The rain started coming down in waves. It was the type of ocean storm that rolls in unexpectedly, soaking you to the core. Any rational person would have run for cover—but an overhang or building were nowhere in sight.
Hong Kong is a concrete jungle, but as writer Jeremy Kressmann realizes, some of the city's wildest thrills are waiting in its many country parks.
I was hiking in Hong Kong’s New Territories in the midst of green islands set along an undulating coast. Behind a veil of fog was the soundless steel-grey sea. What a strange feeling—to be in one of the world’s biggest cities and not have any shelter. Who knew such an enormous, futuristic place could accommodate such untamed, wild terrain?
The Hong Kong we know and love is a place of size, urban density and scale. Vertigo-inducing skyscrapers and crushes of pedestrians are the first images that spring to mind. But Hong Kong’s municipal government is quietly working to change this perception. Since the 1970s, more than 20 country parks have opened across Hong Kong, a city of 1,100 sqkm with a population of seven million. Collectively these reserves cover more than 40 percent of the territory and harbour a wealth of natural species (1900 species of flower alone), plenty of unexpected discoveries and numerous activities.
Hong Kong’s country parks manage to balance accessibility with remoteness and adventure. The trails are paved in many sections, and mobile phones have coverage if hikers hit a trouble spot. Hikers can choose to explore these spaces on their own or with tour companies like Walk Hong Kong. Whichever option you choose, you’re sure to see sparsely populated fishing villages, deserted beaches and hilly, coastal landscapes.
To offset the typical itinerary of shopping, drinking and overindulging in the city, I set out to find a natural version of Hong Kong during a week-long visit. Famous hikes like the trail along Shek O Country Park’s “Dragon’s Back,” with views of the scenic seaside town of Stanley, are popular with visitors and residents alike. However, it was the dramatic terrain of Sai Kung East Country Park, located in Hong Kong’s New Territories—so named when the British took more land from China in 1898—that caught my eye. Just 20 km from the over-crowded region of Kowloon, it was easy to access by public transit yet had the remoteness I craved.
My hike at Sai Kung began at the edge of the park’s reservoir, an enormous freshwater lake that provides much of Hong Kong’s drinking water. A ceiling of smoky-grey clouds hung low in the sky. Flushed with a murky, aquamarine hue, the reservoir mirrored the heavens. Rolling hills surrounding the lake were covered in bristlygreen plant life.
I started hiking slowly, letting my footsteps and breathing find a comfortable rhythm. The trail snaked its way along the winding coast, looking out over the ocean. As I found myself removed from the shrill horns and blinking lightshow of the urban grid, the city’s claustrophobia melted away. In its place were crisp sea breezes and the crunch of gravel beneath my hiking shoes. Even the sudden rainstorm that rolled in couldn’t dampen my spirits. It was all part of the experience.
About an hour into my hike, I ascended a ridge above a small wedge of beach below, home to a tiny fishing village. The ragtag collection of structures along the rest of the hiking path weren’t been much to look at—just a few crumbling buildings lining the street. A jumble of fishing nets dangled from a nearby fence before the town’s lone restaurant. But the view was more than enough.
I was tired and ready for a lunch break. I sat at a beach-front plastic patio table at an eatery overlooked a sheltered bay enclosed by craggy rocks. As I chewed a heaped plate of Cantonese-style noodles, a pack of dogs wrestled and yelped in the sand. They made the only sounds, save for my chewing and the crashing of waves against the beach. Not a neon sign in sight.
Hong Kong Hiking Information