When people think of Hong Kong they invariably imagine a huge financial district with skyscrapers. Some may imagine the harbour and the peak and envisage a few Chinese temples set to a back drop of steamy vast streets filled to the brim with people of many ethnicities going about their business. Up market stores selling Rolex watches and boutique self ran shops selling arts and top notch furniture next door to chaotic restaurants shelling out dim sum like it is going out of fashion. All those descriptions wouldn’t be far wrong, but few people know that Hong Kong has some mighty fine beaches and some excellent trekking across the island. In many ways its an urban trekkers paradise and so we decided to get to grips with Hong Kong nature.
One of the ventures in the pipeline that I am currently working on is called tiny trekkers, it is a website linked to the summer holiday of a lifetime.com and will host treks all over the world aimed at kids of various ages, but predominantly at families and will feature tried and tested hiking all over the world both by us and through an associated wiki. We will be selling tiny trekker merchandise in addition to family friendly maps and tested hiking wear for kids and teenagers. It really is a huge venture and will hopefully launch November 1st 2013.
Hong Kong is quite a mountainous place (particularly on HK island) and anyone that has seen Chinese landscape will know that it is almost unique in its shape in that the hills tend to be almost like a big dipper in that they go steeply up and down with only a small summit. From the world famous Victoria Peak runs a trail across the summits of the island for some 90km, known as the Hong Kong trail it is a demanding course that requires a high level of fitness and effort in order to complete the entire trail. This is more true in the summer where temperatures reach 40 degrees and humidity can hit 100%. Of course I knew this was beyond our physical abilities as a family, no doubt Charlie and I could complete it across a couple of days. But there is simply no chance whatsoever that Abi or Jack could muster up the energy. With that in mind I set about researching the trail and finding a suitable point at which we could join the trail and then leave whilst experiencing time alone together in nature and of course seeing some stunning scenery along the route.
It just so happens that there is a trek called ‘Dragons Back’ which is a 5km trek across arguably the best and most scenic portion of the entire Hong Kong trail. Named Dragons back as to describe the lay of the land of the trail (i.e up steeply, down steeply, up steeply, down steeply etc) It seemed perfect for us but a little short and so I added on an extra part to the trek which ultimately ended up being around 8.5km and took us a few hours as we relaxed en route taking in the amazing scenery.
The dragons back trail has been called the best urban hike in Asia by TIME magazine and has opened up the worlds eyes to what wonderful trekking opportunities beckon in Hong Kong. In giving the award TIME said “..The cities finest and most surprising ramble… The glory of it all is that you’re so close to the city, but could hardly feel further away” and so once I realised I had stumbled upon a classic trek and the best urban hike in Asia I knew we had to do it and the kids were just as enthusiastic as I was.
The quickest way to get to the start of the trek is to get to the MTR station Shau Kei Wan on Hong Kong island. Outside the station is a bus terminal and then you need to look for the number 9 bus headed for Shek O.
Once on the bus you need to pay as far as To Tei Wan stop which currently costs $3.90/$1.95 (32p/16p) and takes about 18 minutes to get to. If you ask the driver he will stop for you as it is easy to miss
The trail head starts with a bench and some toilets along with a map. You will know you are in the right place as it is signposted ‘dragons back trail’ There is no water en route and no shops and so taking water is imperative. The weather for us was 36 degrees with about 80% humidity and there were few clouds so I knew we would lose a lot of water and took 1.5 litres of water each. We all have Charlie to thank for carrying 6 litres of water on his back, he didn’t complain once and loved the challenge.
The trek starts with a steep trek about 1km up steps. At this point I realised just how much water we would lose as the sun burned every piece of bare skin and after about 500m we were all drenched in sweat (and that is no exaggeration) The steps wind up through odd dots of shade but mainly are out in the open.
After about 15 minutes we really got to see the beauty of our surroundings as the hill side opened up to give grand views to the west and as we continued the East opened up and left us stunned at the absolute natural beauty that lay before us. My eyes were stinging with sweat as I tried to find some reassurance from the kids that they were actually enjoying such an arduous climb. They were loving every second of it! But I must point out that on a cooler day the climb would perhaps have been much less difficult, but the heat was wiping me out, the kids seemed to just bounce along with some motility of invincibility about them and I longed to be young again.
