HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s Adventurous AtributesWe were a little skeptical about leaving the famous Hong Kong skyline for the outer reaches of Hong Kong. However under the guidance of Stephanie from Walk Hong Kong, a company that offers hikes across some of Hong Kong’s most unpopulated and pristine areas, we headed out to hike the ‘Dragon’s Back Trail’ – famously hailed by Time Magazine as Asia´s best urban hike.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
Diary entry 29th November 1983 – “A pleasant boat ride over to the Lantau Island via the small Mediterranean looking island of Peng Chau. We spend an hour wandering through the quaint market area. For me it brought back memories of Turkey and a few places in Africa. Smells of all kinds, open butchers’ shops, flies and insects, small kids holding hands and old women selling wares.
“We then took a sampan (any small skiff, widely used in the Orient, that is propelled by oars or a scull) to Lantau Island for HK$2 to visit the Trappist Haven Monastery at Tai Shui Hang. Afterwards we hiked over the hillside through brush and rough heather-like moorland to a vantage point that afforded a spectacular view of Silvermine Bay. Lunch was noodles and a few beers and then we dipped our feet in the South China Sea and nosed around the small fish market. Our day ended with a sunset boat ride back to Hong Kong.”
These were my notes from my first visit to Hong Kong almost 30 years ago. A lot has changed since those backpacking days travelling around Asia. This time our group landed at the new airport on Lantau Island and took a ferry directly to Macau. After three days in the former Portuguese territory we then caught the fast TurboJet ferry over to Hong Kong – like Macau it’s now a Special Administrative Region of China.
Our accommodation for the next three nights was at the funky Ovolo Hotel in Central Hong Kong. It’s a slim line (only three rooms on each floor) boutique hotel with all-inclusive services including free: Wi-Fi, breakfast, minibar and hi-tech features in bright, cozy rooms plus 24-hour gym access and a spacious designer lounge with free breakfast and drinks, that serves as a perfect meeting place and relaxation area.
With the tail end of a tropical storm sweeping off the South China Sea, our group was a little skeptical about leaving the famous Hong Kong skyline for the green, green grass of the outer reaches of Hong Kong. However under the guidance of Stephanie from Walk Hong Kong, a company that offers six guided half or full day hikes across some of Hong Kong’s most unpopulated and pristine areas, we headed out to hike the ‘Dragon’s Back Trail’ – famously hailed by Time Magazine as Asia´s best urban hike.
Hong Kong it turns out has some superb hiking trails including the ‘Dragon's Back Trail’ that we completed, one of the many sections of the 50 km Hong Kong Trail. As we strode out onto the pathway Stephanie warned us to duck below the large spiders that construct their webs across the pathway – and believe me these araneas were big and could jump.
The major reason this trail is popular is that it’s so close to the city, but you could hardly feel further away. The three hour plus hike delivers breathtaking views to the distant Nine Pins Islands, sandy Big Wave Bay, Tai Tam Harbour, the market village of Stanley and the Red Hill peninsula. For anyone really keen on hiking in Hong Kong you can obtain a copy of either The Serious Hikers’ Guide to Hong Kong or The Leisurely Hikers’ Guide to Hong Kong.
Back in the city the only way to see the neon skyline of Hong Kong is to hop on a cruise around the harbour at nighttime . . . just before dusk to be exact. Try and forego a regular cruise boat and book a traditional junk that chugs around like in the old days of the colonial empire when seafaring boats were four-masted schooners and local transport for most Hong Kong residents was either a rickety ferry or a Chinese junk.
“Cheung Po Tsai” is the Aqua Luna junk hand-built for the Aqua Restaurant Group in 2006 using traditional shipbuilding methods by a local craftsman supervised by a veteran 73-year-old shipbuilder. The junk with its distinctive red sails is named after the Cheung Chau Island pirate who terrorised the South China Sea at the turn of the twentieth century.
