Family hiking in Hong Kong

The Family Tall went out for our first hike of the 2007-08 season last Saturday morning, and in the flurry of preparations required for hiking with a five-year-old, I was reminded of both how easy it is to get out on Hong Kong’s hiking trails, but also of why it’s just enough trouble that surprisingly few people actually do it.

So my purpose today is to try to pass along a few tips that might make it more feasible to get out and about on family hikes in Hong Kong. Longer, more ambitious hikes for all grown-ups we’ll leave for other times.

So how do we go about planning our family hikes?

As our own dear mothers no doubt reminded all of us, ‘Safety first’! While we’re actually hiking, Mrs Tall and I are careful to keep Daughter Tall close by us, and to make sure she’s taking a hand or is otherwise supported on the rougher bits of the trail. That’s common sense. But we also suggest the following safety tips:

  • Bring more water than you think you’ll ever need. The number one danger of hiking in Hong Kong is dehydration and heat exhaustion/heat stroke. When you hear of people getting in trouble hiking in Hong Kong, the odds are it’s a medical problem, not really a ‘hiking’ problem such as a fall or getting lost.
  • Buy, carry and use Hong Kong’s admirable Countryside Series of maps. Although most of Hong Kong’s trails are pretty clearly marked and signposted, it’s still entirely possible to get lost, especially late in an afternoon when the light starts to dim a bit. Having a good map is essential, even though you’re hiking in the middle of one of the world’s densest urban conurbations.
  • Make sure someone else knows where you’re going to be. This is a simple hiker-safety procedure, but it’s also pretty easy to not bother with.
  • Always take hats and lots of sunscreen. Hong Kong’s autumn and winter weather can be deceptive. Although temperatures are often quite cool (under the influence of the Northeast monsoon), the sun is still strong, since Hong Kong is geographically in the tropics. Therefore it’s easy to get a severe sunburn even on a cold but sunny day here. Hazy days – and days with the thin overcast that’s common here – may also have surprisingly high UV ratings.
  • Watch out for snakes. The only really dangerous wildlife you’re likely to run into in Hong Kong are poisonous snakes. In the years I’ve been hiking here, I’ve seen just three significant snakes, but one of these was in fact this past Saturday. We Talls were just about finished with our walk, and were coming down toward Tseung Kwan O on a disused roadway, when Mrs Tall jumped and yelled. She’d spotted quite a large (maybe five or six foot long) snake right in front of us. I caught sight of it just as it was escaping into the undergrowth, but saw enough, in combination with Mrs Tall’s description, to tentatively identify it as a Red-necked Keelback, a poisonous snake that’s common around Hong Kong. Hong Kong is also home to several other poisonous species such as Bamboo snakes and cobras, plus some big constrictors and pythons. But if you stick to the trails and watch your step, the chances of your being bitten by a snake are vanishingly small. After our sighting last week, Mrs Tall is a bit harder to convince of this than she once was, but Daughter Tall and I took our snake encounter to be the crowning event in an exciting hike!
  • Watch out for other feral animals. Hong Kong’s infested with feral dogs, cattle and monkeys. The dogs are likely the most dangerous, but all are best avoided. If you’re going to be hiking in an area in which you know you’ll see such animals (as in the Golden Mountain hike I mention below) it’s not a bad idea for at least one member of your hiking party to carry a hiking stick that can double as a makeshift shoo-ing away weapon.

Now that you’ve got all the safety concerns squared away, and you’re looking to get out on a family hike soon, where do you start?

Of course you have to identify a hike that’s feasible for children. This is easier than it sounds, though. For example, although Daughter Tall is just five, she can handle a trail that’s surprisingly rough. Most of Hong Kong’s trails are therefore possibilities. In fact, Daughter Tall is much more balky and uninterested when our hikes come out on paved roads or other ‘easy’ sections: there’s just not as much novelty value and excitement for her. But it’s also foolish to plan a hike that has lots of steep climbs or rough sections; small kids do tire easily, and you don't want to be stuck a long way from anywhere with a child who won't walk.

