Header image courtesy of @msserenafan (via Instagram)
Contrary to what the quintessential postcard shots of Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers and glittering skyline might suggest, three-quarters of our metropolitan city is actually comprised of countryside areas, and home to a wealth of natural wonders and diverse wildlife.
To protect the rich biodiversity and ecosystems that are so uniquely juxtaposed against Hong Kong’s bustling urban streets, 24 country parks and 22 special areas have been designated by the government for nature conservation. Whether you are looking to take a relaxing stroll through nature, spot extraordinary native wildlife, or soak in some spectacular geological sights, we have you covered in our guide to the best natural reserves in Hong Kong worthy of a weekend visit!
Sitting in the northwestern corner of Hong Kong, the Mai Po Nature Reserve is a patchwork of mudflats, mangroves, and marshes that provides an ideal habitat for waterbirds, amphibians, as well as aquatic and terrestrial plants. This is biodiversity at its finest!
While there are many sights to behold, the vast array of birds is what people come from wide and far to see, so it is no surprise that the best time to visit Mai Po is during the winter months when migratory birds flock from the north to this ecologically diverse wetland to roost and refuel, forming an extraordinary avian spectacle. Among the 400-plus species of feathered creatures that make this place their seasonal home, some noteworthy residents include the iconic Black-faced Spoonbill, Saunders’s Gull, and Nordmann’s Greenshank.
The reserve does not accommodate walk-ins, but guided eco-visits organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are available to the public for booking. Top choices include the Mangrove Boardwalk, which takes visitors on a floating boardwalk tour through a beautiful mangrove forest, and Magic of Mai Po, a serene walk through the 基圍 (gei1 wai4; shrimp pond), bird hides, reed bed, and rain-fed ponds.
Venture into the northern part of Tin Shui Wai and you will find this picturesque 60-hectare wetland reserve teeming with birds, insects, amphibians, fish, native plant species, and everything in between that a wildlife lover could desire to see. Unlike the tranquil and relatively untamed Mai Po Nature Reserve, Hong Kong Wetland Park is a higher profile eco-tourism facility. Alongside mangrove swamps and grassy marshes are well-designed boardwalks and a myriad of indoor exhibits that visitors can duck into for some cooling off when the weather outside is swelteringly hot, making this well-preserved wetland park a hotspot for family day trips and school outings.
There is no shortage of stunning sights to see around the park, but what steals our attention are the bird hides, as well as the famous “Pui Pui”, a saltwater crocodile first found in Shan Pui River in Yuen Long, who now permanently resides in the park. What’s more? The spot is easily accessible via the light rail from the Tin Shui Wai station and only costs $30 per entrance!
If your idea of a relaxing weekend involves immersing yourself in a woodsy escape surrounded by lush greenery, then Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve is the place for you. Since its reforestation after the Second World War, the once-barren site has become Hong Kong’s most mature secondary forest, boasting 440 hectares of densely forested woodland, small yet idyllic streams, and an abundance of flora and fauna, including over half of the amphibians recorded in Hong Kong.
Rejuvenate with comforting sounds of trickling streams and lungfuls of unmistakably clean air as you hike one of their four colour-coded walks of varying lengths—red, blue, brown, and yellow. The red and blue walks are the shortest and can be completed in under two hours while the yellow walk takes closer to three hours. The paths are relatively flat, and there is ample shade along the way to keep you cool—perfect for an easy family stroll. Plus, if you are a night hiker, you may even spot fireflies illuminating the forest!
This top-rated hiking destination nestled between Kowloon and New Territories offers a variety of trails and is known for housing some of the city’s most iconic geological structures—including the fabled Amah Rock, and of course, its namesake iconic Lion Rock, the giant granite outcrop resembling a lion.
From firing up your grill on at the barbecue pits to exploring the community garden, there is an impressive list of activities to enjoy, but going on the Lion Rock trail is a requisite for any hiking fanatic. Ascend 495 metres up the rugged slopes, punctuated with a few steep inclines in between that may require you to climb with your hands, and your efforts will be rewarded with jaw-dropping vistas overlooking Kowloon. Don’t forget to take a show-off photo at the stony summit for the ‘gram!
We are not monkeying around when we say that this is a haven for animal lovers. Nicknamed “Monkey Hill”, the main draw of this mountainous woodland in northern Kowloon is its staggering population of monkeys roaming freely across the park. Despite its proximity to the city, the macaque kingdom flourishes with wildlife. Primates aside, you may be surprised to learn that the park is also inhabited by boars and squirrels (although the latter tends to scamper away before they can be spotted). Other highlights include four scenic reservoirs and astounding relics from the Second World War such as trenches, tunnels, and pillboxes.
To explore the area, choose from one of the numerous trails available—the Kam Shan Family Walk and the Kam Shan Tree Walk are great for a casual scenic walk with little ones, while the trails skirting Kowloon Reception Reservoir and Shek Lei Pui Reservoir are ideal for jogging. A word of advice for when you visit: look after your belongings and keep any food out of sight, as the monkeys can be feisty and are notorious for snatching from unwary visitors.
Swap out bustling urban streets and noisy traffic for gentle breezes and the soothing sound of crashing waves along a coastal escape! This marine protected area on the south of Shek O is a landscape of wave-cut cliffs, dramatic sea caves, rocky shores, and jade-green waters. If you are feeling adventurous, climb up the weathered rock formations to drink in breathtaking panoramas of the peninsula. The waves here are strong and the rocks can be sharp and slippery, so stay vigilant! Apart from the stunning seascape, this secret oasis is also a treasure trove of historic gems—featuring military ruins, a specimen of a killer whale, and Hong Kong’s oldest lighthouse, the Hok Tsui Beacon.
To get the craggy coastline, you will need to take a short hike along Cape D’Aguilar Road starting at the corner of Shek O Beach. The walk will only take around an hour and is beginner-friendly, with well-paved paths and only mild inclines.
Not many places can cater for hiking, kayaking, snorkelling, and scuba diving, and also flourish with an enormous array of marine species all in one go, but Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park manages to pull it off. This sheltered bay covering the north of Sai Kung Peninsula is treasured for its great variety of coral species and aquatic creatures, attracting snorkelers and marine life enthusiasts to dive into its waters and experience Hong Kong’s glorious underwater life up close.
For those who prefer to stay above water, you will be happy to hear that the bay has an equally thriving coastal ecosystem. Explore subtropical mangroves and seek out fiddler crabs and mudskippers on the shore, or take a short hike along the coastal trail for captivating views of the shimmering Hoi Ha Bay, Long Harbour, and Sharp Island.
Although rock formations might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of nature, they are the some of the most underrated natural attractions in Hong Kong, and High Island is a great place for close-range viewings of magnificent geological wonders.
Connected to the southeastern part of the Sai Kung Peninsula by two main dams to form the High Island Reservoir, this site is part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark and prides itself on its towering walls of layered rock. You won’t believe that the methodically arranged hexagonal rock columns are natural products of volcanic eruptions around 140 million years ago, distorted by tectonic movements to form its S-shaped curves. Visit during golden hour when the setting sun’s rays hit the jagged edges of the majestic pillars at just the right angle and illuminate the area in warm hues. Coupled with golden sunset views, it is truly an otherworldly sight!