Discover a secret side to Hong Kong on a hiking trail

You'll find a calmer side to the bustling city of Hong Kong on its hiking paths and nature trails. Escape the chaos on the Victoria Peak track.

Victoria Peak has never-ending views of the cityscape below.
  • Jennifer Johnston
  • February 2019

Thirty six, thirty seven, thirty eight... I’m counting the stone steps as I make my ascent up the evenly spaced blocks. My breath quickens with the exertion. I look up to see the steps continue winding their way upwards, disappearing into a canopy of lush subtropical forest. The only sounds are occasional birdcalls and the rustle of leaves from the soft gusts of wind blowing through the dense green trees embracing the path (and my own panting).

This silence is surreal, considering only 10 minutes earlier I’d left behind the cacophony of traffic and construction in a busy city. I pause for a moment to wonder whether I’ve been teleported into a remote Australian rainforest. I’m actually on one of the circuit trails that winds around Victoria Peak in Hong Kong opens in new window, right in the heart of this bustling city.

The popular Victoria Peak trails are easy to traverse
The popular Victoria Peak trails are easy to traverse.

Images of towering skyscrapers and busy, chaotic streets usually come to mind when picturing Hong Kong but not many people know about its “green” side, with mountains and protected country parks making up about 75 per cent of its 1108 square-kilometres. This large expanse conceals an abundance of hiking and walking trails, which provide a retreat for the city’s seven million-plus inhabitants – and regular visitors like me – looking to escape the crowds and noise that is inherently Hong Kong.

At 552 metres above sea level, the top of Hong Kong Island’s Victoria Peak provides magnificent views of the skyscrapers hugging Victoria Harbour. On previous visits, I’ve ticked this touristy “must-do” box and stood on the lookout, during the day and at night, admiring the sweeping vista over the body of water separating Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. I’ve travelled to the highest point by taxi (quick but expensive) and caught the Peak Tram (slow but economical). But on this occasion, I’m exploring the peak on foot.

The tram is available for those short on time
The tram is available for those short on time.

I’m with two local friends, Chris and Ali, who regularly walk the Pik Shan Path on a Saturday morning. The path is conveniently close to their apartment in Sai Ying Pun but is relatively unknown to visitors. Chris has lived in Hong Kong since 1989 and possesses an in-depth knowledge of the city, making him the perfect guide. “Hong Kong is a busy city, so I’ve found the best way to shake off its stresses is to hit the many trails that thread their way through the country parks and hillsides,” he says. “You can start in Central or near the airport and end up on a remote beach with a cold beer or two.”

Thanks to Hong Kong’s compact size and efficient public transport network, most of this parkland is easily accessible and takes in everything from wild isolated beaches to lush green forests. You can plan half- or full-day adventures around the city’s perimeter or a short stroll from the bars and restaurants of Soho and Lan Kwai Fong, leading into the heart of peaceful woodlands on Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong's backyard is a natural wonder
Hong Kong's backyard is a natural wonder.

I meet Chris and Ali at Caine Road in Mid-Levels. The predominantly residential Central and Western District can be a bit of a hike on its own, depending on the direction you’re coming from. If you’ve arrived in Central on the Star Ferry or via the subway rather than zigzagging up hundreds of stone steps (Mid-Levels is steep), I recommend using the escalators – and saving your energy for hiking.

From our meeting point, we walk about 10 minutes to busy Bonham Road (named after Sir George Bonham, the third governor of Hong Kong). Turning into Kotewall Road, we pass a street sweeper wielding an ancient-looking bamboo broom with straw bristles, reminding me of a witch’s broomstick. “The government hires cleaners to sweep Hong Kong streets day and night,” Chris tells me. “Some streets are swept up to six times a day.”

The rhythmic swish of the sweeper’s broom fades as we walk further up the gentle incline and I realise why, in such a densely populated city, the streets are surprisingly rubbish-free.

A right turn brings us to the start of Pik Shan Path in the 47-hectare Lung Fu Shan Country Park, the smallest of the country parks in Hong Kong. Adjacent to the entrance is a small building, built between 1914 and 1919. The government-owned house was originally used to accommodate workers from the nearby Water Reservoir but in 2008 it was converted into the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre opens in new window.

Inside the centre, videos warn visitors to be aware of wild boar and porcupines roaming the reserve. “While these creatures do come out in the day, the best time to see them is at dawn and dusk,” says Chris. “Night-time hikes are becoming popular as people are taking an interest in nocturnal animals.”

I enter the park with a little trepidation as I’ve no desire to step on any sharp porcupine quills, but within minutes I have relaxed into a state of zen, letting the silence and the fresh earthy scent envelop me. We clamber past creek beds filled with moss-covered mottled grey and brown stones. The water trickles slowly because there has been little rain. Birds frolic in the woodlands (a result of the colonial government’s reforestation efforts).

Lucky visitors will spot wildlife such as masked palm civets
Lucky visitors will spot wildlife such as masked palm civets.

There’s no jostling through crowds or hawkers on Hong Kong’s hiking trails. Here, the only passing traffic is other hikers, dog walkers and the occasional runner.

About halfway up, a diminutive Chinese man solitarily practises tai chi facing a rock wall, his measured, intricate movements clearly perfected with years of practice.

Walking in these woodlands, I feel like I’ve unlocked a Hong Kong secret. The Pik Shan Path connects to the Morning Trail, which can take about three to four hours to complete the 2.3-kilometre route and requires some ascent walking but isn’t too strenuous (a moderate fitness level is necessary).

We decide to take a shorter option, exiting onto Hatton Road, passing another historical relic. A granite pillar, less than a metre tall, is embedded into a retaining wall with “City Boundary 1903” etched into its facade. It’s one of seven boundary stones that marked the city limits of Victoria – the de-facto capital of Hong Kong during British Colonial rule from 1841 to 1997, which spread across the areas now occupied by Sheung Wan, Central and Wan Chai.

We cut through the University of Hong Kong campus, stopping at Chong Yuet Ming Fountain, apparently a popular spot to take graduation photos. Exhilarated from the serotonin hit I’ve got from the hike, the restored calm from being in nature and having discovered another fascinating facet to this city, I decide to commemorate this moment with my own graduation photo.

The Chong Yuet Ming Fountain is a popular photo spot
The Chong Yuet Ming Fountain is a popular photo spot.

Three other Hong Kong hikes

  1. Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve is on the south-eastern tip of Hong Kong Island and has trails hugging the South China Sea. The walk begins on a flat bitumen road with views towards the quaint seaside village of Stanley. Passing a few houses, the road changes to a dirt path and the scenery transforms into rugged coastline. Spend a half-day or full day here; it’s a relatively easy hike.
  2. Lamma Island is another daytrip option that’s popular with locals and tourists (it’s only accessible by boat – take the ferry from Central). It offers a relatively easy hike along coastal trails through fishing villages, forests and beaches. Beginning at Sok Kwu Wan Village, follow the circular trail to Yung Shue Wan.
  3. The MacLehose stage-five trek near Shatin is a full-day hike with a high degree of difficulty, offering great mountain views, historical relics and wild monkeys. Climb to the top of Lion Rock for views of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island on a clear day. Trail markers and pillboxes identify the path.