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Take a Hike: How to hike to Tai Tam via Braemar Hill and Mount Butler

By Inés Fung 6 May 2020

Header image courtesy of @georgeanddelilah (Instagram)

The hills surrounding Tai Tam Reservoir have always been a popular hiking spot, but aside from Violet Hill and Mount Parker, the other trails around the area seem to be under-explored. In this guide, we’ll show you a moderately challenging hike that’ll take you from the quiet suburbs of Braemar Hill to everyone’s favourite reservoir group, with scenic views of Hong Kong Island East and two little waterfalls to boot.

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Photo credit: @nickitaleung (Instagram)

Overview & fast facts

This accessible hike on Hong Kong Island East has two different peaks to conquer, but the waterfalls and scenery make it all worth it. Clocking in at three hours with no breaks, the hike is approximately eight kilometres in total taking you from Braemar Hill to Sir Cecil’s Ride, then Siu Ma Shan and Mount Butler, and finally Tai Tam Reservoir. The views from this hike are hard to beat, spanning everywhere from Junk Bay (Tseung Kwan O) to IFC. Mount Butler stands at 436 metres and Siu Ma Shan is slightly shorter at 424 metres, and the viewpoints at the top of both are spectacular. The ending point at Tai Tam Reservoir is chock-full of interesting history, too.

We would classify this as a moderate hike, as some parts of the trail involve lengthy steps and scrambling up muddy unmarked paths. Most of it is shaded and paved, making for a comfortable respite from the heat if you tackle this hike in the summer. It’s definitely a tiring workout though so we wouldn’t recommend bringing the kids along unless it’s just for the reservoir. There are toilets at the beginning and midway point, as well as a supermarket near Braemar Hill bus terminus. As always, bring sun protection and plenty of water and supplies, and don’t forget to take your trash with you!

Distance: 8 kilometres approx.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Total ascent: 436 metres

Total time: 3 hours approx.

How to get there 

The hike starts near the top of Braemar Hill, a quiet suburb above North Point that’s historically been home to fine schools and educators as well as members of the police force. There are multiple buses and minibuses that’ll take you to the main bus terminus near Braemar Peak, and from there, it’s easy to find the start of the hike at St Joan of Arc Secondary School.

From Causeway Bay
  1. Get on minibus 25 for Braemar Hill outside Cinema City at Jade Pearl Plaza, opposite H&M.
  2. Stay on and enjoy the scenery.
  3. Alight at the Braemar Hill Bus Terminus.
  4. Cross the road and down the steps to St Joan of Arc Secondary School.
From North Point
  1. Hop on bus 27 for Braemar Hill from North Point Ferry Pier.
  2. Alight at the Braemar Hill Bus Terminus.
  3. Cross the road and down the steps to St Joan of Arc Secondary School.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the guide 👇

Photo credit: @hikingstoryhk (Instagram)

The hike

The hike will take you to Sir Cecil’s Ride Stream first, a small but accessible mini-waterfall named after Sir Cecil Clementi, Hong Kong’s Governor from 1925 to 1930. Take the path to the left of St Joan of Arc Secondary School and up the steps and ramp, then continue to the main path and keep going left when you see the Braemar Hill Reservoir. This part of the trail is shaded and flat, and after about 10 minutes, you’ll reach Sir Cecil’s Ride Stream. It’s not the most impressive of streams, especially if it hasn’t rained in a while, but it’s a nice spot to listen to the water babbling while limbering up for the rest of the hike. When you’re ready, turn right from the little rest pavilion with the map and climb the stairs that’ll take you one step closer towards Tai Tam Reservoir.

The trail here remains flat and shaded, save for a few well-maintained steps along the ridge behind the many housing estates on Braemar Hill. You’ll reach a small park where the trail turns left. Continue along until you reach a second, larger park marked with an arch. This is where the trail graduates from being a walk in the park(s) to challenging, involving bushwhacking through an unmarked trail to get to a scenic viewpoint of Hong Kong Island East.

Hong Kong Island East Viewpoint

Proceed up the steps beside the chin-up bar in the park, and turn right. There is a path on the left that you may be tempted to take as it’s well-trodden and not a steep slippery slope, but don’t take it. Find a small opening through the dense bush that leads to a narrow and sometimes muddy path which will take you to a brief flat clearing. From here, climb up another slope until you reach a rocky opening that allows for a view of the dense buildings that make up Quarry Bay and Tai Koo. In the distance, you’ll spot Junk Bay, a small alcove on the other side of the harbour. Once you’re done admiring the view, get back on the path and head uphill towards the mast, where the graffiti-laden Walker Street Signal Station awaits. Thankfully, that’s the last of the bushwhacking.

