Header image courtesy of @wa._photographer (via Instagram)
Not every hike needs to be a treacherous slog up a mountain to be satisfying. Nestled in one of Hong Kong’s most mature secondary forests, Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve offers a host of easy, family-friendly trails that will take you on an epic adventure of another sort—one that fully envelops you in the magical atmosphere of pristine woodland and feeds the mind, body, and soul.
From meditating to the soothing sounds of trickling streams to getting acquainted with forest birds and endemic amphibians, there’s much that awaits you on these tracks. Here’s your ultimate guide to navigating the fantastic trails of Tai Po Nature Reserve!
Commanding 460 hectares of lush, green terrain in northern New Territories, Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve is extolled for its rich endowment of flora and fauna. As hard as it is to imagine, the heavily forested area you see today was devoid of vegetation just a little over a century ago (having been cleared of trees in the early twentieth century), and only began to take shape with the kick-off of the government’s afforestation scheme in the New Territories in 1926. In the past century, the site has grown into a self-sustaining forest teeming with life, earning its status as a nature reserve in 1977.
Since then, Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve has become a veritable haven for frazzled urbanites looking to escape the urban gridlock and retreat to nature’s comforting embrace—and by that, we really mean you’ll be in one with a bountiful mix of wildlife, plants, and flowers. While the wooded wonderland is widely known for its myriad nocturnal creatures like fireflies and owls, there’s plenty to see even if night treks are not your thing.
Over 160 species of birds, 102 species of butterflies, 50 recorded species of dragonflies, as well as a wide variety of other plants and animals take up residence in these woods. Lucky explorers will find themselves in the company of Hong Kong’s elusive wildlife species, like the leopard cat and barking deer; and budding botanists will enjoy discovering the 100 plus different species of trees, including the endemic Fragrant Litsea, Giant Bean, and Sweet Gum.
To help you explore Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, a network of well-groomed hiking trails has been built through the jungle-like grounds, comprising four colour-coded forests walks and a nature trail—all of which have the same start and endpoint. These routes range from one kilometre to 10 kilometres, and many of them intersect so you can choose to extend or shorten your excursion as you go! Despite the paths varying in length, they all fall on the easy side of the spectrum and require no prior experience—perfect for beginners or families with little ones!
The easiest way to access these hiking trails is from the northern entrance of Tai Po Nature Reserve near Tsung Tsai Yuen, which can be reached by buses 72, 72A, 73A, 74A and minibus 28K. These buses serve locations across New Territories and Kowloon, so check which stop is most convenient for you to board; otherwise, we’ll start the journey from Tai Wo MTR station.
Distance: 1 kilometre approx.
Total ascent: 328 metres approx.
Total time: 45 minutes approx.
Spanning just one kilometre long, Tai Po Kau Nature Trail is the shortest hiking trail in the area; and it’s essentially a prelude to the four colour-coded walks that all branch off from this route.
Starting off with a steep section of stairs that leads straight into the forest, you are instantly thrust into the heart of nature, where dense canopies of trees create an atmosphere of unspoilt wilderness. This belies the fact that the footpath is actually very well-paved and maintained, making for a pleasant, shaded trek.
Much of the route is made up of concrete steps that take you steadily uphill, punctuated by multiple stops for you to pause, catch your breath, and get up-close and personal with some local plants and trees. To supplement your self-guided exploration, there are multiple information boards along the way explaining the area's sub-tropical forest plants and other ecological highlights.
As you approach the mid-point, the path levels out and soon you reach your first junction at a small clearing connecting to the Yellow and Brown Walk. Continue forward and the mild descents will take you to another junction marking the start of the Blue and Red Walk. We highly recommend hopping onto one of the coded trails for a richer experience of the nature reserve's many delights, but if you're strapped for time, stay on the main path to complete the trail. In about half an hour, you will transition onto the concrete path of Tai Po Kau Forest Track Lead Section, and another 15 minutes later, you will be spat back out onto Tai Po Road where you first entered the nature reserve.
Distance: 10 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 236 metres approx.
Total time: 3.5 hours approx.
Totalling at 10 kilometres, the Yellow Walk is the lengthiest and arguably the most scenic route in Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you have three and a half hours to spare and a moderate level of fitness. The loop trail meanders through the depths and heights of the area, keeping you entertained the entire way with its varied show of pristine sub-tropical forests, tranquil creeks, giant boulders, bamboo groves, and a pleasing view of Tolo Harbour from the highest point.
