Header image courtesy of @shanshann99 (via Instagram)
Hong Kong’s remarkable collection of quirky, animal-shaped rocks is one of the many things that earns the city its reputation as a geological haven. While many people are no stranger to the exalted Lion Rock or Rhino Rock, did you know about the rugged toad-shaped outcrop quietly perched on the northern side of High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung?
Kam Kui Shek Teng (蠄蟝石頂), which aptly translates to “Toad Stone Peak” in Chinese, is a 150-metre hexagonal basalt column atop a mountain next to High Island Reservoir. Reachable by a moderately challenging trek from Sai Wan Pavillion, the uniquely shaped rock is a spectacular destination in itself, but what makes it really worth the trip are the unrivalled vistas it commands of High Island Reservoir and its surrounding hilly knolls.
If rocky wonders and majestic views overlooking secluded waters sound like your idea of a good time, then put on your hiking shoes and follow our guide to hiking Kam Kui Shek Teng!
The sublime beauty of High Island Reservoir is no hidden secret. As the only part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark that’s accessible by foot, the reservoir’s burnt red hexagonal volcanic columns and lofty sea caves have long been sought out by avid hikers and outdoor-loving recreationists.
While the most popular route to explore the world-class geosite is the 10-kilometre trail from Pak Tam Chung, which takes you all the way to the East Dam, we’d argue that the reservoir is just as breathtaking from up and above as it in immediate range. Enter Kam Kui Shek Teng—an off-the-beaten-path mountain peak just north of High Island Reservoir that displays the area’s scenery in all its grand, pristine glory.
Rising 178 metres above sea level, Kam Kui Shek Teng is like nature’s very own observation platform. A feast for the eyes on every front, the giant rock column vaguely resembles a toad from a distance and bears a honeycomb-like structure that can be witnessed from up-close. Standing on top of the jutting outcrop, you’ll further be privy to some of the most picturesque outlooks of High Island Reservoir, Wang Tau Tun, and Sai Wan Shan!
Totalling just under six kilometres round-trip and doable in under three hours, the hike does not intimidate by sheer length, but rather the narrow, unpaved terrain in the last section. It is best tackled by those with a bit of hiking experience, as you will be expected to bushwhack your way through some dense forests and shrubbery—this means long sleeves and proper hiking shoes are a must. Much of the route is also fairly exposed, so be sure to double up on sunscreen and bring a hat to prevent sunburn!
Distance: 6 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Total ascent: 249 metres approx.
Total time: 2 to 3 hours approx.
The trailhead is found right next to Sai Wan Pavilion, situated in a far eastern alcove in Sai Kung. Although a bit of a middle-of-nowhere location to the uninitiated, Sai Wan Pavillion is actually a starting point for a number of hikes in eastern Sai Kung and is reachable directly by village bus 29R from Sai Kung Town. If the bus is not an option (as service can be infrequent), you could also take a taxi to get there.
As the first leg of the hike coincides with a flat and fully paved route to Sai Wan Beach, your journey begins with something of a pleasant amble. The trail starts out fairly shaded, but soon the tall trees give way to discontinuous vegetation cover and low-lying shrubs, freeing the eye to roam the surrounding landscape. Through the breaks in foliage, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of High Island Reservoir and Kam Kui Shek Teng from a distance—a teaser for the progressively more impressive visual rewards to come!
The initial section of the hike will be a breeze. However, things will take an uphill turn at around the 30-minute mark, where you’ll meet a long set of steps bringing you up to a small pavilion and a four-way intersection. At the junction, turn on the stone stairs to your right, following the sign pointing towards Long Ke.
What follows is a 10-minute stretch of straight ascent, with the trail getting more exposed and the terrain a little rockier. Continue ahead until you reach a sign for the MacLehose Trail, along with a small spur path on your right leading up to Kam Kui Shek Teng—the entryway is rather obscure, so stay alert so as not to miss it!
Once you’ve switched onto the dirt path, it’s just a matter of going up—though it’s easier said than done. Plunging you into a tangle of overgrown bushes, this section requires a fair bit of footwork and technical skills, especially when navigating through parts of the trail that seems to disappear into the bushes. Luckily, you won’t have to worry much about getting off-track, thanks to the ribbons along the way that have been left by past intrepid hikers.
Better yet, the giant toad-shaped stone will be in view most of the way, acting as your guiding compass. The trail is mostly a straightforward path with little to no detours, but it does take a swerve to the right before returning back on track, so don’t be alarmed by the brief deflection.
After grinding out the arduous final stretch, you will finally arrive at the summit, where the prized rock column awaits like a winning trophy at the finish line. You’ll need to do a bit of scrambling to reach the best vantage points at the top of the 150-metre behemoth, but thankfully, there are a handful of small auxiliary rock columns and boulders to act as stepping stones, making the climb fairly doable.
At the highest point, you’ll be treated with incredible 360-degrees views of the eastern Sai Kung, with the gleaming turquoise expanse of High Island Reservoir right beneath your feet. Pro tip: If you want to take your photos to the next level, using a drone will get you the most epic wide-sweeping aerial shots!
To head back down, retrace your steps to get back onto Maclehose Trail Stage Two. From there, you can either return to the starting point at Sai Wan Pavilion and take the same village bus back out to Sai Kung Town, or alternatively, turn towards Sai Wan Beach at the four-way junction and take a refreshing dip in one of Sai Kung’s most beautiful and secluded beaches! After you’re done soaking in the sun and salty air, book a speedboat from Sai Wan beach to get back to Sai Kung.