LORI RACKL Travel Editor
Packed with nearly 7 million people, Hong Kong is a big city — technically a “Special Administrative Region” of China — famous for its shopping, skyline, dining scene and Disneyland.
Hiking? Not so much. At least that was the misconception I was under before visiting this former British colony in March.
Turns out that more than 70 percent of Hong Kong’s land mass is made up of rural mountains, forests and outlying islands, and much of this is a public transportation ride away from the chaotic hustle and bustle of the dense urban area.
I can shop, eat and gawk at skyscrapers in Chicago. And I’ve been to Disney World plenty of times. But I can’t hop on the CTA and get off at the trailhead of a 30-mile-long footpath with postcard views of Victoria Harbor and the South China Sea. So my choice was simple: hit the trail.
Four major hiking trails — Hong Kong, Wilson, MacLehose and Lantau — carve through Hong Kong. My husband and I opted for the Hong Kong Trail, which snakes its way across Hong Kong Island from Victoria Peak — the island’s highest point at 1,811 feet — all the way down to Big Wave Bay on the east coast.
In a temporary moment of jet-lag-induced insanity, we toyed with the idea of tackling all 30 miles of the Hong Kong Trail in one day. We eventually opted to do the last half of the route, starting at Wong Nai Chung Gap. This way we’d be sure to get to the crown jewel of the trail, a nearly three-mile section toward the end called Dragon’s Back. Time magazine dubbed this ridge-line walk the best urban hike in Asia, and we didn’t want to run out of time or energy before making it there.
The peak hiking season in Hong Kong is November through February. The summer months can be prohibitively hot and humid, and March and April often are misty. We lucked out with a clear, sunny March day in the low 70s — perfect weather for trekking and taking in the views.
Within a half hour of starting our hike, we were treated to panoramic vistas of blue seas and soft, round hills smothered in every shade of green. In the midst of all this natural beauty, Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers stood silent in the distance, looking like a village made of Legos.
The streets of Hong Kong can feel as crowded as a mosh pit. But up here, on this undulating dirt path, we could go for quite a while before passing a group of Brits out for a ramble or a few Asian ladies walking with umbrellas to guard against the sun.
Our hikers’ high was going strong until a wrong turn got us off the main path and onto a side trail — a mistake that happened more than once. These unscheduled diversions often led to more beautiful scenery, along with unwanted mileage and marital stress. After mistakenly leading my husband up what felt like 1,000 rocky stairs, he looked at me as though I’d just traded my wedding ring for a Happy Meal.
Lessons learned: Get a good map and pay attention to the numerical markers posted every kilometer along the trail. If you’ve been walking for what feels like more than a kilometer without seeing one of these markers, you’re going the wrong way.
We arrived at Dragon’s Back much later — and much more exhausted — than we’d expected. But none of that mattered as we walked along this picturesque stretch that perches you high above Big Wave Bay and the laid-back beachside village of Shek O. From Dragon’s Back, we had great views of the dramatic coastline and tiny islands scattered off the shore. Paragliders sailed right over our heads, so close we could see what brand of gym shoes they were wearing. If you’re only going to hike one segment of the Hong Kong Trail, this is it.
We probably spent a little too long snapping pictures and admiring the view, because the sun had called it quits by the time we dragged our weary legs off the trail at Big Wave Bay. Exhausted and famished, we asked around until we found an English-speaking couple who pointed us in the direction of a bus to take us to nearby Shek O for dinner.
We’d logged about 20 miles and didn’t want to take another step. Good thing the bus dropped us off right in front of the popular Shek O Chinese-Thai Seafood Restaurant, a casual eatery with a corrugated metal roof and fans whirling overhead. We collapsed into our seats at an outdoor table near one of the paragliders we’d seen on Dragon’s Back. A smiling waiter who looked like he was used to serving hungry hikers handed us the 50-page menu (in English).
A few heaping plates of noodles, spring rolls and some cold beer set us straight. We were rested, fed and thankful that it was only a short walk to the bus that would deliver us back to the big city.
The 30-mile-long Hong Kong Trail gives nature lovers a green getaway from the hustle and bustle of the big city
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