The parks sprawl over Hong Kong Island, the outlying islands, the Kowloon peninsula and New Territories. Close to 100 hiking trails, including more than 50 on the main island alone, traverse the parks, offering visitors a variety of terrain and levels of difficulty. Hikers can make their way to a remote village for lunch, watch for one of an estimated 430 species of wild birds that mirgrate across the region or simply take a break from a busy shopping or business trip.
What sets Hong Kong hikes apart from backcountry trails is their close proximity to urban centers. Many day hikes, ranging from two to eight hours, begin and end within a hour of Hong Kong Central or Kowloon and are accessible by inexpensive public transportation. An efficient network of buses, trains, subways, ferries and trams delivers hikers to within minutes of well-marked trailheads.
To help showcase "green Hong Kong" to visitors, the Hong Kong Tourist Board has developed five nature walks led by experienced English-speaking guides. One or more of the hikes, which require advance reservation and offer easy to moderate routes, is available every day of the week. Highlights of the guided hikes follow:
Forest Trail (New Territories) - The Forest Trail, which starts from the middle of Hong Kong's highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, offers breathtaking views of villages and farms that dot the landscape of the New Territories. Hikers may be rewarded with glimpses of exotic butterflies, cascading brooks, and red crabs, and possibly water buffalo.
Dragon's Back ( Hong Kong Island) - A "world away from the concrete jungle." Southeastern Hong Kong Island boasts some surprisingly wild country. Hikers wind their way up the ridge known as Dragon's Back above Chai Wan through wind pruned grass and bamboo. On a clear day, the trail affords tremendous views over the south of the island and the South China Sea. The hike also includes a visit to the fascinating village of Shek O and an optional side-trip to visit a nearby granite islet.
Lantau Island - Hong Kong's largest island, Lantau, blends beautiful scenery with the many monasteries and temples that gave it is nickname, "Island of Prayer". This excursion starts with a ferry ride up from Hong Kong Island and scenic bus ride along Lantau's southern coast up to Ngong Ping. Here, hikers see the Big Buddha, visit Po Ling Monastery and stroll through the old Tea Gardens to a vantage point with sweeping views of Shek Pik reservoir and the South China Sea. The hike continues to Kwun Yam Temple and ends with a visit to a Chinese landscaped garden.
If contacted in advance, hike leaders can tailor make routes for more experienced or adventurous hikers. For example, visitors may want to explore more of the Lantau Trail, which is 44 miles long and is divided into 12 sections of varying degrees of difficulty. The 62-mile MacLehose Trail, which runs across the middle of the New Territories and is divided into 10 distinct sections, starts at sea level and rises to the peak of Tai Mo Shan. The trail hosts the daunting Trailwalkers Race each November, but otherwise hikers are apt to see more monkeys than people.
Although hiking is becoming increasingly popular in Hong Kong, the open spaces are still extraordinarily empty. Despite the scarcity of other hikers, the trails are very safe and well maintained. Most trails are either stone or dirt paths, but a few have been paved like narrow roads to prevent erosion during heavy rains. - Compiled by Lee John Yuen, Hong Kong Correspondent.