Header image courtesy of @hungjacky (via Instagram)
As the highest peak in all of the city, Tai Mo Shan offers sweeping views of Hong Kong and Shenzhen that are second to none, as well as a handful of convenient camping and picnic spots.
But while most daytrippers will make their way up the foggy mountain via Tai Mo Shan Road or the MacLehose Trail (Stage Eight), the lesser-known trail via Ng Tung Chai village promises a much wilder and more adventurous time. Plus, you’ll get to see not one, not two, but four waterfalls along the way (and herds of cows, if you’re lucky)!
Tai Mo Shan is the highest peak in Hong Kong, with a total elevation of 957 metres. It is also the tallest coastal peak in Southern China and located at the geographical centre of the New Territories (approximately). While seasoned hikers might already be familiar with the trail to Tai Mo Shan starting from Shing Mun Reservoir leading up to MacLehose Trail (Stage Seven) all the way to Needle Hill, Grassy Hill, and Lead Mine Pass, our trail takes you through a scenic route scattered with waterfalls, rocky outcrops, and bamboo forests. Who needs Kyoto—we’ve got our own!
Do note that due to the incline and distance of this hike, as well as the wilderness elements of the Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls trail, we would classify this as an intermediate to advanced hike. Many parts of the trail are not well-maintained or paved, there are sections that are quite narrow, and some areas are really steep, so do take care. Wear proper shoes suitable for hikes—no sandals or flip-flops here—and make sure to pack enough water and snacks.
Distance: 12 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Total ascent: 940 metres
Total time: 6 hours approx.
The hike to Tai Mo Shan via Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls starts from Ng Tung Chai village on Lam Kam Road. There are two different ways to get to the start of the trail, depending on which of the following MTR stations is closer to you:
The road up to Ng Tung Chai village is clearly marked, and this is where you’ll start your hike. Already quite early on, you will find that the road gradually inclines as it approaches the village. About 10 minutes in, you’ll come to a fork in the road—take the ramp on the right with the sign for Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls. If ever in doubt, just remember to take the path that points towards Tai Mo Shan via the waterfalls.
Eventually, you’ll pass through a beautiful gate; this is the Man Tak Path Obelisk and it will lead you to the Man Tak Yuen Temple, a Taoist temple that marks the official start of the trail. Feel free to take a break on the benches, gulp some water, snap a few pics, and most importantly of all, prepare yourself for some arduous climbing.
Once past Man Tak Yuen Temple and its mini-waterfall (not worth stopping, there are better ones to come), you will arrive at a fork in the road, with a large sign for Tai Mo Shan Country Park. The right-hand path will take you all the way up to Tai Mo Shan, but it bypasses all the waterfalls. Thus, ignore the right-hand path and continue straight, following the signpost of “Tai Mo Shan via Waterfalls.” See, easy.
The terrain now becomes rugged and the path consists mostly of rocks embedded into the sloping mountainside—get used to these quasi stairs, as they form the majority of the hike up to the waterfalls. The climb is gruelling, but the rewards are worth it. After 30 minutes or so, you’ll arrive at Bottom Fall, but you’ll have to climb down a set of steep and narrow steps to bask in this picturesque glory, surrounded by rocks, trees, and moss.
When you’re ready to continue, return to the main trail and keep climbing. From Bottom Fall, Middle Fall is only five to seven minutes away; you’ll soon hear the sounds of a gushing waterfall. Middle Fall is already much grander and more majestic than the first waterfall, so we would recommend taking some time to take it all in and stay here for a break; the trail from Middle Fall to Main Fall is challenging.
As you climb, the rocky steps will become larger and steeper. At times, you’ll have to use your hands to pull yourself up. The trail also becomes narrower, so take care when you’re hiking with others and exercise caution when letting people pass. There will be times when you encounter hikers coming from the opposite direction and there isn’t enough space for everyone to pass simultaneously.