The trail tries it on and makes you believe that it levels out, but actually it descends into trees and then ascends right back up to another summit. You can look across the horizon and see that it genuinely does look like the back of a dragon. It is gorgeous and so lush. In the week before we arrived into Hong Kong there had been a cyclone which had brought torrential rain with it and in response the green and vibrancy of nature is in full blown overload.
As i sloped along at the rear Abi shouted to me “dad, I just saw a bat” I thought ‘no you didn’t’ and continued to trundle along wishing I had a sweat band to stop the waterfall of sweat into my eye balls from my forehead. Suddenly a bat flew right at me and buzzed past my ear. I looked and realised that actually it wasn’t a bat as I had rightly suspected, but a moth. It was the size of an adult hand but was actually a black and white wanna be bird cum moth. As we progressed there were lots of them all flying about just to piss Abi off. Once I confirmed to her they were completely harmless she suddenly became their best friend.
The walk continues ascending and descending hills until after about 15 minutes you come to Shek O peak, this is perhaps the highlight of the trail giving absolutely stunning views out to Shek O village and Big Wave bay, and in the distance you catch a glimpse of the skyscrapers of Admirality peering through the gap in the mountain. We were lucky enough to get a clear day but the price we paid was constant sweating. In order to ensure complete hydration we had controlled water stops. Essentially what we did was stop every 30 minutes and drink around 250 – 500mL of water each depending on the terrain. The kids hate controlled rehydration but they understand it is a necessity that every now and again we must adhere to and today was one of those days.
From Shek O peak which is some 284m above sea level the trail levels out for about 1km before descending into trees and bushes which give broken shade but high humidity. The walk under trees passes waterfalls and snakes around the mountain before you start to pick up signs for Tai Tam Gap. The walk becomes level and is about 2km further to the gap, where you can then continue to Big Wave Bay.
At this point it was around 2pm and we hadn’t had lunch and so we descended to the main road and found a bus stop. We hopped on the bus to Shek O village and have probably never appreciated air conditioning more in our lives! My T shirt was dripping wet with sweat and my shorts completely soaked to the point I had to take my phone out of my pocket to prevent water damage.
The ride to Shek O took about 15 minutes and we could see where we had just walked and were mesmerised by the sheer steepness and beauty of the landscape.
Once in Shek O we mooched about the miniature sized village and found a Thai restaurant where I had dug into chicken and mango with rice and the kids had vegetable fried rice and egg washed down with ice cold water.
The restaurant leads out to a road which then falls onto the beach and so we headed there for a chill out in the sea.
The waters of Hong Kong are teaming with sharks and so you should only swim in bays which have shark nets, most of the popular bays have these but you should always check as a shark bite to the leg will ruin most peoples days.
Sure enough Shek O had a net and before I had dropped my bags the kids had thrown their boots off and were legging it into the cool waters trying to avoid courting Chinese couples.
That pretty much was the vein of the rest of the afternoon, we chilled on one of the islands best beaches after completing the best urban trek on the continent and I looked out wondering if moving to Hong Kong could be a possibility.
I have always said that if I was to move to Asia it would be to Singapore which is one of my favourite cities in the world. But Hong Kong has an identity that is hard to put your finger on. The kids think this is one of the best places in the world and I agree with them. It is in many ways the perfect place, and so with a fondness to Singapore I have to say – Hong Kong has taken its place as my favourite city in Asia. Actually no, and I know the kids agree because they have told me… Abi gave Hong Kong a cool 10 out of 10. Charlie gave it 20 out of 10 and Jack 1000 out of 10. My score? Well, rather than give it a number I think I could sum up my feelings by simply saying that, having visited all of the major cities in the Northern Hemisphere Hong Kong tops the list.
I would go as far to say that this former British territory manages to balance being a global powerhouse with a world leading living index second to none, a history that is magical and creates an atmosphere whilst beholding a sliver of Chinese identity. It is soft, it is welcoming and for us – It is our favourite city in the world. It hasn’t just slipped in and quietly taken the top spot but it has completely annihilated the closest competitor, it has re written everything we thought and has cemented itself a place that will live long in our hearts.
So will we move to Hong Kong?