Trailblazers: the best hikes in Hong Kong
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
This article is part of a guide to Hong Kong from FT Globetrotter
The first time I came to Hong Kong, a colleague offered some essential advice: “Make sure you go hiking.”
The breadth — and beauty — of the city’s trails is one of the best surprises about life in the Asian financial centre. Hong Kong is known as a densely populated concrete jungle full of high-rise buildings and mazes of streets, where everyone is tripping over each other. But it is also home to scores of amazing routes that offer a very different perspective on the city.
During the pandemic, hiking the trails has been a wonderful release. It is pretty easy to keep a safe distance from others and, provided you aren’t next to any other hikers, you don’t need to wear a mask.
Cases in Hong Kong at the time of writing were in check, with relatively few new infections being reported each day. Much of the city is largely back to normal, though this could change. In any case, the trails have tended to remain open throughout the pandemic.
Some are near the central business district and can be done in an evening after work. Others are in the New Territories and are better suited to a weekend outing.
Here are a few suggestions for getting the best out of hiking in Hong Kong, and four of my favourite routes.
What should you do to prepare for a hike?
Have the right gear. The most difficult challenges in Hong Kong are the humidity and heat, so wear a lightweight, moisture-wicking top and shorts that will keep the sweat away from your body and dry quickly. If you wear a cotton T-shirt, you will be drenched in sweat within minutes. For hikes that end at a beach, take a swimsuit. (Public beaches remained closed at the time of writing but I expect that will change in the coming weeks.) I would also recommend investing in decent hiking or running socks and shoes — and insect repellent is never a bad idea. And for a walk in these current times, take a mask and hand sanitiser.
Charge your phone and take a portable charger. You don’t want to be without a device (especially as you may want to hail an Uber to pick you up at the end of your walk). A smartphone is great for maps and on most of these hikes you can usually get a mobile phone signal. AllTrails is a good app for hiking routes, or you can also use one of the map apps on your phone (Google Maps, Apple, etc), though make sure you head off with a fully charged phone and pack a portable charger, as they can drain your battery — especially in the Hong Kong heat.
Take a map. It is always a good idea to have a physical map as a back-up.
1. Dragon’s Back
Distance: up to 8.5km
Time: 2-3 hours
Starting point: To Tei Wan bus stop, Shek O Road
FYI: get there in the morning if you can — before the crowds arrive
On the east side of Hong Kong Island, Dragon’s Back is, unsurprisingly, one of the city’s most popular hikes. After a short and reasonably easy incline under trees, you come to the top of a ridge with a trail running down its back (hence the name). Despite the proximity to the central business district, you will be greeted by stunning views of the sea, Shek O beach and a golf course below you.
Walk along the ridge and you will eventually descend into the woods. Follow the path until you come to a junction, where you can either cut back to where you started or carry on to Big Wave Bay, a nice spot for surfing, hanging out at the beach and grabbing a beer.
2. The Twins
Time: 2-3 hours
Starting point: Wilson Trail section 1, near Parkview on Tai Tam Reservoir Road
FYI: don’t attempt it if you have dodgy knees
This trail — the first I walked in Hong Kong — is about half as long as the Dragon’s Back but infinitely more challenging. Hiking The Twins involves ascending and descending two extremely steep hills — with more than 1,000 paved steps — interspersed with flat sections.
It is physically demanding but the reward makes it worthwhile. The views are spectacular — at times, you see nothing but green forested hills and a thin trail snaking through the trees in the distance. Soon you are looking at the sea and Stanley, a nice area on the south side of Hong Kong and a good place for a swim and lunch.
As you finish the final descent you find yourself on a paved road, where you can either hail a taxi or take a local bus into Stanley, where you can grab a bite or go for a swim.
3. The MacLehose Trail, sections 2, 3 and 4
Difficulty: moderate to hard
Time: 3-4 hours per section
Starting point: variable, depending on which route you choose
FYI: this is a full-day route, so it’s one for a weekend. A good way to explore another side of Hong Kong
This 100km trail, named after a former British governor of Hong Kong, is divided into 10 sections that traverse the New Territories from east to west.
I’ve included three sections — 2 (13.5km), 3 (10.2km) and 4 (12.7km) — in Sai Kung Country Park, a remote area in the east of Hong Kong that offers proper wilderness and solitude, jungles and sandy beaches, as well as some nice peaks to scale if you choose. You may come across the odd animal — a wild boar, a cow or a snake (I have never encountered the latter) — but they are generally pretty tame if you keep your distance.
Each stage is a solid walk on its own, but if you’re ambitious — and healthy enough — you can combine two. The hikes are all challenging at times, especially when it’s hot, so make sure you have plenty of water and snacks with you, and take a map. There are also a few cafés or small restaurants on the way, but they are a fair distance apart so it’s best to be prepared.
When you finish your hike, head back to Sai Kung, an area on the seafront that is chock-full of seafood restaurants and other nice places to eat.
4. Lantau Peak and the Tian Tan Buddha
Time: 2-3 hours
Starting point: Ngong Ping
FYI: book your ticket for the cable car in advance online to skip the queue
Hiking to the top of Hong Kong’s second highest hill offers the added bonus of a bit of cultural tourism. The peak looks over the Tian Tan Buddha statue, one of the most serene parts of the city, near the Po Lin Monastery in the hills.
There are a few routes up to Lantau, but you can also take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, which goes part of the way. You can get to the cable car terminal via the MTR to Tung Chung, at the end of the Tung Chung line, where you’ll see the signs pointing you in the right direction. Some of the gondolas have transparent floors — great for views of the forest below, but not recommended if you’re scared of heights.
You will arrive at a slightly naff, touristy village before you reach the Buddha statue and monastery, both of which are lovely places to wander around.
Do you have a favourite hike in Hong Kong? Tell us in the comments