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5 best nature walks to do in Hong Kong instead of hiking

By Catharina Cheung 14 August 2020

Header image courtesy of @chankarying (Instagram)

We’re still well into typhoon season, so the weather in Hong Kong is either oppressively hot or chucking it down—really not the best conditions in which to go hiking. Still, everyone is itching to head outdoors, especially after working from home the whole week, so here are some nice alternatives instead: five easy-going nature walks in Hong Kong to bring you away from the city without the intensity of a proper hike!

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Kap Lung Ancient Trail

Lying along the western slopes of Tai Mo Shan, Kap Lung Ancient Trail was originally built for farmers to travel from Shek Kong and Pat Heung to Tsuen Wan Market, where they would sell their produce. Villagers began building it for their ease of travel and it was picked up by the government later. It’s an easy walk downhill through wooded areas and over streams that’s suitable for beginners.

From Tsuen Wan West MTR station, come out of Exit A and take the bus 51 to the Country Park stop. The trail is clearly marked throughout and it’s an easy matter to follow it into the hills until you reach an intersection, where it overlaps with the Kap Lung Forest Trail. Turn right here and continue on the Forest Trail downhill to Lui Kung Tin.

The paved path eventually gives way to large rocks embedded in soil, which was the original way the trail was constructed. In rainy weather, these do tend to get slippery with moss, so watch your footing! If you enjoy picnicking it might be a good idea to pack a lunch as you’ll pass by little streams and waterfalls. When you reach the picnic site, turn right to make your way back to Shek Kong Camp where you started.

From the end of the trail, simply make your way back to the main thoroughfare and take bus 51 back to Tsuen Wan or catch a minibus to Yuen Long or Kam Sheung Road. While there’s not much to admire in terms of view, it’s nice to simply be immersed in nature and to know that you’re walking along the same route that people in the past did for their livelihoods.

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Nam Sang Wai

This is a wetland area located in San Tin that is considered ecologically important to Hong Kong due to the presence of migratory birds when they stopover in the territories. Some species include northern pintails, yellow-nib ducks, and black-faced spoonbills. The area has also been the subject of various disputes over proposals to develop large-scale residences and a golf course.

From Yuen Long MTR station, come out of Exit A and head towards Yuen Long Kau Hui Road, then turn onto Shan Pu Road. Follow the sign directing you to the Nam Sang Wai Jetty and fork out $5 per head for the little row boat. Despite possibly being the quickest boat ride ever, this is Hong Kong’s only ferry that crosses a river!

Across the water is Chung Hau Yu Man San Tsuen, where the road is lined with eucalyptus trees and red gum trees that faintly smell of lemons—look out for a quaint wooden pier at a pond where television crews have apparently filmed at. The path eventually joins Nam Sang Wai Road, which runs along Sang Pui River. You’ll also pass a big open lawn popular with people flying their kites and drones.

The area where Kam Tin River and Shan Pui River intersect is a hot spot for watching the aforementioned migratory birds. Cross the river via the bridge on the left, then follow the path to Castle Peak Road, where you can use the subway to get to the other side for the Hung Mo Kiu (Hung Mo Bridge) bus stop that will take you back to Yuen Long.

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Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve

The 460-hectare Tai Po Kau is one of Hong Kong’s most mature and varied forests with over 100 different species of trees and was declared a nature reserve in 1977. The area is also incredibly rich in flora and fauna diversity, home to over 160 species of birds, 102 species of butterflies, and 50 recorded species of dragonflies.

From Tai Po Market MTR station, get minibus 28K to the Chung Tsai Yuen stop. You’ll zoom a little ways past the entrance to Tai Po Kau Park before pulling up to the stop, so walk back along the road to get to the start of the hike.

Following signs for the Tai Po Kau Forest Walk, stay on the paved road. When you’re within the nature reserve, there will be signs indicating that the Forest Walk is split into four routes: the Red, Blue, Brown, and Yellow Walks. Red will take approximately an hour and a half to complete, Blue approximately two hours, followed by Brown at three hours, then Yellow coming in at three and a half hours in total.

All the trails are well-signposted and easy to follow, and once you’re within the forest shade, the temperature cools to a more comfortable degree. You will also likely come across some streams with running water that you will want to splash onto your neck before moving on.

As mentioned, this forest is home to many of Hong Kong’s wildlife. Because many of these creatures are elusive and nocturnal, you can join guided night walks that may bring you sightings of the red muntjac or barking deer, porcupines, wild boars, owls, and, if you’re extremely lucky, even the leopard cat.

The mountain streams in the Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve are also natural habitats for amphibians such as Hong Kong newts and various species of frogs, including Romer’s Tree Frog, which is endemic to Hong Kong. May to August is also the breeding season for fireflies, so you might also be able to see these romantic creatures light up the sky!

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Photo credit: @hwsung_2000 (Instagram)
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Pokfulam Reservoir to Aberdeen

Lots of people do this walk in conjunction with the Hong Kong Trail Section 1, which leads from the Peak to Pokfulam, but this is a nice scenic hike in itself that also ensures you don’t get sidetracked by all the eateries at the Peak!

Take buses 4, 7, 37A, 37B, 91, or 94 from Central and alight at the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road stop; the start of the trail is along this same road. Look out for the big blue sign bearing the Water Supplies Department’s logo, and head down the open path to its right which will lead to the reservoir. You’ll have to conquer some steep steps that bring you up to the southwestern edges of the Peak, but the trail will flatten out after the ascent. Both the steps and the trail paths are paved so you don’t really have to worry about footing.

The trail then slopes down towards the southernmost point, from which you’ll be able to enjoy scenic views of Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau. After a 30-minute walk along Peel Rise, you’ll reach the end where you can turn right and head down into Aberdeen. Alternatively, turn left to make a detour along the Upper and Lower Aberdeen Reservoirs. You’ll then be able to catch plenty of public transport on either Aberdeen Reservoir Road or Aberdeen Main Road.

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Yim Tin Tsai

Also known as Salt Island—with a Cantonese name that directly translates to ‘Little Salt Pan’—Yim Tin Tsai was first populated by Hakka settlers in the nineteenth century. At its peak during the 1940s, it once housed approximately 1,200 people who farmed, fished, and produced salt, before urbanisation compelled them to abandon their rural village life and move in the city. For ages, it became a ghost village, until a group of motivated younger generation villagers decided to revive the place for ecotourism.

At Sai Kung Public Pier, approach the numerous kaito ferry operators and look out for those with flags advertising Yim Tin Tsai. Do note that these services only run on weekends and public holidays, and make sure to collect a sticker that will give you visiting access to the salt pans.

The main landmark on Yim Tin Tsai is St Joseph’s Chapel, established by Father Josef Freinademetz in 1879, just around the corner from the pier and perched on the hill. This Italian Romanesque building won a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation in 2005.

From here, simply follow the Heritage Trail as it brings you past the old village school, plenty of abandoned Hakka homes to explore, as well as the now fully functional salt pans. At the end of the trail, the path splits in two; follow the left to get to the village well, and two pavilions which will grant you the best views of the entire island, the surrounding mangroves, the breakwater named Jade-Girdle Bridge, and the Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course connected to Yim Tin Tsai via the bridge.

The whole island is compact enough to explore in two or three hours, and there are a couple of small restaurants where you can sit down for some local refreshments while waiting for the kaito back to Sai Kung.

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor-at-large

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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