The Hong Kong Trail

Now I’m spending 4 days in Hong Kong before continuing on to India, rather than just the quick overnight I originally planned, so I decided I should do something worthwhile. Like a long hike. There’s a 50 kilometre race here in a couple of weeks' time which I’m not doing (but at one point I did look into doing it) and it’s on an established trail, the Hong Kong Trail. The trail is in 8 sections and it seemed feasible to hike it over 3 days, using public transport to get to and from the section ends.

On Tuesday morning, January 16, I took the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Central and then a bus to the Peak, the start of the hike. The first bus didn’t leave Central until 10am so it was a late start, compounded by difficulty in finding where the trail began. I located it eventually and was surprised how busy it was. But only up to the first lookout - which was a great panorama of all of the central part of Hong Kong Island - and beyond there the crowds dwindled to almost nothing.

Fairly soon I worked out that the route instructions I’d found online were not very good, and also the route signage was poor. There were numbered route markers every 500 metres, but no directional markers at junctions. I had to ask people the way, and I was doing well, mostly. My worst mistake saw me arrive at the edge of a reservoir that wasn’t on the route, so I had to backtrack up a steep hill.

I was quite surprised how the route soon went into the forest and was relatively unspoilt and clean. There were birds scuffing around in the foliage. I had been expecting a semi urban walk. Much of the walking was on cement paths but there was also some rough stuff and steps. Gee, these people love steps! There were lots of little creeks to cross, mostly dry, with signs warning about flash floods and deep water (that seemed funny to me), but I did see a couple of waterfalls and some rock pools.

I was seeing about one person every half hour by now. Once I passed a guy sitting on a rock playing a video game. It was very peaceful. It was warm but not uncomfortable. There were sometimes vistas out of the forest looking over the island, either down to the water or over the surrounding hills. I didn’t seem to have come far from my starting point because the trail was very circuitous. There was a long stretch along an aqueduct, and then the last part of the day was in nice forest on a rocky dirt track.

At the end of the third section, 18 kilometres done, I had to walk to the nearest bus stop. The instructions on the hike website said to "walk down the road for 15 minutes" to reach the bus stop; the road was an extremely steep uphill! 

On Wednesday I came back to where I had left off on Tuesday. The road back to the trailhead was so steep it was hard to walk even downhill. The first section was again in the forest, passing more rock pools, and a mix of paved and dirt tracks. It was a lot warmer and I was glad I had brought twice as much water as the previous day. There were more people on the trail but it wasn’t exactly crowded.

Suddenly after 7 kilometres the trail deposited me in a residential area and I had no idea where to go. Luckily two English expats emerged from the forest behind me and knew the way. They were hoping to walk the whole trail in a day. We continued together for a while through the built up area and then they went off to try to buy water. I hadn’t seen a single shop on the route, which surprised me.

I continued uphill and went happily back into the forest. There followed a lot of climbing on hundreds of steps. The steps were big, uneven and hard to walk on. However the views from, firstly Jardines Lookout and then Mount Butler, were fabulous. You could see so much of the main island - mountains and tall apartment blocks in many directions, but mainly forested hills - and the outlying islands. It is amazing how little of the main island has been built on, presumably not for want of trying. It was difficult work walking up there under the hot sun, but rewarding. The descent was, by contrast, on tiny steps, 600 of them which went vertically downhill. Odd. I stopped for my lunch sandwich (tuna with mayonnaise from 7-11) on the way down.

My final section for the day was on a paved road, which led to a reservoir. It was a lovely shaded road with the trees forming a canopy right across the road. At the reservoir I got confused because of the lack of signs. I crossed the dam wall, then decided this was wrong and crossed back again, and continued along what I thought was the right road. However I wasn’t seeing any of the route markers. I was about to turn back when I saw a junction and an information board. I had gone the wrong way, but I was now back on course. I had mistaken the dam wall I crossed for another dam wall on my map. 

Just then my English friends popped up, and we did my final kilometre together. 15.5 kilometres for the day. A bus arrived just as I reached the bus stop, so I went by bus to a subway station and then took the train home.

So today I did the train and bus thing back to yesterday’s finishing point, but before boarding the bus I had breakfast of a set meal with porridge, toast, small sausage, hard boiled egg and coffee (all for about $5) at an extremely busy fast food place.

Today’s hike started with a slightly monotonous flat paved path alongside an aqueduct but soon opened out to give nice views over a long inlet. I could even hear waves sometimes, and there were lots of moored boats. Eventually I came very close to a small beach and I detoured off the route to have a look. There then followed a massive climb on comfortably spaced steps to a road crossing and the start of the hike's final section.

Suddenly there were lots of people about. More so even than at the Peak. This last section of the Hong Kong Trail incorporates the Dragon's Back, a stretch of trail which is famous for its views and has been called the best walk in Asia.

The trail continued to climb but was no longer paved and the steps were uneven, but the going was nothing like as hard as the trail notes implied. Yesterday’s climb to Mount Butler was much more strenuous. I got to the open views quickly, and they were certainly superb, with lookouts over the open sea and the rugged coastline. The views continued for a couple of kilometres as the trail was fully in the open for the first time in three days - this was the Dragon's Back section - as I walked over some peaks. Then there was a long gradual descent and I was back in the forest.

The last few kilometres were on a paved road and then I finished with an unpaved descent through the forest to Big Wave Beach. This was a lovely beach, a smallish cove with high rocky promontories on each side. There were a few surfers and sunbathers and, best of all, a beachside cafe where I could enjoy a mango flavoured Drumstick. 16 kilometres today to finish a great hike.


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