Long as the hike may be, there are hardly any technical obstacles to speak of. You can expect the trail to be slightly rougher than its neighbouring routes, with a few extra bursts of steps and inclines thrown in the mix, but nothing that should deter any reasonably fit hiker. You’ll also encounter several well-signposted forked paths that are fairly easy to navigate; when in doubt though, just keep to the left and there will be little chance of you going off track. In the last stretch of the hike, the trail merges with the Blue and Brown Walk, and eventually with the Tai Po Kau Forest Track, which leads you to the end of your journey.
Distance: 7 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 236 metres approx.
Total time: 2.5 hours approx.
For an abridged version of the Yellow Walk, opt for the seven-kilometre Brown Walk. This trail takes you through more or less of the same forested terrain as the former, but cuts a few corners, so as to form a route that can be completed in around two and a half hours. Following the same path as the Yellow Walk for the initial kilometre, the trail becomes it's own for a short 1.6-kilometre stretch of the hike before rejoining with the Yellow Walk again for the rest of the way.
In comparison to the Yellow Walk, the Brown Walk is even more heavily shaded, plunging you deep into the woods in the middle section. You’ll find that the temperature tends to get cooler when you’re walking under the thick canopy of trees, so if you’re looking to beat the heat, this is a great option.
Distance: 4 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 119 metres approx.
Total time: 1.5 hours approx.
If your mind is set on finding wildlife and birdwatching, then perhaps the Blue and Red Walks will be more your speed. Running through a lovely mesh of brooks and streams, these two shorter routes are your best bet when it comes to catching wildlife in action. For the most part, the animals residing in the nature reserve tend to lurk in the shadows, staying hidden from the eyes of curious trekkers; but if there is one thing that draws them from the dense forest, it’s a flowing water source. So naturally, the Blue and Red Walks are magnets for birds, insects, and other wildlife galore.
The Blue Walk is a gentle, four-kilometre circular path nestled in the northern part of the nature reserve. Upon making a left turn at the second junction of the Tai Po Kau Nature Trail and hopping onto the Blue and Red Walk, you’ll quickly notice that the path feels considerably less rustic than the nature trail leading up to it, with its wooden handrails, defined cobblestone walkway, and abundance of picnic facilities. This well-defined section continues for around 10 minutes until you reach the first small stream, where the two colour-coded walks split. Turn left and go up the flights of stairs to proceed with the Blue Walk.
From here, the trail changes back to dirt and concrete steps as it weaves gently up and down through lightly shaded woodland areas, passing through several quaint streams. Before ending the hike, feel free to take a detour to the Tai Po Kau Outdoor Study Centre to mingle with some beautiful, winged critters at the butterfly garden and see small amphibians splashing around in the freshwater ponds!
Distance: 3 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 84 metres approx.
Total time: 1 hour approx.
With parts of the trail overlapping with the Blue Walk, the Red Walk is the easiest of the colour-coded trails, running for three kilometres through flat and low-elevation terrain. At the same time, it gives you the most bang for your buck when it comes to wildlife encounters, lying in closest proximity to the central stream that flows out to Tolo Harbour. Navigation should be straightforward as well, so you can devote your attention to appreciating your surroundings. There are a few side trails veering off to the Blue Walk at the beginning and near the mid-point, but stick to the obvious main path following the signs indicating the Red Walk, and you'll be just fine.
As you amble along the trail, listening to the soothing sounds of trickling creeks, look out for the vast array of unique birds that inhabit the area, such as the pygmy wren babbler, the red-flanked bluetail, and rufous-tailed robin. Apart from being one of the city’s foremost birdwatching sites, Tai Po Kau is also famous for fireflies sighting, and the last section of the Red Walk near the watery areas is where those little glow-in-the-dark critters enjoy camping out. Visit at night during the breeding season of the fireflies between May and August to witness nature’s magical light show!
As mentioned, all of the trails end up reconvening at Tai Po Kau Forest Track Lead Section, which leads you back to the entrance of the nature reserve. From here, simply catch bus 72 back to Tai Wo Bus Terminal or the same bus you took earlier to return to the city.