by Martin Williams
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Though Hong Kong is renowned as a thriving business centre, more than 40 percent of the SAR is designated as country park, and even the most remote parts are seldom more than a couple of hours from the confines of the city.

Dragon's Back, above Shek OIn Hong Kong Pathfinder, I cover 24 excursions into rural Hong Kong; they take in rugged hills, forested valleys, reservoirs and waterfalls, temples and ageing villages, long abandoned forts and lonely islands.

Now in its eighth edition, the book is published by Asia 2000, and is widely available in Hong Kong (HK$98 for 7th edition; not sure yet re 8th).

After initial advice on what to wear and take with you, and Hong Kong’s public transport system, I set off with a walk that starts by the upper Peak Tram station, then winds round and down the western hills of Hong Kong Island. Telling a little of my experiences — yet always careful to indicate important trail junctions — I keep to the island whilst taking you on two more routes, crossing hilltops with superb views over city and greenery, and snaking over a ridge before dropping down to eccentric Shek O village on Hong Kong Island’s wild east coast.

Next come more islands. There’s Tung Lung, with its lonely old fort, and cliffs favoured by climbers. Lamma, Cheung Chau and Peng Chau have thriving villages, as well as fine rural trails. On Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island, I relate some tremendous hikes — including starting near the famed Big Buddha, and in the beautiful yet little known southwest — but also report on a stretch of coastline devastated by development.

I cover eleven outings in the land north and east of Kowloon (known as the New Territories, though this strictly includes islands other than Hong Kong Island).

Here, too, I find immense variety — sauntering to a tiny village preserved as a museum, climbing to spectacular, craggy summits and spectacular waterfalls, watching birds in dense sub-tropical forest, and heading to expansive beaches in a bay fringed by abandoned fields and ringed by hills and headlands.

At times, as throughout the guide, I indicate alternative routes, some of which involve shortcuts, some making for longer hikes; I also mentions a smattering of simple restaurants — so you won't just get out and about in rural Hong Kong; you’ll enjoy yourself.

Before closing in northeast Hong Kong, I head out to Ping Chau, a tiny islet that seems far from the rest of Hong Kong, yet is little more than a stone’s throw from beaches in mainland China. It’s a relaxed place, ideal for chilling out, and feeling far, far away from the city.

Hong Kong Pathfinder forum - for any comments, quesions, brickbats n praise you may have.

Here is a sample chapter, covering a "classic" Hong Kong walk with both city and rural views:

One Trail, Two Landscapes
Parkview to Tai Tam Road    8km

What an inglorious place Parkview is for starting a hike. Controversial when it was built—as it would spoil the scenery of Tai Tam Country Park—it looks like the kind of creation former Soviet planners might have come up with if asked to design a residential "community" for affluent short to medium-term stayers with no ties to the land. Praying for the day when it crumbles to dust, I start up a flight of steps, along which the Wilson and Hong Kong trails run together.

I’m soon heading up a hillside that’s evidently struggling to recover from deforestation and erosion; it’s mostly covered with shrubs, and dotted with red pines. Soon, the path levels, and I’m on top of Jardine’s Lookout, and rewarded with the kind of views that make this route special. To the south and southeast are rolling hills, the Tai Tam reservoirs, and Tai Tam Bay. And at the end of a very short path to the north is a vantage overlooking Victoria Harbour; Happy Valley and Causeway Bay are in the near distance, with the Kowloon peninsula beyond, and the Kowloon hills as a fine backdrop to the city.

The trail drops down from Jardine’s Lookout, and a disused quarry comes into view ahead on the left. Near it are radio antennae scattered over a hill, a building that looks like a disused warehouse-cum-apartment block and, beside this, a road that disappears at the entrance to a tunnel into the hill, which looks to be guarded by an imposing gate with stout pillars. Now don’t you tell anyone this—if you do I’ll have to kill you—but this seemingly quiet site is a hive of activity. At night, black helicopters fly in with debris and other material from mysterious crashes in the South China Sea: officials will deny it, but these have included unknown metals, astounding electrical devices and, some say, at least one critically injured near humanoid. Mulder and Scully came to check it out but, sadly, didn’t get muchinformation as they don’t speak Cantonese.

Feigning disinterest in our very own Area 51, in case They are watching, I reach the bottom of the incline, then climb up steps close by the quarry. The view’s wilder here and—while it’s not crumbling just yet—at least Parkview’s receding.

There’s a gentle stretch, along which the Wilson Trail abruptly leaves and makes off for the northern New Territories. Then a dip down a ridge, and a short uphill stretch where the trail tunnels up between dense trees and bamboo along stone slabs that could have been transplanted from an old New Territories trail, and I’m on the top of Mount Butler. This is a marvellous spot to rest and enjoy the scenery. Again, there are views over the city around Victoria Harbour on one side, while hills, reservoir and sea dominate on the other.

Replete with city views, I drop down a steep flight of steps, to Mount Parker Road, which is narrow, with access restricted to vehicles with permits. At the road, I follow a Hong Kong Trail sign that points down, towards the reservoirs. Almost immediately, I’m in dense forest with no buildings in sight. The meandering road makes for easy and pleasant walking. I pass Tai Tam Reservoir and, minutes later, decide not to take the Hong Kong Trail as it bears left (the stretch from here to Tai Tam Road isn’t too interesting).

I cross a broad creek, where three streams meet and feed into Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir. The road is almost dead level now, skirting the western shore of the reservoir. With forest to my right, reservoir on the left and hills beyond, I’m in one of those marvellous places where Hong Kong city seems far away even though I know it’s little more than a stone’s throw from me.

The road crosses a picturesque, arched bridge, makes a final sweep past the mouth of an inlet, and meets Tai Tam Road. There are stops here for buses shuttling between Shau Kei Wan and Stanley. I choose Stanley—it’s time for a late lunch and a cold beer or two.

Getting there

To reach the start of the walk, take one of buses 6 or 61—which run from Exchange Square in Central—to Wong Nai Chung Gap, at the top of the incline from Happy Valley. Walk up towards the left, to an information board and the flight of steps towards Jardine’s Lookout.

At Tai Tam Road, there are buses heading to near Shau Kei Wan MTR station (to the left as you approach the road), and towards Stanley—where there are shops, bars and restaurants, and a terminus for buses to the city.

Take plenty to drink; there are no stores en route.

The Countryside Series map Hong Kong Island is useful.

Hong Kong Pathfinder is available in several local bookshops, and can be ordered online through Swindon Books Online- direct link is Hong Kong Pathfinder

Fan Lau Fort

Fan Lau Fort, southwest Lantau Island

Mirror Pool waterfall, northeast New Territories

Cheung Chau

Ma On Shan


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