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7 most unusual things to see on Hong Kong hikes

By Catharina Cheung 3 December 2020

Header image courtesy of @iamcalvin2019 (via Instagram)

When discussing the topic of hiking in Hong Kong, most people think of impeccable sea views stretching out into the horizon or stunning birds-eye views of the city below. These are undoubtedly a large part of what makes our hikes so beautiful, but there are plenty of other trails all over the territories that offer other sights of interest. From animal remains to Aztec pyramids, here are some of the most unusual things to look out for on Hong Kong hikes.

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Natural hexagonal columns

Built in the 1970s to help alleviate water shortages when mainland China cut off water supplies to the city due to the 1967 Hong Kong riots, the High Island Reservoir sits in Sai Kung and is part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Geopark. Its two main dams, West Dam and East Dam, lie about an hour’s journey apart—which should give you an idea of the reservoir’s size—but it's the farther East Dam that is home to some geological wonders.

Aside from the Insta-friendly dolosse wall with geometric, jack-shaped blocks of concrete, East Dam is most well-known for its hexagonal rock columns, formed naturally 140 million years ago in a volcanic eruption. Such rock formations exist elsewhere in Hong Kong, but High Island Reservoir is the only place where you can actually get to touch them.

East Dam is reachable by taxi, but we find the best way to get there is to hike in from Pak Tam Chung via Section 1 of the MacLehose Trail, which brings you to West Dam before arriving at East Dam. Follow the High Island Geo Trail at the base of the dam to observe the columns at close range, including some S-shaped ones which have been warped by earthquakes while still in the process of solidifying, before ending at a sea cave. We’re sure you’ll agree after seeing it all in person that this corner of Hong Kong is pretty dam interesting.

The entire hike is also a fairly easy one without any sharp inclines, suitable for beginners. From East Dam, you can even choose to make your way further to Po Pin Chau or Long Ke Wan, both only short hikes away. Here is a detailed guide to hiking to High Island Reservoir.

Photo credit: @wingsang57 (via Instagram)
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Cross Rock

The MacLehose Trail may be one of Hong Kong’s greatest hiking trails, but not every bit of it is inundated with gorgeous scenery. Indeed, there is nothing special about this part of Section 7, located roughly above Wong Chuk Yeung—apart from one unlikely sight.

Hikers going along this section of the MacLehose Trail can choose to head up to the peak of Tso Shan, but few do because there’s nothing much up there. Instead, veer off the trail slightly onto the ridge of Tso Shan to find a rock that has a clear X-shaped fissure across its face. Whether this is a work of nature or has been gouged out of the stone deliberately is unknown, but there’s no denying that it’s quite striking!

The best way to get to Cross Rock is to start from the dam at Shing Mun Reservoir, skirting around the foot of Needle Hill, and then up Tso Shan. Once you get to the M134 marker on the MacLehose Trail, there’s a path near the left that will lead to the electrical pylon located near the Cross Rock. To leave either go back onto the trail, or continue along the path which will eventually lead to Fo Tan.

Photo: @h_letsgohiking (via Instagram)
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Old stone mills

Hong Kong has plenty of abandoned villages to visit, but lesser explored are the various ancient trails hidden in our mountains. These were once thoroughfares linking villages in the New Territories, which villagers would take to get to nearby towns to sell their produce. With the introduction of proper roads however, these old stone-laid paths were left forgotten, but many are still lying within the forested mountain ranges of the New Territories, alongside the ruins of old villages now slowly being reclaimed by nature.

One such path is the Tai No Ancient Trail running through the mountain ranges in Sha Tin. Aside from the derelict remains of old cottages, the most interesting thing along this trail is the pair of old stone mills. Thoroughly covered with moss at this point, these were used by the villagers to make cane sugar and is a rare piece of historical relic that likely dates back a hundred years. It’s fascinating to imagine inhabitants in the past standing at that very mill, using it to press sugar cane stalks. Here is our guide to ancient trails in Hong Kong, including Tai No (which translates to “Big Brain” in Cantonese).

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

By Catharina Cheung 25 November 2020
By Annette Chan 21 November 2020
Photo credit: @yik2012 (via Instagram)
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Whale bones

Unlike most of Hong Kong’s hikes, there’s no summit to be conquered at Cape D’Aguilar, just a gentle trail with beautiful coastal scenery. At the southeasternmost tip of Hong Kong Island, Cape D’Aguilar feels blessedly far away from the bustle of the city.