Don’t get discouraged; the climb is long, the stairs are steep, the incline continuous, and it feels never-ending but eventually, you’ll hear the rushing waves of the Main Fall. It is the tallest among the Ng Tung Chai waterfalls, culminating in a large and shallow pool. There’s a viewing platform that’s great for pictures from a height, but we definitely recommend going down to the rocks to explore and splash around. Since there is still some ways to go before you reach Tai Mo Shan, this is an ideal place to take a rest.
The last stop on the waterfalls tour is Scatter Fall. It’s right above Main Falls, and it’s a tough climb. It’s the smallest of the four waterfalls on the trail, but it’s gorgeous and worth visiting. While the waterfalls are especially impressive after a rainy bout, we do not recommend hiking while it’s raining—tragedies have occurred at the falls and it’s easy to lose your footing among the rocks when they’re slippery. Instead, it is safest to wait until conditions are dry.
Once you’ve had your fill of Scatter Fall, it’s time to proceed up to Tai Mo Shan. Continue on the path next to Scatter Fall until the terrain flattens out and you arrive at a fork in the road, with a map of the area to your right-hand side. Follow the path to your left to get to Tai Mo Shan peak; the path on the right will lead you back down to Ng Tung Chai village and Man Tak Yuen Temple.
Keep going! The climb and incline continue with brief moments of levelled-out reprieve, which your legs will be grateful for. The huge boulder steps eventually dissipate and give way to slopes and dirt roads that are a lot more manageable. You’ll pass through a beautiful bamboo-flanked path; take your time here, as this is one of the last places where you’ll get some decent shade from the sun. We must point out that for the duration of the hike, there are no places for you to replenish your snacks and water (unless you bring water-purifying tablets or a water bottle with a filtration system), so be sure to pack enough sustenance to last the entire trip.
Once you clear the forest and wilderness, you’ll see a wooden pavilion situated at a fork in the road. Take a rest here (it’ll be the only shade you’ll see for a while) and consult the park map. You’ll often come across other hikers with drones at this spot, as it provides a great vantage point for filming around Tai Mo Shan.
If you’ve come this far, it means you’ve reached Tai Mo Shan Road, which melds with the MacLehose Trail (Stage Eight). Schlep your way up the paved road until you reach the unmissable Tai Mo Shan Weather Radar Station, which should take about an hour from the pavilion. On a clear day, you can easily spot the weather station, a cylindrical structure topped with a great white ball.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the top of Tai Mo Shan! Lap up the views, take a few pictures to commemorate your success, find a grassy patch to park your behind, bless your weary legs for carrying you this far, and share the last of your trail mix. After that, it’s time to decide how to make your way back down to civilisation.
From the Tai Mo Shan Weather Radar Station, there is only one road down in order to get to Route Twisk. Continue down Tai Mo Shan Road and you will reach the Tai Mo Shan Top Car Park. A little further down from there and you’ll notice where the MacLehose Trail (Stage Eight) branches off from the main road.
You could choose to either finish your hike via Tai Mo Shan Road (watch out for the cars!) or take the trail, which is paved with steps and goes through the forest. Either one will get you down the mountain and to the Rotary Club Campsite, which is where your hike ends.
Don’t forget to make a pitstop at Sister Lin’s iconic kiosk by the Rotary Club Campsite, dotted with pictures of Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat. She is a beloved fixture of the trail and doted on by the area’s many frequent hikers and cyclists. Plus, she whips up a damn good low-sugar soy milk and you can reward yourself with fresh batches of fish siu mai and curry fishballs after your long trip. We would recommend to bring and use your own water bottles and lunchboxes here as well since Sister Lin serves her foods in plastic bags.
Continue down the road next to the kiosk to get to Route Twisk, where you can grab a taxi to either Tsuen Wan or Kam Sheung Road to catch the MTR. Depending on how many hikers are around that day, it could get difficult flagging a taxi, so you might be better off calling one via the HKTaxi app or getting a car on Uber. You can also catch bus 51M to Tsuen Wan and then switch to the MTR.