The trail becomes relatively flat again, and after about five minutes along the path to the right of Walker Street Signal Station, take the concealed path on the left instead of going ahead. This hidden path will take you down to Siu Ma Shan Bridge, the midway point of this hike.

Siu Ma Shan Bridge

Siu Ma Shan Bridge marks the beginning of the ascent up Siu Ma Shan, which has a peak standing at 424 metres and offers a better panoramic view of Hong Kong Island and East Kowloon than the previous viewpoint. Cross the bridge and stretch your legs before embarking on the arduous ascent via a long flight of paved steps that will take you along Wilson Trail Section 2.

After about 15 minutes along the green open ridge of Siu Ma Shan, you’ll reach the peak. On a clear day, this spot offers a bird’s-eye view of everything from Tai Koo all the way to IFC and ICC. It’s easy to forget just how beautiful our city is until you’re up here watching the boats and ferries come in and out of our harbour betwixt the towering skyscrapers that line the water. When you’ve got all the shots of the scenery, carry on along the ridge until you see Tai Tam Reservoir just up ahead. There is another fork in the road towards the end of your descent from Siu Ma Shan—pick the leftmost path to go right back uphill to Mount Butler.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the guide 👇

Photo credit: @georgeanddelilah (Instagram)

Mount Butler

It’s a short climb, but it’s tough. No clambering, though, just a clear path and steps and your clear mind keeping you going. From the top of the Mount Butler Viewpoint, you’ll have wide views of Tai Tam South and the reservoirs. You didn’t hear this from us, but the Mount Butler Viewpoint is perfect for watching the fireworks during national holidays in Hong Kong if you want to avoid the traffic on either side of the harbour and you don’t have access to a rooftop.

Follow the paved path down Mount Butler to get down to the Quarry Gap Pavilion. The park at the pavilion is a convenient meeting spot for people trekking along Mount Parker and Jardine’s Lookout, and it has a public toilet as well so you can relieve yourself if you hadn’t since the beginning of the hike. From this point onwards, the hike is paved and mostly shaded. Phew! There is a path on the right of the map guide that’ll take you down to Tai Tam Reservoir on Mount Parker Road. This half-hour walk to the Upper Dam is shaded by a canopy of trees and you’ll often see joggers and families around.

Photo credit: @cburgdorfer (Instagram)

Tai Tam Reservoir

The Tai Tam Reservoir is a familiar sight to most who’ve hiked in the area or passed by on the way to Stanley. It’s actually made up of four reservoirs: Tai Tam Upper Reservoir, Byewash Reservoir, Intermediate Reservoir, and Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir. The first three were built in 1888 and the last dam in 1912, and they have a total storage capacity of over six million cubic metres of water!

When you reach the Upper Dam, walk across the century-old English style masonry arch aqueduct and bridge and pull a u-turn, which will lead you to some steps that take you back to Mount Parker Road. If you’re interested in learning more about this feat of nineteenth-century human engineering, follow around the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail, or just set up a picnic beside one of the many dam facilities that are still in use to this day! This is where the trail meets Tai Tam Reservoir Road, and you can of course choose to follow any alternate paths to end the hike, but we’ve got one last waterfall to take you to.

Tai Tam Mound Fall

When you get to Tai Tam Reservoir Road, there’ll be a sign for Tai Tam Road via Hong Kong Trail Section 6. Take the steps and follow along the shaded trail until you reach a short bridge overlooking the Tai Tam Mound Fall. Tai Tam Mound Fall is definitely more impressive than your first one on the hike at Sir Cecil’s Ride, with water cascading over two main pools. As tempting as it may be in order to get that perfect shot, we don’t recommend climbing the rocks around the waterfall, as they’re very slippery and the pools of the fall aren’t that deep.

When you’re ready, continue along the pathway for about 10 minutes until you reach Tai Tam Road proper. There is no sidewalk here and the road is often packed with cars heading into Redhill and Stanley, so stay alert. There is a bus stop on the right side of the road; take bus 14 back to Sai Wan Ho MTR or into Stanley or minibus 16A back to Chai Wan Station. Congratulations, you’ve completed this hike!

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Inés Fung

Part-time editor

Currently based in Hong Kong by way of Calgary, Inés has always had a passion for writing and her creative work can be found in obscure literary zines. When she’s not busy scouring the city for the best gin-based cocktail, she can be found curled up with her journal and fur-ever friend Peanut. Don’t be surprised if you cross paths with her and she already knows all your mates.