Header images courtesy of @fishlam_hk and @joechenphotography (via Instagram)
For a city so hell-bent on comfort and self-optimisation, there will always be those who prefer to exercise within the confines of a time-efficient spin class or luxury gym complete with its own juice bar and spa facilities. That said, Hong Kong remains a place where hiking is a way of life, much more than a pastime or casual activity.
Sure, you will get the occasional sceptic who contemplates whether hiking is but a glorified form of walking, but when studies have shown the positive health benefits of steady, slow-paced cardio coupled with nature therapy, we’re inclined to believe that there’s a special reason hiking is such a biophilic pillar to Hong Kong life.
Before the sweltering heat gets the best of us all, make sure you find time to visit Tate’s Cairn in Ma On Shan Country Park, where silvergrass sightings and impressive views of the Hong Kong Observatory’s spherically spectacular radar station make for unmissable landmarks. Follow our guide to hiking this epic mountain!
Tate’s Cairn—also known as Tai Lo Shan (大老山; “Big Brother Mountain”)—is prized as one of Hong Kong’s best hikes for its picturesque views, close proximity to well-connected transportation, and paced pilgrimage.
Sitting adjacent to Kowloon Peak, the magic of Tate’s Cairn is not fully realised until you reach the summit, preferably at golden hour as the setting sun reflects on sprawling vistas. For families, this is an especially great hike to try out over the weekend since its trail is mostly flat, though it does take fairly long to complete.
Distance: 5.5 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 583 metres approx.
Total time: 3 to 4 hours approx.
Tate’s Cairn sits within Ma On Shan Country Park, so there are multiple ways to hike this trail. For the purpose of our guide, we will start from the New Territories side (as opposed to the Kowloon side), as this will make for an easier climb for the most part. From the Kowloon side, be prepared to tackle a lot of stairs.
Starting from the pavilion that marks the beginning of the Tate’s Cairn trail, it’s pretty much a straight shot for the first part of the hike, where you will stroll alongside burbling streams and under lush foliage. Walking for about 45 minutes, the hike will take you to Sha Tin Pass, which is between Temple Hill and Unicorn Ridge.
Along with other summits like Beacon Hill and Crow’s Nest, these mountains are immortalised in the literal naming of Kowloon, which is anglicised from its original Cantonese name (九龍; “Nine Dragons”). Referring to the eight peaks of the Kowloon Ridge, it is believed that Song dynasty emperor Zhao Bing used the mountains to inspire his naming of the area, adding the ninth “dragon” an ode to himself. Emperors—they can be so vain.
Eventually, you’ll come to a fork in the road. Turn left and go up the stairs, as turning right will lead you down to the stream. Not long after, you’ll cross a bridge with a small waterfall to your left. Shortly after, there’s a barbecue and picnic site, so you can opt to take your break here to fuel up and enjoy the pastoral scenery.
Once you’re ready, continue past the barbecue site and follow the stone path. Shortly after, will come across a bulletin board, where the forest trail intersects with the paved road of Sha Tin Pass. Head left and continue up the road. Stock up at the convenience store, and then continue along the road, keeping left when you see the red-and-green pavilion, also called the Lion’s Pavilion, marking the entrance to Lion Rock Country Park.
Allow your natural instincts to follow the sound of the stream and hummingbirds as you continue walking along Sha Tin Pass Road, intercepting Section 4 of the Wilson Trail. If you’re lucky, you could even spot a primate or two hiding amongst the terrains! You will soon come to a fork in the road with Kwun Ping Road on the left. Keep right to continue along Sha Tin Pass Road. When you get to the next fork in the road with a pavilion on the right, head left onto Fei Ngo Shan Road. Keep following the road until you reach the Tate’s Cairn Observatory.
Sightings of silvergrass are the main draw of Tate’s Cairn, which show their golden stalks mostly in autumn, but the weather observatory in itself is worth visiting as well. Once you have climbed up the stairs to the observatory, reward yourself and your camera roll with expansive views of the Kowloon Peninsula!
From here, you can simply head back the way you came to end your hike, or you can return to the main path for the last leg of the trail, which passes the Kowloon Peak viewpoint and Elephant Summit, which is a more challenging climb than the trail up to Tate’s Cairn. From there, you have the option of walking along Fei Ngo Shan Road back to Choi Hung or extending your hike with the remainder of the Wilson Trail, where Suicide Cliff will be your next sighting.