Put the HK in hike! Hong Kong treks

Ramble across the stunning open spaces of the New Territories

You might think that Hong Kong is just a morass of skyscrapers, luxury shopping malls and sweaty tourists, but you’d be wrong – there are many picturesque hikes for visitors to sample. And while most head to Dragon’s Back and Lamma Island, hike-happy locals go straight for the New Territories, and in particular the 100km MacLehose trail, named after Sir Crawford Murray MacLehose, the longest-reigning governor of Hong Kong.

A rambling enthusiast, he was also responsible for the establishment of Hong Kong’s ubiquitous Country Parks, protected areas that surprisingly comprise 40 percent of the total land in the special administrative region. It’s pretty much impossible to complete in one go, so we’ve created a series of recommended chunks, based on the already established ‘Phases’.

For Phase 1, take the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to Choi Hung station; exit at C2 and board the green minibus A1 to Sai Kung Town. From here, take bus 94 and alight at the Pak Tam Chung terminus, which is a 400m walk from the starting point. Phases 1 and 2 begin easy enough: a walk along the paved Sai Kung Man Yee Road. After 400m of limited views, the mountains give way to a panorama of the two massive High Island Reservoir dams. Get some snapshots done now, before the more demanding half of the walk makes you unphotogenically red and sweaty, and top up water bottles at the fountain – there is absolutely nowhere to do so for the next five hours, nor are there water bottles on sale. A little inconvenient, but a great reminder that the trail is not overrun with tourists.

From here it’s a gradual climb into verdant hills. Trails are clearly marked, but pretty soon it feels distanced from human life, let alone the bustle of Hong Kong. At the end of the two-hour hike is one of the loveliest secluded bays on the island. Long Ke is a pristine crescent of white sand, jammed during the summer but nearly empty during the early months of the year. It’s worth waking up early to begin this hike, if only to lounge for a few hours on what is arguably Hong Kong’s best bay. The gentle waves and sun-warmed sand may tempt you to stay a while, but the second half of the walk is taxing, and it doesn’t serve to relax for too long.

Leaving Long Ke, Phase 2 winds up a stretch of seemingly endless steps, with only brief respites to admire the contrast between the red soil and the jungle-like vegetation bordering the reservoirs. The volcanic rocks here are jagged and unforgiving, but it’s worth risking a stumble or two to admire the view, especially of Tai Long Wan Bay, which is dimpled by four different beaches, and tiny coves and inlets. The end of Phase 2 is also the entrance point for the coastal hike of Tai Long Sai Wan.

To access Phase 3 of our trip, you can take bus 94 from Sai Kung and alight at Pak Tam Au, which is only 20 metres away from the opening of the trail. Measuring 10.2km, Phase 3 is less visited and even more demanding than Phase 2, kicking off with a straight uphill climb of uneven rock steps. Taking around four hours, the strenuous hike begins by passing the 451m peak of Ngam Tau Shan, then traverses abandoned Hakka farming villages from the early part of the 20th century.

According to the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, this area was the very last part of rural Hong Kong to be settled, with tea and indigo planted in the rugged hills where South China tigers and wild boars roamed. Nowadays, such beasts are long gone, replaced instead by the odd dead-eyed cow. Still, think back to the cramped conditions of HK’s bustling Central MTR station when you’re out here and the feeling of freedom is unbeatable.

There is a different vista to be found every way you look – on one side, the ocean; another, the mountains; then another turns back into the thick of the wilderness. The first half of the trail seems easy in comparison to the second, which is interrupted by a deep valley before climbing back up the peaks of Wa Mei Shan, Lui Ta Shek and Kai Kung Shan. These climbs require stamina. Yet this stretch is not the hardest part of our trek. That honour is reserved for Phases 4 and 5, in the heart of the MacLehose Trail.

In fact, Phase 4 alone is incredibly difficult and, as there is no public transport at the end of it, it either needs to be done in conjunction with Phase 5 or walked backwards. This is an all-day hike that will take upwards of nine hours, and is the most difficult to access by public transport. The hike starts from Kei Ling Ha, which eventually leads you into the thick of the woods and another set of stone steps. An hour and a half in, there’s a fork to decide whether or not you will continue to climb Ma On Shan.

Whichever route you pick, there are magnificent views on all sides. Along the way, look out for colourful butterflies and colossal spiderwebs; this part of the MacLehose trail has the most diverse flora and fauna. Finally arriving at the mountain peak of Tate’s Cairn, those wanting to stay overnight will find a campsite at Gilwell.

Phase 5 has some of the most dramatic views, and is best known for containing all of the famous Kowloon peaks, including Lion Rock and Amah Rock – Hong Kong’s answers to the Mainland’s Huangshan. Skipping to the end of the trail, Phases 9 and 10 are easy walks that take two-and-a-half and five hours, respectively. Typically, these treks are less spectacular than the others, though they have the advantage of being somewhat easier to tackle.

Essential info

How to get there
Return flights to Hong Kong with Hong Kong Airlines (www.hongkongairlines.com) from 1,210RMB (including taxes and surcharges).
Where to stay
Camping is available at Long Ke between Phase 1 and 2 and at Gilwell at the end of Phase 4. At Long Ke, there is space for around six large tents, though you’ll need to bring your own. At Gilwell, tents are 16RMB (call +852 2377 3300 for details).
  • 4 out of 5 stars