During an impressive dinner at Aqua Restaurant, 30 storeys above Kowloon, we witnessed ‘A Symphony of Lights.’ This nightly spectacle combines interactive lights of 45 key buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon with musical effects to showcase the vibrancy and glamorous night vista of Victoria Harbour. The show comprises five major themes, taking spectators on a unique journey celebrating the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong: Awakening, Energy, Heritage, Partnership and Celebration.
The best viewing locations of this nightly spectacle are along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Avenue of Stars and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the promenade at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wanchai, and from sightseeing ferries in the Victoria Harbour. Broadcast of the soundtrack is in different languages: English on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Putonghua on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; and Cantonese on Sunday.
To prove that there is more to Hong Kong than fancy hotels, great restaurants, shopping districts and outdoor markets, we had arranged to go surfing for the day. To get there included taking a local sampan from the ancient pearl fishing village of Sai Kung to the village of Tai Long Wan where the Hong Kong Surf School is located. The camp at Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) is a fantastic place to learn to surf. Pristine warm waters break onto white sandy beaches surrounded by jungle-clad mountains. With five beaches to choose from within 10 minutes from the base camp, you are almost certain to get the best beginners waves possible – yet trying this during a tropical storm is not recommended.
On our last day in Hong Kong and with outdoor activities firmly scheduled, our group of adventurers checked baggage for our flight back to Auckland at the train station – yes they even have airline check-in counters there. We then took the train to the airport before jumping into taxis for the ride to the small village of Tai O on the southwestern point of Lantau Island. On arrival the same guides from the surf school, Dave Wilson and Damien met us . . . our guides for the afternoon’s sea kayaking tour.
After being delivered safety messages and briefings on the use of the kayaks we paddled out across the bay and then into the heart of Tai O, a village situated either side of a riverbank where all the houses are built above the water. Tai O is home to the Tanka people, a community of fisher folk who’ve built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island for generations. These unusual structures are nearly all interconnected, forming a tightly-knit community that literally lives above the water.
Nearby archaeological sites date back to the Stone Age but human settlement here is probably only about 300 hundred years old. Tai O was also once a base of many smuggling and piracy operations, the inlets of the river providing excellent protection from the weather and a good hiding place. At nearby Fan Lau is a fort built in 1729 to protect shipping on the Pearl River. Even today the smuggling of guns, tobacco, drugs and people here remains a documented illegal activity both into and out of Mainland China.
As we negotiated the river system in our kayaks we found a small channel to exit out into the South China Sea. Here we were now able to see the new six-lane highway bridge that is being built between Hong Kong and Macau. In choppy seas we crossed to the other side of the harbour, to an area where a powerful waterfall at full flow gushed off the mountainside. Over lunch we swam and jumped into the deep pool below the raging waterfall . . . it was a truly special and a remarkable adventurous way in which to end our Hong Kong odyssey.
If you want to experience another side of Hong Kong then try and escape the city and explore a part of Asia that few people ever get to see. You’ll soon understand it’s not just about a ‘shop until you drop’ attitude, but more about using an abacus to count the number of the adventurous options that are available in such a vibrant city that never seems to sleep.
T: +852 2165 1000
T: +852 2859 3333
Walk Hong Kong
T: +852 9187 8641
Aqua Luna Harbour Cruise
T: +852 2116 8821
T: +852 3427 2288
Symphony of Lights
T: +852 2810 2770
Hong Kong Surfing and Kayaking School
T: +852 5410 5015
T: +852 2522 0922
22 Ships Restaurant
T: +852 2555 0722
360° Gondola Ride
T: +852 2881 8888
Shane Boocock travelled to Hong Kong and Macau courtesy of Air New Zealand. Go to: www.airnewzealand.co.nz
Ground arrangements in Hong Kong were courtesy of www.discoverhongkong.com/nz
If you would like to read this article in full or licence it for your own publication, please click here to contact Shane.