Po Lin Monastery

Buildings of the Po Lin Monastery on Hong Kong's Lantau Island have colourful ceramic roofs; one is featured on the main building of the monastery. Hikers can approach the Monastery from various points, while getting to Lantau Island is easy, with ferry service from the Central District.

Although Hong Kong has earned a reputation as a fast-paced, sophisticated city, more visitors are beginning to recognize the spectacular natural beauty of its countryside. Just minutes from the urban hustle are rugged mountain peaks, lush valleys, sub-tropical forests, coastal walks, and secluded beaches. Nearly 70% of Hong Kong is farmland or open space and an astounding 40% of the territory has been conserved in 23 government-run Country and Marine Parks.

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:

Sai Kung

Up the coast from bustling Kowloon lies the picturesque village of Sai Kung, a place of stunning scenery and spectacular seaside dining. Off the coast of Sai Kung, the island of Kau Sai Chau is home to a public golf course..

Tai Long Wan (Sai Kung) - Known as Hong Kong's "Back Garden," the Sai Kung Peninsula combines wild landscapes with Tai Long Wan, an expansive bay with long white sandy beaches juxtaposed against hills and headlands. After a private car ride from Kowloon to Wong Shek Pier at the heart of the peninsula, hikers head to the old coastal village of Chek Keng, passing the picturesque hamlet of To Kwa Peng en route. From there, they climb to the crest of a ridge that offers stunning scenery before dropping down to Tai Long Wen. An optional boat ride for the return to Wong Shek Pier is available.

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.

Tai Mo Shan

The sun rises over Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong's highest peak. Often shrouded in mist, the 957-metre peak is in Tai Mo Shan Country Park in the northwestern New Territories. Photographer: Derek Allan.

Lion Rock (Kowloon) - Rising between Kowloon and the New Territories, Lion Rock is one of Hong Kong's most spectacular summits. On this hike, visitors pass through dense woodland and bamboo groves along the Eagle's Nest Nature Trail, where monkeys are commonly sighted. Later, the more open slopes of Beacon Hill and the ridges beyond offer 360 degree views over hills and city. The top of Lion Rock is also a superb vantage point for appreciating Kowloon's setting between the mountains and sea. The walk ends at the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, one of the most famous temples in Hong Kong.

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.

BBC Mandarin Chinese Phrase BookIf 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.

Lamma Island (left)

At the end of a hiking trail on Lamma Island, you can take in the breathtaking vistas of the surrounding seas. - Photographer: So Hing Keung.

Cheung Chau Island -

One of Hong Kong's most popular & populated islands. Fishing & boat building are major sources of income. The island was once home to a notorious Chinese pirate, Cheung Po Tsai, whose weapons & treasures are supposedly buried here. One of the territory's oldest settlements, it is a favourite getaway for hikers who explore its temples & craggy landscape, while, most weekends, windsurfers flock to the island to take advantage of its favourable wind and sea conditions.

Tai O

On Lantau Island's waterfront, shrimp are spread out on trays to dry in the sun. Among Lantau's many delights are pristine beaches, extensive hiking trails, a Trappist monastery and a gigantic bronze Buddha. - Photographer: Laputa Luk.

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