Kwan Tai temple at Tai O
There wasn’t another soul in sight as we hiked along the path
nudging the cliff. Around us, dewy ferns, pines and acacia trees
covered rolling hills in a blanket of green, and below, empty
stretches of golden-sand beaches bordered the lush scalloped
coastline. This was Hong Kong?
Indeed. Some 40 percent of Hong Kong’s territory is protected by
23 country parks. Not far from the hustle and bustle of palatial
shopping malls and soaring skyscrapers, clients will find peaceful
bamboo forests, rugged mountains, waterfalls and secluded beaches.
Many hikes and outdoor points of interest can be reached within an
hour from the urban areas. Because the territory includes some 260
islands, most ascents offer splendid views of harbors, coves and
the South China Seas.
Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau Island, is one of the most
popular destinations for country walkers. Half the island is one
huge subtropical jungle park with camping facilities, picnic areas
and swimming beaches. On our short hike, we experienced just a
small part of the park’s attractions.
A well-marked path is the Lantau Trail, a 44-mile-long circular
route divided into 12 sections. At the beginning and end of each
section there are exits to public buses, so daytrippers can walk
just one or two sections. Hidden treasures along the way include an
enchanting Chinese landscaped garden, which can only be reached on
foot, and an ancient Qing dynasty fort.
Another great option is to explore the Po Lin Monastery, home to
the world’s largest seated outdoor Buddha, then take one of several
walking routes leading to Tai O. A quaint fishing village, Tai O is
unique for its simple wooden stilt houses built over creeks.
A stroll down its narrow lanes provides a fascinating glimpse
into the villagers’ lives. The villagers, who get around on rusty
bicycles, sell salted shrimp and fish, displayed in baskets on the
street. In the Kwan Tai temple opposite the small village square,
devotees burn incense and pray to the seafarers’ goddess. Wandering
into an old Chinese calligraphy store, we observed the
silver-haired proprietor mixing inks for his paintings. We were
also invited to peek into one stilt home, where the matriarch
chopped up chickens for her family of 20.
Over on Hong Kong Island, the Dragon’s Back has been declared by
Time magazine as the Best Urban Hike in Asia. Clients can book a
guided hike through the Hong Kong Tourism Board (see sidebar).
Starting in beautiful Tai Tam Country Park, the moderately rated,
six-mile trail meanders across small streams, through bamboo groves
and over hillsides covered with wild azaleas. It then climbs up and
down the Dragon’s Back, an undulating spine of a headland with
breathtaking views of the coastline and distant islands.
The charming seaside village of nearby Shek O is well worth a
visit after the hike. It has several outdoor seafood restaurants
and a popular sandy beach.
Then there’s the Sai Kung Peninsula in the eastern New
Territories. About an hour and a half away from central hotels,
this area boasts some of the finest scenery in Hong Kong. Exploring
here, clients will encounter abandoned villages and ancient farms,
along with dazzling ocean vistas.
For snorkeling, they can head to Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park; masks
can be rented from local stores to see more than 120 varieties of
coral fish in the bay. But the star hike is past old Taoist shrines
and rice fields to Big Wave Bay, with white-sand surfing beaches.
And after a day of hiking, a tasty seafood meal and frosty beer in
Sai Kung town hits the spot.
Clients can pick up a free 84-page brochure on Discover Hong Kong
Nature, published by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, at the arrivals
level of the Hong Kong International Airport or any Visitor
Information & Services Center. The brochure is packed with
information on trails to points of interest that include wetlands
and monasteries, with details on how to get there, traveling time,
hiking/walking time, trail difficulty and other things to do at the
end their hike/walk.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board offers a wide range of guided
outdoor tours through its Nature Kaleidoscope program including a
4½-hour Dragon’s Back hike, a full-day hike to Big Wave Bay with a
village lunch and optional swim, and four- and two-hour hikes to