One of the greatest and most unexpected features of Hong Kong is its vast network of stunning hiking trails. Many are literally a stone’s throw from the island’s city centre or the ‘burbs of Kowloon. The country parks, which occupy about 40% of the HK region, are a treasure trove of trails, and trails on the outlying islands are a great escape. These walks offer all levels of difficulty, distance and pitch, a combination of natural and built paths, exposure and shade. And incredibly, even the more distant trails are accessible by public transportation. Some require a combination of MTR, minibus, taxis, ferries and water taxis, but many are just a bus or MTR ride away.
Typically, one associates Hong Kong with skyscrapers, crowded streets and luxury shopping. But I think the natural outdoor adventures Hong Kong offers are greatly under-represented in the city’s outward face. These hikes truly offer incredible experiences in one bundle—amazing views, historic sites, access to pristine beaches, natural highlights, a great workout, and more.
We are lucky to live at HK Parkview on the edge of Tai Tam Country Park where we have dozens of hiking trails literally at our doorstep. I’ve trekked a number of them, but my favourite “go-to” is a hike up Violet Hill, a 155-metre climb from home to the peak (at 430 meters above sea level), which offers a scenic, heart-pumping, quad-toning blast. It takes me one hour door-to-door if I push through and don’t stop to admire the view.
Recently my daughter Ainsleigh and I decided to tackle a trail called “Twin Peaks and 1,000 Steps”. “Butt-kicking”, “very difficult” and “hardcore” are terms used in descriptions of this hike, but I’m in decent shape and Ainsleigh is in awesome shape, so sun-screened, bug-sprayed, hatted, watered-up and pumped by a “come on mom, you can do this” mantra, off we went on a recent Sunday morning.
This 4.8 km trail runs between Parkview and Stanley, a lovely enclave on Stanley Bay in the southeast part of the island. From Parkview, the trail begins at Violet Hill. So far, so good.
We reached the resting place at Tze Kong Bridge just over an hour into our walk and felt fine. We fuelled up with our frozen chunks of fresh pineapple, watermelon and granola bars. This junction offers a few directional options and I looked longingly at the flat and/or downhill routes, but Ainsleigh made me stick to the plan.
The 1,000 steps was really hard. It didn’t help that it was a brutally hot day—about 30-degrees Celsius, which feels like 42 or 43 with the humidity. And that was when we started at 9:30am; it just got hotter from there.
I lost track of how many times we stopped on this climb, but we weren’t alone in that regard. There were other small groups of people with whom we played leapfrog the whole way. The fact that others were stopping as frequently made me feel better, but it still hurt.
It was such a relief to reach the top, but another hiker reminded me this walk isn’t called the “Twin” Peaks for nothing. The trail that followed was easier but there was precious little shade. The second climb, which was more on natural, rocky terrain, was where I started feeling fatigued, but there was nothing for it but to keep going.
After the second peak, there is a steep decline, also about 1,000 steps, and on this part of the trail there is zero shade. I took a good pace going down because I really wanted to get to the finish.
We finally reached the bottom of the path where I was expecting immediate gratification with a cold beer at a Stanley bar. But actually the path ends (or begins, depending on your starting point) on Stanley Bay Road about a 10-minute walk from Stanley itself. The heat and relentless sun had taken their toll, not to mention the fact that we had just walked for three hours from 270 meters above sea level at Parkview up to 410 meters, down 120, back up to 340 meters, down to 295, up to 355, then down to near sea level. We caught a taxi and went home to a good dose of electrolyte drinks, salt, protein, air conditioning, a long stretch and a celebratory G&T at the pool.
From most cities in Canada, we would have to drive two hours to the start point of a major hike and walk in a circle back to the car. But here, the hikes are everywhere, easily accessible and very beautiful. This is a unique and wonderful aspect of HK, and one not to be overlooked or taken for granted.