If you’re lucky (like we are), you’ve got a hiking trail or country park near your home that you can use as a base. This past week we just took a taxi up the hill behind our housing estate, and we were on the Wilson Trail. But we've also got a number of other favorite short hikes that we take that are all family-friendly, i.e. their starting/ending points are easy enough to get to; they’re at a difficulty level a small child can handle; and they’ve got enough inherent scenic or other interest to make for good clean family fun:

  • One lovely, nearly all-downhill walk we do starts at the Peak Tram station, goes down the south side of the Peak, then around the Pokfulam Reservoir, coming out right at a bus stop on Pokfulam Road. The hightlights here are getting up to the Peak itself, spending a little time at the station, maybe for lunch, and the very pleasant segment of the walk around the reservoir itself. Tips for this one: you do have to turn off the road that leads down from the Peak and onto a regular dirt hiking trail. There’s a signpost there to guide you, but it’s still easy to miss.
  • An alternative on Hong Kong Island is to start at Wan Chai Gap, near the Police Museum, then walk down to Aberdeen via the Aberdeen Reservoirs.
  • Back on the other side of the harbour, we do any number of routes starting from the ‘Golden Mountain’ section of the Maclehose Trail, i.e. the point at which the trail crosses Tai Po Road; this spot is also popularly known as ‘Monkey Hill’, since it’s where crowds of feral macaques gather to harass, and be harassed. We’ve never had any serious problem with them (until recently; see below!), but you do need to take care not to expose food to them, as they have been known to attack. Usually we head west from this point, and do some combination of the paths around the Kowloon Reservoirs; they’re flat, with water always on one side.
  • The Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, also off Tai Po Road. This little gem of a country park is circled by a variety of generally easy trails of differing lengths. To me, it’s the best spot in Hong Kong to get a feel of a ‘real forest’, as its trees are quite mature and dense.
  • The hike across Lamma Island, from So Kwu Wan to Yueng Shue Wan, is also very suitable for families, and includes nice ferry rides, which kids like.

So, readers: what are your favorite trails, especially those for the whole family?


'Monkey Hill'

Well, after posting that hiking article on Thursday, it was not surprising that we Talls ended up going hiking yesterday, and even more inevitiable, I suppose, that I'd end up forgetting half of what I'd just written.

Since it was quite warm, we decided to do an easy hike, and hence chose the Kowloon reservoirs at Golden/Monkey Hill on Tai Po Road.

There were two problems. First, since yesterday was the 'Everybody get out and hike' public holiday, aka Cheung Yeung Festival, there were loads of people around. That in itself isn't such a big deal, but too many of them were there with the single purpose of feeding the monkeys that infest this area.

I've done hikes starting from this convenient spot for the past 15 years, and there have always been monkeys bugging people at Golden Hill. But the situation has gotten out of control. In previous years, we'd see maybe a couple dozen monkeys on a hike through that area. Yesterday, we saw, quite literally, hundreds. They were lining the first couple hundred meters of the trail like a scene from The Birds.

The great majority of these monkeys are not native Hong Kong species; they're the descendents of pets dumped into the wild. And since there seems no end to people insisting on feeding them, they have no fear of humans; in fact, they're quite aggressive. Yesteday we sat down at a lovely picnic area near one of the reservoirs for a snack. We hadn't been there more than five minutes when four monkeys slinked out the trees, and immediately surrounded us. They planted themselves just a few feet away, and sat there staring at us and showing us their teeth. With a five-year-old with us, this was not a comfortable scenario. We had to pack up immediately, and get out of there.

Another problem with this many large primates concentrated into one area is, unpleasantly but unavoidably, the shit. It's all over the place.

I don't want to come off here as too draconian, but I really think the Agriculture and Fisheries Department should take decisive action to deal with these pests. This sentiment isn't just me being reactionary; I had a colleague in the past, an environmental scientist (and environmental advocate), who was something of an expert on these monkeys, and who was quoted extensively in numerous articles in the SCMP and other media. His conclusion, after extensive research on the situation, and consideration of all possible alternatives: shoot 'em.

But until that happens, I'm not sure I'd suggest going back to Monkey Hill with kids.

