Header images courtesy of @jepalmer100 and @minjintai (via Instagram)
The gyms are shut, your home workouts aren’t quite giving you the burn you need… We’ve come to your aid with this hectic leg day of a hike. Mount High West is a gorgeous alternative to the Victoria Peak viewpoints, located in between Lung Fu Shan Country Park and Pok Fu Lam Country Park.
You’ll have sweeping views of western Victoria Harbour, Lamma Island, and even Tai Mo Shan at the summit, as well as be able to explore historical slices of Hong Kong’s religious and colonial culture—as long as you dare to tackle the 2,000 or so steps along the way, starting from Kennedy Town! Get your warm-ups done, and let’s hit the road.
Hiking from Kennedy Town to High West is an arduous task for your legs, but thankfully, it pays off in just over an hour's journey. Taking you from the heart of town to some of the best views Hong Kong Island has to offer, the High West trail partly meets up with the evergreen Lung Fu Shan Fitness Trail—more commonly known as the Morning Trail—although it’s far less crowded and oftentimes you may find that you have the trail all to yourself.
At just 494 metres, High West may not be as tall as the nearby Victoria Peak, but it does offer lovely scenery of areas you may not get to see as much, such as Pokfulam Reservoir, Cyberport, West Kowloon, and Lamma Island. We would recommend the Mount High West hike for a solid beginner looking for a challenge, as tackling roughly 2,000 steep steps is no joke.
That said, this hike is still family- and pet-friendly, so if you’re looking for a quick workout suitable for the whole gang, with history lessons to boot, High West is the one for you. You’re never far from civilisation at any point, there are heaps of rest points, and the best part is that it’s mostly shaded!
Aside from the steep sandy path during your final summit to Mount High West, the hike is gentle and well-maintained, but be sure to wear proper footwear. You’ll only need about a litre of water for this hike, and if you run out there are shops at the Peak Galleria or water fountains at the Hatton Road Garden where you can refill your bottle. One more thing to note: It does get windy up on High West, so make sure you bring a light windbreaker.
Distance: 3 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate
Total ascent: 494 metres
Total time: 1 to 2 hours approx.
The hike begins in Kennedy Town, where you’ll already be warming up with the steps leading up the hill from Sands Street. The closest MTR station is Kennedy Town, which is the western end of the Island Line. There are also bus stops that’ll drop you off close to the start. Should you choose to skip the initial stairs, the High West hike starting point proper is at the Sandy Bay Gap Sinopec gas station, which you can access via HKU station as well. But come on, you wouldn’t pass up on the challenge, right?
From Kennedy Town:
There is also a bus stop nearby on Belcher’s Street, labelled as Sands Street stop, serviced by buses 5X, 10, 101 and 104. Buses 5X and 10 run along Hong Kong Island, so you can catch it anywhere from Causeway Bay onwards, and if you’re over on the dark side, the 101 and 104 will take you across the Harbour Crossing easily. When you alight, continue down Belcher’s Street on your right and turn left to reach the steps.
The hike begins on the corner of Sands Street, and for the first 20 minutes or so you will still be walking through town, albeit a quieter part of town. Get on the wide set of steps—don’t cheat and take the elevator up instead! After about 200 metres, you’ll see another set of stairs on your left with a big white sign with red Chinese lettering indicating that the Lo Pan Temple is just up the steps. Go up to reach Ching Lin Terrace, where the snug and slightly rundown Lo Pan Temple has stood since 1884.
It was built to honour Lo Pan, the patron saint of Chinese builders and carpenters, as the Kennedy Town and Shek Tong Tsui was full of such workers in the early twentieth century. Though it’s fallen into a bit of disarray, the locals still maintain it and love to stretch their bones in the courtyard. When you’re done admiring the temple, take the stairs on the right at the end of Ching Lin Terrace that will take you to Pok Fu Lam Road. That’s your first 300 steps or so done.
Once you’re on Pok Fu Lam Road, the true starting point of the hike lies ahead, beside the petrol station. To reach the other side of the busy road where the gas station is, keep walking ahead until you hit an underground walkway. At the bottom of the stairs, turn left then left again to bring you back out to where you need to be. On the left of the petrol station, slightly hidden by some trees, is the first difficult climb you’ll have to do on this hike.