Roughly an hour’s hike from the start point lies the Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve and the University of Hong Kong Swire Institute of Marine Science. Outside this building, you’ll find the skeletal remains of a whale, assembled, mounted, and gazing out to sea. There is still ongoing debate on the origins of this skeleton; no one seems to know where they came from. Marked on Google Maps as Miss Willy, this could either be the bones of female orca Hoi Wai, who performed at Ocean Park until her death in 1997, or a juvenile Bryde’s whale that was stranded in Victoria Harbour in 1995. In any case, we’re glad their final resting place is in this peaceful spot which overlooks the boundless sun and sea.

Don’t expect these bones to be in tip-top condition like in the Natural History Museum—they have been exposed to the elements all these years after all—but the very fact that they’re in such a location makes it a sight to behold. If you’re only heading to the marine reserve and back, Cape D’Aguilar is easy to hike, but there are also plenty of detours you can take to spice things up, such as to the old Cape D’Aguilar Battery at the cliffs, Hong Kong’s oldest surviving lighthouse, and natural formations like the Thunder Cave and Crab Cave. Here is a detailed guide to doing the Cape D’Aguilar hike.

Photo credit: @marysheung (via Instagram)
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Ancient rock carvings

Located in Clearwater Bay, Lung Ha Wan is known in English as Lobster Bay. Although you’ll have tough luck finding any actual lobsters here, it is home to an equestrian school, a nice rocky beach, as well as a rock carving that dates back to the Bronze Ages.

Discovered back in 1978, and one of Hong Kong’s nine historical rock carvings, this ancient doodle on a weathered boulder features geometric lines and designs that seem to depict animals and birds. Perhaps they were left by the earliest settlers of this land, but nobody knows for sure and it still has archaeologists and geologists baffled to this day. There are some who think they were created out of sheer accident by wind and water erosion, but we prefer the mysterious romanticism of not really knowing.

You can hike to the waterfront where the rock carving is from Tai Au Mun and turn back, but we prefer doing the full loop hike since it brings you back to the beginning anyway. The dirt path trail does get a bit steep on the ascents and descents, but in terms of length it’s pretty short and therefore not difficult to complete—a hike that can be suitable for an outing with both children and pets. Here is a detailed guide to hiking to Lung Ha Wan.

Photo credit: @_muarifah_nywan (via Instagram)
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Penis Rock

There’s a patch of mountainous region on the south of Lamma Island that has no marked trail on the maps, but of course, that has not stopped scores of intrepid Hong Kong hikers. Mount Stenhouse, also known as Shan Tei Tong, is the highest point on Lamma Island. Because it’s not an established route, you’ll have to be prepared for a bit of rough terrain, but at least the starting is easy.

From Sok Kwu Wan ferry pier, make your way to the Tin Hau Temple, and take the stairs next to it to start the Mount Stenhouse hike. The way up to the lookout pavilion is shaded and only at a slight incline interspersed with stairs. Once you’ve soaked in the views from the pavilion, locate the dirt path behind it leading up the hill that looks like it has rocks embedded all over it. The trail from here on out is uncharted and rough, and may require some scrambling. It is also more steep than it appears, but luckily there are some ropes that previous hikers have helpfully left behind.

Keep your eyes on the little trail as you’re bush whacking because the vegetation may be so overgrown that it’s difficult to make out in areas. On the way up to the summit you’ll come across Penis Rock, jutting out from the hillside. It’s probably happy to see you, so stick around where there’s a flat rock surface on the other side of rock to take a breather. At this point, you’re about halfway up to Mount Stenhouse, so if your destination was just to see the phallic rock, you can dust yourself off and head back down, or continue forging through the thickets to the top.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Photo credit: @iamcalvin2019 (via Instagram)
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“Aztec Pyramid”

Listen, we’ve all watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as children and fancied ourselves a bit of an explorer, but did you know that there’s actually an Aztec pyramid-like structure in the wilds of Hong Kong just waiting to be stumbled upon?

Located in Ma On Shan Country Park, Shui Long Wo is an easy hike that overlaps part of Section 4 of the MacLehose Trail. The most exciting sight to see here is a mysterious tower in a clearing near the Shui Long Wo Campsite that looks distinctly different from traditional Chinese architecture, and indeed rather like a Mesoamerican ceremonial structure. As it turns out, this six-metre stone tower is actually an ancient stargazing platform, said to be modelled after the Dengfeng Observatory in Henan.

This route begins on Sai Sha Road, circling down to Shan Liu Sheung Road in Sai Kung, and can be quite quickly finished in about an hour. However, you can also choose to extend your adventure and continue along the MacLehose Trail once past the campsite to reach Pyramid Hill, the Ngong Ping Viewing Point, as well as the Ma On Shan Barbecue Site. We have a slightly more detailed guide to the Shui Long Wo hike here.

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Catharina Cheung

Former senior editor

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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