Hikes with children

A couple more suggestions:

  • The walk around the Peak is flat and paved.
  • Bowen Road is another flat, paved walk, and is shady in the afternoon. (Keep an eye out for one of the old city boundary stones).
  • Lamma. The full trail across the island is a bit much for our two yet, so we've done the shorter walk from Sok Kwu Wan to Lo So Shing beach a couple of times. Typically we'll catch a ferry to arrive for late lunch at Sok Kwu Wan, do the 20-30 min walk to the beach in the late afternoon when the sun's not too strong, spend some time at the beach then back to Sok Kwu Wan for one of the ferries around 6pm.
  • Black's link is another straightforward walk, running from Wanchai Gap to near Parkview.
  • You see lots of families with young children walking from Parkview down to the Tai Tam reservoirs.
  • There's a short paved walk around the coast from Deep Water Bay to Repulse Bay. If you want something longer you can carry on to Chung Hom Kok beach, taking around 90 mins total.

Happy hiking!


Fighting monkeys?

I should definitely have read this article before the Monkey Hill hike. It's from Slate magazine, and it's all about how to deal with a pack of hostile macaques, which pretty much sums up the situation we faced on our hike. The upshot? The fact that the monkeys were staring at us and baring their teeth did indeed mean they were expressing hostility. The solution? Give them the food they want, or, if it comes down to a fight, hit them on their heads with a stick, but don't yell and scream.

My conclusion: avoid Monkey Hill altogether, because I refuse to give in and feed the filthy things.

Some more hikes ...

Dragons Back, from the Shek O road to Shek O or Big Wave Bay is a hike that is managable for a 5 year old, plus you have some great views (pollution depending), and the attraction that the kids get to go to the beach after the hike - and the adults can laze and watch them having some safe fun, there are also quite a few nice restaurants to end the day with.

If they're up to hills, the "green trail" which starts at the May road toilets (between the Peak tram station and 'haddon'), is quite lovely, it goes up Chatham path and the lovely old house there, and ends at the old Victoria hospital for women and children (famous from the film 'love is a many splendoured thing), about 1/2 way up there is a little detour with a lovely little shrine.  From there you can go along Hospital path to a nice green grassy patch, or on to catch the Peak Tram down.

If you're going to do the 'wanchai gap' trail, I'd recommend first going past the Environmental protection unit (in the lovely old post office building in Wanchai) there they have a great little bag of goodies for kids, including the trail, a chart of butterflies and birds you can see along the way and a nifty magnifying glass which my son loved!

Happy hiking. 



Thanks Gweipo, the green trail is a new one for me, and sounds like one to try soon. And though I've walked up to Wanchai Gap, I've never thought to pop in the EPU. Good tips!


Family hike on Lantau

First, my thanks also to Gweipo; those are good ones!

Next, if you happen to be on Lantau Island, visit the big Buddha at Ngong Ping, and would like a stroll -- all conditions that applied to Family Tall yesterday -- there's what's called the 'Ngong Ping Fun Walk', which is really quite nice. It's a triangle that comprises three paths:

A paved path that leads from just past the 'Tea Garden Restaurant'. Actually, once you're past said restaurant, you can go left on this path, which is marked as leading to the S G Davis youth hostel, as we did, or right to the Wisdom Path (more on that below). But of course you could take the whole triange in reverse if you liked. Anyway, this path is paved, passes through pleasant scrubland, and offers great views of Lantau Peak. It ends at a notice board right below a very nicely-sited campground. From this point, you can also either walk straight on to the Tei Tong Tsai Monastery to have a look (we didn't go this way, but it looked to be no more than 1 km or so farther along), or turn left and take a circular 5-km hike around Nei Lak San, a smaller peak. We did that, and though we didn't make it all the way aorund (not quite enough time; not that it was too difficult) we did get far enough to enjoy excellent views of Tung Chung and the airport. This circular path was odd: it seemed to be quite new, as a 2003 countryside series map didn't show it, and the stonework steps looked freshly done. But it's clearly not heavily used, as it's already quite overgrown at points, though still easily passable. Anyway, back down at the noticeboard, we then moved on to . . .

