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#852Basics: 5 challenging hiking trails in Hong Kong for experts

By Catharina Cheung 12 November 2019

Make the most of the cool autumn season and challenge yourself with a good hike or two over the weekends. Hong Kong is blessed with mountainous ranges that offer beautiful views, picture-perfect Instagram opportunities, and a good excuse to replace leg day at the gym. Lace up your trainers, do some stretches, and hit up these five challenging trails that are suitable for more seasoned hikers.

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Photo credit: Trover

Sheung Luk Stream waterfall

Thrill-seekers will likely love this hike, as it involves a bit of rock hopping, scrambling up a watercourse, and even the option for cliff diving if that’s your thing. Take the number 29R bus to Sai Wan Pavilion from Sai Kung, where you’ll find a clearly-marked concrete path winding downhill. When you get to the crossroads at Chui Tung Au, forge straight ahead and go down to Sai Wan Village and beach. Fun fact: this beach often has bioluminescent plankton at night, which lights up the waves as they crash against the shore. Before you reach the concrete bridge, leave the track and head through brush and rocks following the stream until you reach the first of the famous emerald pools. This is a popular spot for cliff diving, especially in the hot summer. Making your way upstream will then bring you to the Thousand Silk Falls. The water here only usually runs down in trickles due to the dam at the top, but it’s still a grand sight. Climb up the 25-metre cliff face, sticking to the dry rocks at the side and continue around the pool, all the while heading upwards.The top will offer clear views of Sharp Peak, Tai Long Wan, and Tung Wan Shan. Finish the hike by taking the stairs back down to Sai Wan Pavilion. The whole journey should take roughly three hours. Don’t forget to check the weather before you set out, as the rocks may be dangerously slippery if it rains, and you definitely want to avoid being caught in a flash flood.

Photo credit: HK Files

Ma On Shan trail

If you have a good level of physical fitness and experience with mountainous terrain, try conquering Ma On Shan. This hike takes you up four peaks: Pyramid Hill, Ma On Shan, the Hunch Backs, and Tiu Shau Ngam. Apart from shoes with good grip, you might also want to consider gloves as part of the hike is steep and you might need your hands for boosts.Take the number 3 minibus opposite Sai Kung wet market, and alight at Po Lo Che, at the junction of Tan Cheung Road and Pak Kong Au Road. Head up the Ma On Shan Country Trail, towards the path marked to Ngong Ping. This isn’t the Ngong Ping of 360 fame, but a plateau offering panoramic views of Sai Kung, popular with paragliders and picnic goers. Take the path near the edge of the plateau and climb Pyramid Hill, continuing down the other side. Climb Ma On Shan next; the going will be steep, but the views from the top are spectacular. Wind down along the ridgeline, taking care not to misstep, as there are just steep slopes on either side, until you reach the Hunch Backs, where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Ma On Shan new town. The final and most difficult section of the hike is up to Tiu Shau Ngam, making your way along steep trails and jagged rocks with the occasional help of rope supports. Join the Ma On Shan Family Walk and end your journey at the Ma On Shan barbecue site, where you can catch a village bus to the MTR. The whole trip should take under six hours.

Yuk Kwai Shan (Mount Johnson)

Leave the kids at home, because this is going to be a thrillingly gruelling one! The Yuk Kwai Shan hike is actually a comparatively short one, with most hikers clocking in at two to three hours, but it does involve some rappelling and scrambling around on hands and knees. Take Exit B at Lei Tung MTR station and walk to the bus terminus; the start of the trail is hidden behind the wooden benches and up the stairs. When you reach the crossroads, you can choose to go left, where you can climb the mountain with a rope, or take the right path, which is more challenging without the rope. At the summit, you’ll be treated to a 360-degree view of Aberdeen, Lamma Island, and the little island of Ap Lei Pai. The descent is the most challenging bit, because you’ll have to rappel down a rope on a steep—at times almost vertical—descent to the sandbank below. You could also gingerly pick your way down, but the rocks and soil are crumbly, so rappelling is a much better (and cooler!) idea. Instead of simply taking the same trail back out, you could go a step further on your adventure, and go round the side of Ap Lei Pai instead.From the lighthouse on the tiny island, which you can get to by walking along the sandbank, follow the western edge of the island. Some parts of the craggy rocks have ropes to grab onto, but you’ll mostly be relying on instinct to navigate the boulders and mountain edge. Further on, you will rejoin the trail at the northern edge of Ap Lei Pai, where you can cross the sandbank again and make your way back. Definitely a fun one!

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Ng Tung Chai waterfall

We can’t get enough of waterfall hikes, even when the weather is mild enough that a dip may not be mandatory, so here’s the hike for Ng Tung Chai waterfall. The whole journey is approximately 3.5 miles of challenging hiking, going up and down steep sections, but you’ll get to come across scenic waterfalls to admire or splash around in, so it’s all worth it. From Tai Wo MTR station, hop onto the number 64K bus or 25K minibus, and alight at Chai Kek stop along Lam Kam Road. Turn up the little sidewalk past Chai Kek Road and continue on until you reach the village; you should see a sign for the Ng Tung Chai Waterfall behind these houses and to the left. At this point, it’s a simple matter of staying on the trail. Before you even reach the main attraction, you’ll pass by a couple of farms, a traditional Chinese archway, a Man Tak Yuen Temple, and a mini-waterfall to get you pumped for what comes next. There are four waterfalls to Ng Tung Chai in total, aptly (if rather unimaginatively) named Bottom Fall, Middle Fall, Main Fall, and Scatter Fall. Have a little swim, or break out some snacks for a quick picnic; either way, stop and admire the raw beauty of these natural falls before moving on.The section to look out for is from Middle Fall to Main Fall, which consists of going up very narrow and steep steps, and then an incline after the stairs end. Also, the climb from the base of Main Fall up to Scatter Fall is short but very steep, with large rocks that you may have to clamber over with your hands. A round-trip hike is roughly 11 kilometres and should take the average hiker three hours to complete without breaks.

Sharp Peak

This is one for the rule-breaking daredevils, as the AFCD has actually recommended against doing this trail altogether. However, it is locally referred to as ‘one peak, four beaches’, which should give you an idea of the splendid views, so Sharp Peak remains popular with experienced hikers. Take the number 7 minibus or number 94 bus from Sai Kung Pier, and alight at Pak Tam Au. Go along MacLehose Trail Section 2 towards Tai Long Wan, then at the fork take the right towards Ham Tim.Further along, you will go through the largely abandoned Chek Keng Village; don’t be creeped out though, because Chek Keng has beautiful surroundings and mudflats teeming with sea wildlife. It might be a good idea to quickly nip into the public toilets here before continuing, as they are the last ones along this hike.Head up to the Tai Long Au pavilion and take the stairs to Sharp Peak Path. Take a defiant photo with the AFCD warning sign where the trees open up, and ready yourself for the strenuous ascent. You may need to clamber up among jagged rocks and loose gravel, so wear gloves and watch your footing—thankfully there are flat segments scattered throughout the climb where you can rest. Up on Sharp Peak’s summit, take in the stunning views of all four of Tai Long Wan’s beaches, along with Tap Mun, Port Island, and the Nam She Wan bay. Go past the summit marker and descend down the peak’s east side. Footing can be precarious on the way down, so always keep your feet perpendicular to the slope and tread steadily. Pat yourself on the back and revel in conquering this seriously challenging hike!

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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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