Sai Kung East Country Park.There’s more to Hong Kong than shopping in its steamy canyons, writes Natasha Dragun.
Hong Kong may be one of the world’s great cities – with towering skyscrapers and endless shopping malls – but beyond the bright lights a host of fresh-air activities await. Away from the congested cityscapes hugging Victoria Harbour, more than 70 per cent of Hong Kong, hard as it may be to believe, is given over to land and water nature reserves.
And because the city is so compact, many activities are within easy reach of hotels. Here’s a look at the best ways to get a taste of Hong Kong’s surprising great outdoors.
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy wilderness – in fact, some of the city’s top hiking trails are located on Hong Kong Island, easily accessible by public bus.
The Dragon’s Back is probably the best-known of these, the ridge sweeping down to a fishing village in Shek O Country Park. You’ll wander through groves of bamboo and woodland before emerging to open hillsides blanketed with wild azaleas and rose myrtle, offering unbroken views over Clear Water Bay, Stanley and Hong Kong’s eastern islands.
The walk ends at Shek O, where cheap-and-cheerful seafood stalls sell barbecued octopus and bottles of ice-cold beer. Dragon’s Back can be done independently, but guided hikes are also available with Walk Hong Kong. The group’s popular Deserted Beaches Hike takes you to some of the New Territories’ prettiest stretches of sand in remote Sai Kung.
Here, lush tropical vegetation and forested ridges give way to white sandy beaches, many of which you’ll have entirely to yourselves. To reach them you’ll hike through old Hakka villages, where local farmers once nurtured “feng shui woods” to preserve local flora and fauna.
In the same neighbourhood, the group’s Geopark Hiking Tour takes you along Sai Kung East Country Park, home to a volcanic column wall, one of the world’s largest examples of its kind.
Junks, ferries and container ships aren’t the only harbour traffic. A growing trend is to explore the city’s waterways by kayak.
Local outfit Kayak-and-Hike offers full-day packages to the Ung Kong archipelago, part of Hong Kong’s Global Geopark in the eastern New Territories. Trips launch from Sai Kung with a junk ride through coves and past forested hills to Sha Kiu Tau fishing village. There, you’re kitted with kayak, life vest and snorkelling gear before paddling out to explore caves, sea arches and eventually Bluff Island, to see some of Hong Kong’s coral and marine life.
Work up a sweat hiking to the island’s lookout before cooling off with a swim or snorkel – the visibility is typically great, and you’ll likely spot Chinese demoiselle, clown fish and racoon butterfly fish, among other species.
You can BYO picnic or join tour leaders for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant back at Sha Kiu Tau.
You don’t see many cyclists in congested Hong Kong city, but biking opportunities do exist.
Several organisations, including the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association are dedicated to the development and upgrade of off-road tracks in the relatively untouched New Territories, as well as on far-flung islands.
Excellent maps and trail descriptions on the association website mean that you can tackle different trails on your own.
The organisation also offers skills sessions and, in collaboration with Crosscountry HK, guided half and full-day trips tailored to different skill levels.
Similarly, Mountain Biking Asia leads two-wheel tours of Hong Kong on sedate tracks through the New Territories. Over 35 kilometres you’ll cycle through historic villages before reaching the Nam Sheng Wai Peninsula, where thousands of migratory birds flock for the winter.
A fortifying dim sum lunch in the old market town of Yuen Long ends a half-day tour; those wishing to extend the trip can cycle on through wetlands surrounding Deep Bay, near the border with mainland China. The bird identification cards handed out en route are a nice touch.
It’s hard to believe that anything lives in Hong Kong’s heavily trafficked harbour, but the waters are home to a surprising collection of marine life, including wild dolphins – pink ones at that.
Officially known as the Chinese white dolphin (apparently constant blushing gives them a rosy glow), the cetaceans call the city’s Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park, in the western waters, home.
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch – an avid supporter of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and supporter of dolphin research – leads trips to the park with informative talks on the fragile marine ecosystem along the way.
Despite their dwindling numbers (some estimate that there are only a few hundred left), the dolphins are a resident species of Hong Kong and can be spotted year-round. But if you’re unlucky and don’t see a dolphin on the tour, you can simply join again for free on any other scheduled trip.
Avid twitchers descend on Hong Kong during the city’s cooler months, when migratory birds take refuge in the marshes and mudflats of the city’s wetlands and nature reserves – more than two million birds descend on Mai Po Nature Reserve in the New Territories alone.
The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society offers guided trips to the reserve, led by ornithologists who will regale you with an astounding amount of information about the 380 species of birds that inhabit the park, 35 of which are of global conservation concern, including the Saunders’ gull and the black-faced spoonbill.
Free monthly birdwatching activities, in conjunction with the tourism board, take you to Hong Kong Park, where you might spot the white-crested hornbill or racket-tailed treepie, and Kowloon Park, home to flamingos, ringed teal and tropical pigeons.
The writer travelled courtesy of Cathay Pacific and The Upper House.
Cathay Pacific operates daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne. Phone 131 747, cathaypacific老域名.
Designed by Andre Fu, the Upper House’s 117 rooms are all about pared-back luxury. Rooms start at $HK4500 ($619) and have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Victoria Harbour, free minibar snacks, Wi-Fi and satin amenity pouches. See upperhouse老域名.
SEE + DO
The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society offers free guided tours. See hkbws.org.hk.
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch’s four-hour trips run on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and cost $HK380 an adult. See hkdolphinwatch老域名.
Bikewise courses and guided mountain-biking trips with Crosscountry HK from $HK940 for the first rider, $HK560 for subsequent riders, bike included. See crosscountryhk老域名; hkmba.org.
Mountain Biking Asia’s guided tours include lunch and wetlands entry from $HK500. See mountainbikingasia老域名.
Kayak and Hike’s day tours run from 8.45am to 4pm and cost from $HK700 a person. See kayak-and-hike老域名.
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