A short, broad, leafy 'tree walk' that runs from the notice board down to the 'Wisdom Path'. There's a big sign that clearly identifies this path. Note that it's not paved and has a few steps, so probably no strollers.

We had a look at the 'Wisdom Path', which comprises some huge slabs of wood with Chinese poetry on them arranged in a couple of circles on a hllside; its setting is spectacular. We then completed the triangle by walking its third side, i.e. a short concrete path back to the Tea Garden Restaurant, where the dao fu fah and iced milk tea were more than acceptable.

If you do happen to do the walk in the reverse direction, note it's not totally obvious where the 'tree walk' path leaves the Wisdom Path, as five different paths meet at this spot, including the trails up to Lantau Peak and down to Shek Pik Reservoir. The tree walk is the shady path that goes off to the left as you face Lantau Peak.

If you only do this triangle, you'd have to work hard to stretch it out to an hour, even with a short visit to the Wisdom Path included. But the access to lots of other paths makes for other intereting possibilities.


Wild boar in local country side

Hi there,

Other than monkeys there are wild boars and other animals around. Yesterday a friend of mine living somewhere in Sai Kung spotted three boars near her home. It was an adult and two piglets. The adult, according to her, was about 1.5m from snout to tail. It scared the shit out of her but fortunately the boars did not see her as a threat and simply ignored her. An important aspect was that, she spotted the boars early in the morning when she go to work.

Wild boars are basically nocturnal animals. Seeing them in broad day light is sort of extraordinary. Do be wary when you are in the country side. You just don't know what would happen.

Oh, BTW, I remember when I was a kid, there had been a time that there were tigers in local woodlands in some of the hills (believe it or not). The news occationally broadcasts the hunt for these big cats if they crossed into villages for food. I think you could check out local news archives in the Central Library for this.

Best Regards,

Tiger Tales

Info about the tiger that was shot by Assistant Superintendent, Donald Burlingham in 1915 can be found here:

The head of the tiger is now housed in the Police Museum off Coombe Road.

More hiking

It's a pleasure = I'm also interested in the topic for myself.

 I found another one the other day. It is called the "wong nai chung gap trail" and it starts at Parkview.  It has I think 10 stages, which, if you start from Parkview are all flat or downhill.  It focuses on some of the military history of the area and the various stages have very nice little boards with additional information and old style pictures from pre/post war Hong Kong.

Stages 8 & 9 are only about 1 or 2 km and you could even do them with a stroller.  It's paved (not concreted).


Wan Chai Gap to Aberdeen

How long does the Wan Chai Gap to Aberdeen walk take? It sounds like a nice alternative to the more well known The Peak to Aberdeen route.

From Wanchai Gap to Aberdeen

Hi there,

If you are starting at Stubbs Road, exactly at Wanchai Gap, the downhill walk to Aberdeen could take you somewhere between an hour to two hours, depending on your walking speed, as well as where in Aberdeen you are talking about.

Look up a map and check the ruler. If you started in Queen's Road East then it would approximately double the time. Wanchai Gap Road could be a killer if you don't often go up hill or, if it is your first time going up hill. I still remember my first up hill hike from Queen's Road east when I was in the cub scount troop back in Primary school..... with 10 catty of fire wood on my back, going to Tai Tam country part through the Black's Link. Took me a few days to recover in full. But it was fun. At least I only have to carry an empty back pack on my return trip. :-)

Best Regards,

From Wanchai Gap to Aberdeen

Thanks for your answer, Mr. T -- and yes, I'm planning to start from Stubbs Road rather than Queen's Road East. So, all in all, sounds like an easy hike. Wonder why it is that it doesn't get recommended much. Instead, have been hearing more about The Peak to Aberdeen and also Wong Nai Chung Gap to Aberdeen...

Hire some langurs?

There's another breaking news story on the monkey crisis in New Delhi here.

One strategy for controlling those pesky, and increasingly dangerous, macaques? Bully them with langurs, an even bigger, meaner type of monkey.

And no, I'm not feeling obsessed at all regarding this topic; why do you ask?

More hikes

Gweipo has introducedus to the Everytrail website, which lists hikes, together with maps and photos. It lets you create your own too, using a combination of GPS and digital cameras.