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Outdoors in Hong Kong: Three half-day hikes and one hip hotel

By: Shamus Sillar

After a holiday that’s surrounded by nature? Never one to spend an excessive amount of time in shops, Shamus Sillar instead gets acquainted with Hong Kong’s great outdoors – plus a newish and notable boutique hotel – on a recent three-day visit. Head to discoverhongkong.com for pdf maps and more information in all three of these hikes.

 

 

The Hikes

Hong Kong Trail (Sections 2-3)

Location: The Peak and Pokfulam Country Park
Length: 15-20 km (around four hours)
Level: Easy to moderate

What is it?
The Hong Kong Trail is a 50km walking track that meanders around the forests and ridges of Hong Kong Island. It’s divided into eight sections; Section 1 starts at Victoria Peak (“The Peak”), whose famous panoramas have been attracting visitors since the mid-1800s. Each section can be tackled individually or you can devise your own route that takes in several sections at a time. I did the whole of Sections 2 and 3, together with some bits of 1 and 4.

What’s good about it?
Singapore might be one of only two cities in the world that has a rainforest within its city limits – Rio de Janeiro is the other one – yet not even it can rival Hong Kong as far as an immediate contrast between towering steel-and-glass cityscapes and dense, lush forests is concerned. I was lucky enough to get a misty morning, too, which only heightened the distinction.

Who’s doing it?
It depends on the section; close to the Peak, you’ll find plenty of tourists and locals (especially couples); further along the trail, runners training for long-distance events.

What’s at the end of it?
If, like me, you finish at the end of Section 3 or 4, you’ll find yourself on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Plenty to do here: get on a junk in Aberdeen, explore up-and-coming trendy district Wong Chuk Hang, or get a bus further east to Stanley to see the markets and grab some lunch.

How do you get there?
You can get to the Peak on the famous Peak Tram; it’s a fun start to the day. I actually walked up from Central instead – quite a steep climb, but a great way to get the heart pumping for the kilometres ahead. Lan Kwai Fong to the Peak is around 15 minutes. To get to the start of Section 2, I followed Pokfulam Reservoir Road for 10 minutes.

Terrific view from the Dragon's Back
Terrific view from the Dragon’s Back

 

‘Dragon’s Back’ (Hong Kong Trail, Sections 8)

Location: Shek O Country Park, on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island
Length: 8-9 km (around three hours)
Level: Easy to moderate

What is it?
It’s been 10 years since this stunning path on top of the southeastern peninsula of Hong Kong Island was named Asia’s best urban hiking trail by Time magazine. A lot of boots have trudged along its undulating hills since then, including around a zillion on the day I did it. It was a public holiday, though, so I should have seen it coming; you could almost hear the dragon groaning from the weight.

What’s good about it?
Happily, the crowds don’t matter. You still get glorious, unimpeded views of the South China Sea and Hong Kong Island’s various bays and beaches – especially from Shek O Peak (284m).

Who’s doing it?
Weekend sightseers, community groups, families. Try a weekday morning if you prefer a bit of solitude.

What’s at the end of it?
The beach! There are two options: you can either stop at Big Wave Bay, known for its decent surf break, or continue on to Shek O, where families enjoying late afternoon barbecues and ball games are the order of the day. There are plenty of places to eat, drink and buy provisions at both villages.

How do you get there?
Easy options include driving or taking a taxi (around HK$150 from Central). If you’re relying on public transport, follow these steps:

• Go on the MTR Island Line from Central to Shau Kei Wan (20 minutes).
• Take Exit A3, then board bus 9 from Shau Kei Wan to To Tei Wan.
• The stop is 11 stops or 6km along the route, on Shek O Road near To Tei Wan village. Ask the bus driver or a fellow passenger if you’re not sure where you are.

 

Heading West!
Heading West!