You’ll find yourself faced with a seemingly never-ending flight of stairs (in reality, it’s only about 200 steps, but they are pretty freaking steep and it’s easy to lose your footing if you’re going down), but if you get tired halfway up there is a small rest area with a pavilion and some massage stones that overlooks the HKU campus.
Head up and right past the rest area, then up and right again until you reach a slight paved road where the path forks. Follow the signs towards Pinewood Battery and take the flight of steps on the left of the forked path until you reach a flat paved road—a well-deserved breather from stairs. Congrats, that’s about 600 steps in total that you’ve smashed in this section!
There is a slight incline to this paved road, but it’ll be a breeze compared to all the stairs you’ve just climbed. Continue along through the quiet trail, where, every so often, you’ll feel the warm sunshine streaming down through the dense foliage. The Japanese have a word for this gentle light that dances amongst the trees: komorebi (木漏れ日). If your legs are already burning, just take it easy as you stroll through the forest here.
As you ascend, the view starts getting better, and soon you’ll be looking over the tops of the towering Belchers residential complex. You’ll then reach a junction on the paved road, with a bench and an old piece of equipment resembling a coat rack on your right. Take the left junction here to get on a path that’ll lead you to where this trail meets the Morning Trail.
You can choose to continue along the gentle paved road after turning left, but since this is a leg burnout challenge, take the small flight of stone steps on your right to venture into a dense bamboo forest. These stairs will take you to Pinewood Battery, which was once Hong Kong’s highest coastal defence post.
If you thought the trail so far has been quiet, wait till you get to the Battery itself, where you could probably hear a pin drop under the rustling of the trees. The area preceding Pinewood Battery has been converted into a rest and picnic area, so feel free to take another breather here if those stone steps have winded you a bit. Soak up the history of the main battery area, where you’ll observe that even though the gun battery, magazine, command post, and observation posts are all a bit weathered, they’re still very well-maintained seeing as they've been out of use since the end of the Second World War.
Pinewood Battery, at approximately 300 metres above sea level, was originally constructed by the British military in 1905 to strengthen the defence of the western harbour. After warfare shifted from sea to air, it was made into an anti-aircraft battery in 1930. During the Battle of Hong Kong, in December 1941, the area was heavily air raided and Pinewood Battery fell out of use until it was declared a historic monument in 2009. There’s a short heritage trail here that circles the Battery, full of more fun facts and historical knowledge, and could be a welcome respite from the long trek up you have ahead of you.
When you’ve had your fill of historical warfare, walk straight on through to the barbecue sites, then head up the stairs past it towards The Peak. From this point onwards the path joins up with the Morning Trail, where you’ll reach the Hatton Road Garden that has a public toilet, some workout equipment, and even a small playground for the tots. Take another breather as you’ve just ascended about 300 stairs, and prepare yourself for the final summit to High West on the so-called “Treacherous Trail.”
Walk straight through the playground until you reach a short set of stairs leading down, then follow the path until you reach a dirt clearing. On the left of this clearing, there is a small white sign indicating the start of a very steep, very tiring flight of—wait for it—600 stairs. We promise it’s worth it! The steps here are a bit looser, so watch your step as you climb up to the summit of Mount High West.
Voilà! Approximately 2,000 steps later, you’ll have reached the highest point of western Hong Kong Island: Mount High West. With vast, uninterrupted views of not only the dense skyline of Hong Kong Island and West Kowloon, but also Pok Fu Lam, Lamma Island, and even Tsing Ma Bridge leading onto Lantau Island, Mount High West rivals its neighbouring Victoria Peak in terms of beauty.
The breeze up on this summit is also gorgeous and will cool you off after that steep trek up. We may have all seen these views before, but every time still feels like the first time when it comes to our breathtaking harbour and cityscape. When you’re done taking pictures, clamber down the Treacherous Trail until you reach the Hatton Road rest area again, where you can choose to carry on to the Peak Galleria via the Morning Trail, or retrace those hectic 2,000 steps back down to Kennedy Town or Shek Tong Tsui. All in all, a quick but challengingly fun hike, right in your backyard if you live in the Central to Kennedy Town areas.