Header image courtesy of @tramyero (via Instagram)
Also known as Ngau Ngak Shan (牛押山), the Hunchbacks is a challenging climb that involves glove work and navigating overgrown paths, all under the sun. Its central location amongst other trails in the Ma On Shan Country Park has made the Hunchbacks a popular hike for outdoor enthusiasts hoping to get some reps in, Instagram influencers looking to capture some quality shots, or just people who wants a challenge. Grab a friend, (multiple) bottles of water, some gloves, and some sunscreen, and head up onto the Hunchbacks!
The Hunchbacks, when connected with West Horse Belly, makes up the namesake for Ma On Shan, as the entire mountain range resembles the saddle of a horse. As such, the trans-literal meaning of Ma On Shan is “Horse Saddle Mountain.” The Hunchbacks is known for both its physical challenge to all hikers, but also its eagle-eye view of the Tolo Harbour, and across the New Territories towards Tai Po and Science Park.
Housing one of the tallest mountains in Hong Kong, Ma On Shan used to be the cornerstone for a booming iron ore industry, but has since been abandoned when the trade died out in the 1970s. Nowadays, the quick access from Ma On Shan city centre to the mountains makes it a popular location for day trips, given that many of these trails connect to Sai Kung.
The Hunchbacks in particular has repeatedly been ranked as a difficult trail, especially when you include all the small side trails that hiking groups like to use to train. Given the steep climbs during the initial ascent, it is heavily recommended that hikers bring gloves and sturdy athletic shoes.
Distance: 7.2 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 517 metres approx.
Total time: 6 hours approx.
The Hunchbacks is located in Ma On Shan Country Park, so unless you live in eastern New Territories, there will be some trekking involved. Fortunately, the area is well-connected with public transportation options.
The most popular starting point for the Hunchbacks starts at the apex of the Ma On Shan Family Walk, which will be a 10-minute climb up some stairs. Despite its constant flow of traffic, the entrance at the top is slightly discreet and discourages unsuspecting hikers from accidentally meandering up the path.
Climb over the rope fence by the danger sign and follow the path up, with some nylon rope for guidance. After a bit of clambering, you will arrive at a second warning sign, with an immediate climb to start.
Continue on towards the right until the road splits, with the path on the left doubling back to a cliffside viewing point for photos. While the trail has shaded areas, the bulk of it is directly under the sun, so stay hydrated as you feast your eyes (and Instagram feed) on the waterfront area overlooking Tai Shui Hang, Heng On, and across the inlet towards Science Park and Tai Po.
Continues onwards to the right from the original fork, bringing you into some shade and two stretches of upward climbing. You will be assisted first by tree branches, then a thick nylon rope dangling down a rock-face directly under the sun. Take a right then a left at the next two junctions, and you’ll arrive at the Hunchbacks!
From here, the actual path is quite straight-forward, as you just need to follow the ridge until you climb back up to the “head” of the horse. It has a black and white marker to symbolise your success in tackling the Hunchbacks! To leave, there will be a litter sign facing your path to continue on.
Be careful though—an increase in traffic on the trail has led the downwards-sloping road to become dusty and slippery, so good hiking boots, a hiking stick, or a careful shuffle-step is recommended. Not long after, the path evens out, and it becomes a comfortable walk on flat grounds, surrounded by tall grass.
There are a few ways to leave the Hunchbacks, depending on where you want to end up and how much more you want to hike. The trail eventually intersects with Section 4 of the MacLehose Trail.
With your back to where you just came from, there are three paths. The path directly in front leads to a viewing platform, and not a viable exit option. The path to the right will bring you on a 30-minute trek, where the first junction will bring you up to Pyramid Hill. Alternatively, the second junction loops you around to a rest pavilion. At the rest pavilion, the path to the right will bring you to Heng On Estate, which will be another 30-minute journey back to your starting point at Ma On Shan Country Park BBQ site.
Heading to the left will bring you on an hour-long downward and shaded descent into Sai Kung. After the initial stretch of stairs, you will follow the path at the base to the right along the MacLehose Trail. At the next fork in the road, the option to the right will take you to Nam Shan Tsuen, whereas you will follow the MacLehose Trail to the left for another 20-minute walk through a bamboo forest area before coming to the main road. Continue to the right up the slope and another right along Chuk Yeung Road.
There will be another fork in the road, at which the MacLehose Trail continues to the left through Kei Ling Ha Forest. Instead of following the MacLehose Trail here, make another right turn towards the direction of the rest pavilion.
At this point, the path should be well-paved and fit for cars, and just a continuous downhill ride until you arrive at the Mau Min Shan Village Supply Tank, which also marks a split in the road. Head to the right until you reach the intersection of Shan Liu Road and Lung Mei Tung Road, which is also marked with a rest pavilion that has a seating area that doubles as a Chinese checkers table.
Follow Lung Mei Tung Road to the right for another five minutes and enter Jade Villa through the main gates. Past the pool, there is a narrow, unmarked path immediately to the side that runs alongside the pool, leading back into the trees. Take a right onto Muk Min Shan Road, past the public bathrooms, until you reach Tai Mong Tsai Road, marked by the public garbage collection point. Here, you can choose to catch bus 94, 96R, or 99 in both directions. If you cross the street, the buses will take you into Sai Kung Town. If you stay on the same side, the buses will take you towards Sha Tin, Ma On Shan, or Diamond Hill.