Beyond the urban jungle of tall-rising skyscrapers, wide streets and the hustle and bustle of the millions of people, there is a less-known, utterly peaceful facet to this metropolis. SWISS employee Marina Tomic went on an exploration of the city’s hiking trails.
In a rattling bus we head to the New Territories, the largest of Hong Kong’s territories and the one bordering China. Our destination – Sai Kung Town, a former small fishing village, which despite not being a fishing village anymore still evaporates the charm of a place that lives off the ocean. Yet, we encounter a fisherman and his boat, carrying colourful buckets of all sorts of fish and seafood, while ferries are departing to the many surrounding islands that dot the seascape. This is our starting point for exploring what lies behind the dense jungles of the northern part of Hong Kong.
In Sai Kung Town we get on a bus again and after another bumpy bus ride, the three-hour hike starts.Through a landscape of bushes and trees, we glimpse the coastline with its clear waters and tree-covered cliffs. After a dive into an emerald coloured rock pool, we eventually arrive at Tai Long Wan Bay where we dig our toes into the silky sand and enjoy the tranquillity. It feels remote here, far away from civilisation.
This roughly 12km trail is part of the 100km long MacLehose Trail, which runs from west to east along almost the entire length of the New Territories. And this is just one of the many beautiful tracks that reveal Hong Kong’s stunning nature. Other remarkable hiking areas include the Dragon’s Back, Lamma Island, Lantau Island, Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, Plover Cove Country Park, Lion Rock and Ma On Shan.
Off into nature – with Walk Hong Kong
What was only a holiday experience for me, is a regular part of Gabi Baumgartner’s (in the photo) life in Hong Kong. The Swiss national runs the hiking tours company Walk Hong Kong.
When the opportunity came up to move to Hong Kong, Gabi and her husband grabbed it and what was supposed to be a short stint for a couple of years, turned into 20 years of building in a life far away from home. In 2013, 10 years after Walk Hong Kong was founded, Gabi took over its leadership. With a smirk she tells us: “How ironic is it that 1 year before the organisation was founded, I made a proposition to the Hong Kong Tourism Board to offer hikes to tourists. They, however, refused, believing that such tours are of no interest to tourists or locals.”
Thanks to the English, there are over 1000 km of gorgeous hiking trails through the abundant, undeveloped areas of the city. “In the past Asians didn’t ordinarily spend their free time out in the nature hiking and exploring”, Gabi explains, “however, this has changed drastically recently – a lot of outdoor tourists now come from Singapore, Korea, Japan, Thailand and so on. And of course, local Hong Kongers have also discovered the hidden treasures in their own backyards, which has a downside as well – on weekends the hills and beaches are often teeming with people.”
Most tourists are surprised and overwhelmed by the unexpected natural side of the city. “The majority of them don’t come for the nature”, she points out. The combination of high urban density and undeveloped, untouched nature is indeed unique. During the day you can conquer a mountain and cool off in the ocean, at night you dine in a fancy restaurant with the sea of lights under your feet.
Gabi’s tips for Hong Kong
“Explore the city by foot”, Gabi recommends. “There’s so much more to find and see while walking through the streets with their imposing, shining office buildings, through the shabby, ancient quarters, through fragrant markets, like the Wet Market, and trendy districts like Soho. Take a walk on the Peak, followed bya delicious dinner in one of the many excellent restaurants, for example the Vietnamese Chôm Chôm. To round off the day, treat yourself to a relaxing feet massage to reward yourself for all the steps taken.”
And of course, take a hike! One of Gabi’s favourite hiking spots are the bays and beaches in the northeast, like Tai Long Wan, which swept me off my feet too. Hilly landscapes, ochre coloured cliffs, abandoned and overgrown villages and no streets, no cars and no buildings anywhere in sight – pure bliss! There’s no better way to spend a day in Hong Kong.