Header image courtesy of @yukanta (via Instagram)
If you’re looking for a little adventure and are not put off by the lengths it takes to get to this trail (literally), then exploring the old lead mine caves by the border is just the hike for you. On the border of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, in the sleepy, isolated village of Lin Ma Hang—which was not even accessible to non-permit holders up until 2016—lies an abandoned lead mine cave that is steeped in history and scientific significance. We break down several routes and highlight the easiest way to get to the mines so you can explore this blast from the past.
Lin Ma Hang sits in the basin of Robin’s Nest. Up until 2016, the village was inaccessible to non-permit holders as it was a part of the Frontier Closed Area. Since then, the village itself has been excluded from the zoning, but the access road still falls within the closed area and requires permits for those who wish to access the village by road. Lin Ma Hang is also home to a feng shui pond, a Macintosh Fort, and the residence of Ip Ting-sz, a declared monument which was built in 1908 and modelled after Dr Sun Yat-sen’s residence in Zhongshan. It was here that Sun Yat-sen met his friends and collaborators for the revolution of China.
The lead mines of Lin Ma Hang started operating in 1915 in the hopes of procuring copper, lead, and silver. However, over the years, the production from the mines proved disappointing. It was rescinded in 1962 and abandoned that same year. It was then declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1994 as it became one of the most important bat colonies in all of Hong Kong. AFCD has since launched a protection ordinance for these bats, whereby anyone hunting or disturbing these bat colonies will face a hefty fine of $100,000 and a one-year imprisonment sentence. Following that, in 2008, the Lin Ma Hang Stream was also declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as it was home to 50 percent of Hong Kong’s native freshwater fish!
Distance: 12 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Total ascent: 490 metres
Total time: 4 hours approx.
Map courtesy of HK Outdoor Adventures
This isn't the most accessible trail due to the access roads to Lin Ma Hang Village falling under the closed border section, and complicating the transportation coming in and out. However, there are three possible trails to the mines, and we have highlighted how to get to each below.
The easiest way here is by taxi or car. However, those looking to shave some time off the walk by driving up the long, narrow, winding roads of Robin’s Nest would need a first-class degree in reversing. We would advise parking in the mini parking bay at the bottom of the hill and walking up the concrete road.
As mentioned above, due to the current pandemic, we advise skipping the village as an entry point if this can be avoided, due to the large number of elderly residents residing here. Our preferred route will start at the base of Robin’s Nest at the parking bay. Here, follow the concrete road up to the top of the hill for 30 to 45 minutes until you reach the dirt path at the bottom of the radio station, to your left.
From here, you will trek 15 minutes up a steep dirt slope (and you will start to wonder what you have gotten yourself into) but it does even out eventually and the rest of the path is much more manageable. Don’t forget to look back now and then, as the hike offers amazing views over both Shenzhen and Hong Kong while you ascend.
Eventually, the path flattens out and you will come across a fork in the path—a flat path going straight ahead, and some rocky steps to your left. You will want to take the rocky steps to your left. The rest of the way follows a dirt path, marked by ribbons, and is sheltered by trees.
Eventually, you will come out to a clearing with somewhat of a makeshift viewing point to your left. From here, you will want to follow the trail a little while longer until you come across a warning sign, which—ironically—also marks the turning-off point for the mines. You will follow the well-worn dirt path for about 10 to 15 minutes before you come across your first opening to the abandoned mine, which is a sheer drop connecting to the caves, sectioned off behind fences. From here, it’s just another five to 10 minutes until you arrive at the main mine.
As soon as the mines become visible from the path to your right, you have the option to continue on to what appears to be nothing more than a dead-end, overlooking a pile of rubble and debris. However, if you continue on to the edge, you will notice a narrow path to the right, which takes you out to two lower entrances to the mines just at the base of the rubble. If you choose to explore this section, do so at your own risk.
However, the main mine itself is pretty spectacular and is unlike anything you have ever seen before in Hong Kong. From the lower entrances, you have the option to continue along the alternative trail (marked in green) if you do not wish to retrace your steps back to Robin’s Nest to end the walk.
The main mine has several entrances that go further into the caves, which have since been gated to prevent over-zealous explorers venturing too far in. Although the gates had warnings of penalties to those who disturbed the bats, we, unfortunately, saw none. Back in the foreground, there are smaller cave openings to your left. If you head to the bigger entrance of the two openings, the path on the right takes you through to the lower two entrances of the mine. From here, you can follow the alternative trail (marked in green) or you can simply retrace your steps to move on to Lin Ma Hang village, or alternatively rejoin the path you can from and head back to Robin’s Nest.
Continue east from the lower mine entrances along the border’s fence. Here, you will be following the green trail as seen in the map, but in reverse. A majority of this trail is within the woods, with some steep sections. You will find abandoned surveillance points and cross some old gates and warning signs that were previously within the restricted areas. Follow the path downhill until you come across a small bridge, marked with ribbons. Cross over to the village plaza at Ma Tseuk Leng Tsuen. Here, you may catch transportation back to Fanling Station.
If you have decided to carry on towards Lin Ma Hang, retrace your steps back to the main path from the mines, and turn right. Continue along the path, until you see the green Macintosh Fort (pictured) and walk down the stairs to your left. These stairs will lead you to the village as you follow the border, giving you a glimpse of Shenzhen to your right and Lin Ma Hang to your left.
Once you get to the bottom, the village—where the Residence of Ip Ting-sz lies—is to your left. For permit holders, you may catch minibus 79K from the village. Otherwise, follow the access road by foot to your right. If you follow the blue path as seen on the map, this will lead you to an orange stream and the landfill. Follow the trail until you come across a concrete road, Shek Tsai Ha. Cross this road and follow the path along the stream.
From here onto the landfill, the path is relatively easy to follow with some flat stones laid out on the path. There are plenty of ribbons to follow, taking you to Wo Keng Shan Road, and later connecting you to Ng Chow Road. From here, you will pass Tin Hau Temple to your left as you continue along the road to Ta Kwu Ling Rural Government Offices. From here, you may catch minibus 52K to Fanling Station.
If you are planning on doing this hike to explore the mines, you will need the following items:
Plenty of water: Depending on the season and the time of day that you attempt this hike, 1.5 litres per person should be an adequate amount.
Map or a pre-downloaded version of the map above: As you are close to the border, you may lose cellular signal for a while, so it’s best not to rely on Google Maps or mobile phone coverage.
A good pair of walking shoes: Do not wear your old gym shoes from high school with little to no tread. The trail mostly follows a dirt path at an incline, so some walking sticks or hiking poles might also come in handy.
Torch or head-lamp: If you plan on exploring the tunnels, do so at your own risk, but make sure you have some form of lighting with you—it’s a bat’s favourite hiding spot for a reason!
Permit: If you are a permit holder, it may be a good idea to bring this along with you to save you the trouble of having to walk along the access road (if passing through Lin Ma Hang village).