thorny plants. These made movement difficult; every now and then our clothes would get caught in a bunch of thorns and we would need to hold on to the branch, vine or leaf and slowly pull the thorns backward; or else we risked getting our clothes ripped apart by them. There were also a great many cobwebs that we had to walk around or break through.

Shortly after the start, in the tall grass

We were trying to climb a small waterfall when both my feet slipped; I managed to hold on painfully with the fingertips of both my hands, and then by keeping my body on the ground. This was in April, and again the streams did not have a great deal of water. The climbs would have been more challenging with a greater flow of water; it would also have been more beautiful. More importantly, a strongly flowing stream is easy to follow up to the source and we would not have to frequently consult our maps.

I had a slip on one of these “waterfalls”

We arrived at an incline which was not made of hard rock. It was muddy, but there were a lot of rocks implanted on the hillside. We climbed, and occasionally there would be a mudslide or a small rock rolling down from where we stood. We figured that we needed to consider getting helmets for future outings. Things got a lot harder from this point as we were now on a 60 – 75 degree slope. We realised that we had deviated from our planned path and figured that we needed to move about 100 metres to the east; this was 150 metres east on a sharply sloping hillside. Many of the plants around us were still thorny. Because the ground was treacherous, we still tried to hold on to plants where we could; many were now filled with ants that would bite. After painfully traversing about a hundred metres over about 20 minutes, we came across a hard rock face. While it looked like there would be no more loose rocks, it also was too risky to climb. The drop was just too steep.

We turned back and decided to go up. There was a trail, about 150 metres horizontally from us. We would also need to continue the climb. We did. Minutes after we had decided to go for the trail, I felt something give way under me and moved to grab something. I quickly shouted a warning to Clemens, who was below, as the 30 – 40 Kg rock on which I had stood rolled downward. It passed him by. Both of us were shaken for a few minutes.

Random rocks on the hike

Then we continued. We had estimated that we could reach the trail in about 25 minutes from when we started looking for it. It took us closer to an hour. We needed to crash through a lot of brush en route. Eventually we made it to the trail. It was a very rough trail and still not for the average hiker, but we had made it past the toughest part. Our bodies were bruised and and clothes filthy from this hike. Our gear would need fixing.

Afterward

We had failed to complete the stream hike in the original plan, but instead did a normal hike and went up to The Hunch Backs, before leaving.

View at The Hunch Backs

A few others

Ping Ka Stream had a section of waterfall with naturally eroded holes in the rocks. Ping Nam Stream is the absolute favourite of a number of my friends, a few having visited it at least five times! Wong Lung Hang is another beautiful stream in Lantau Island.

Planning

You need shoes that provide a decent grip on wet rock, and it is best to have specialised ones for these hikes. Test these out cautiously on your hikes before fully trusting them. Shoes make a big difference.

Helmets are also not a bad idea if you’re going to be climbing slippery rock. When going on untrodden paths, full length body covering (long sleeves and pants) really helps against thorny plants or generally when one needs to crash through bushes. Hardcore bushwacking would benefit from a machete or pruning equipment. I do not have all the equipment listed here at the time of writing.

For hiking in Hong Kong, I have extensively used this site for stream hikes. Understand how Iurgi sets his difficulty rating (the scales are different for dry hikes, stream hikes and coasteering, so beware) and what preparations one needs to make before embarking on these. Start with the really easy ones before moving up.

If you enjoyed this post, also read part 1 on the best-known hikes in Hong Kong, part 2 on another bunch of good hikes and part 4 on coasteering.

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