 

Maclehose Trail (Section 3)

Location: New Territories
Length: 10km (around four hours)
Level: Moderate, with a tricky ascent at the beginning

What is it?
The Maclehose Trail is a famous 100km walking track that cuts through the middle of Hong Kong’s New Territories. The first of its 10 sections begins in the east, not far from Sai Kung, and the Trail then follows an east-west direction (with plenty of meandering) before ending up in Tuen Mun. You can tackle any or all of the sections; the prettiest is probably Section 2 with its stunning coastal views, but because I’d done that on an earlier visit, I opted for Section 3 instead.

What’s good about it?
The Maclehose Trail is a world-class walk – and an eye-opener for anyone who equates Hong Kong with hundreds of high-rises clustered around a harbour. Highlights of Section 3 include woodlands, meadows and streams, plus several testing hills. (The first one is a real thigh-burner.) A few wild cows will block your path from time to time, adding an extra challenge.

Who’s doing it?
Maybe I got lucky, but I didn’t pass a single person on Section 3 of the trail. The inclement weather may have helped, but I think even on a good day you’re going to have this part of Hong Kong largely to yourself if you make the effort to get here.

What’s at the end of it?
Section 3 finishes kind of in the middle of nowhere, but at least there’s a bus stop on the quiet country road so you can get back to Sai Kung (bus 99, 15 minutes). Before returning to the city, grab some plates of dim sum in one of the waterfront restaurants of Sai Kung, or go on a boat trip.

How do you get there?
A taxi from Central would likely cost HK$300 to $400; public transport is your best option, though it takes around an hour.

• MTR Central to Choi Hung; change to the green line at Mong Kok (20 minutes)
• Exit C at Choi Hung, then Minibus 1A (every four minutes) to Sai Kung Pier (20 minutes)
• KMB bus 94 to Pak Tam Au bus station, start of Section 3 (20 minutes)

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The Hotel
Family-owned Ovolo launched in 2002 and has become one of Hong Kong’s larger independent hotel and serviced apartment operators, with a half-dozen or so properties in Hong Kong and Australia. I gave their flagship hotel, Ovolo Central, a spin; here are three things that impressed me about it.

Freebies
If you like a hotel that exudes a spirit of generosity, you’ll love Ovolo. There’s free stuff galore here, including a “Loot Bag” waiting on the main console of your room. Mine was filled with packets of chips and chocolates, and a rabbit-shaped lollipop. It might only be a few dollars worth of stuff – a small percentage of the room rate (which starts at around the S$300 mark) – yet it’s still a welcome treat after half a day of international travel.

Need something to wash it all down with? The mini-bar is free, too – yes, including all the miniature bottles of spirits. And if that’s not enough booze to kick-start your holiday, Ovolo’s Happy Hour, 6pm to 8pm, is also free, with cold beers, wines and snacks served in the lobby.

Other freebies include daily breakfast at adjoining Café Ó – more modest than a huge hotel buffet but still fresh and filling – and free Wi-fi, not only in the room and the public areas of the hotel, but also out and about in Hong Kong itself, via a “Y5Zone pass” that allows access in various shopping malls, coffee shops and fast food outlets.

Quirks
The hotel’s sense of playfulness starts with the wording on the terms and conditions of the Wi-fi usage: “DO NO EVIL”. It’s evident in Ovolo’s online presence, too: take a look at www.ovolohotels.com for a very different spin on a regular hotel website. And when I stayed over Easter, there was an in-house competition that involved locating a pair of “bunny ears” that were stashed in your room, then putting them on, taking a photo, and Instagramming it; the prize was a night’s stay at any Ovolo hotel. (There are five in Hong Kong and one in Melbourne.)

Basics
Freebies and quirks are all well and good, but often they’re a ruse to hide the fact that a hotel doesn’t get the simple things right. Not the case with Ovolo; it fully deserves its high TripAdvisor ranking for Hong Kong. The location is ideal: perched just above popular nightspot, Lan Kwai Fong, and within walking distance from the Airport Express station at Central, provided your bag is light enough to lug. The rooms are excellent; all have the same 35-square-metre layout – you just choose between an Executive Suite and a “Super Shiny Room”, which has more extras thrown in. And the staff are happy and helpful – not only in dealing with any issues you might have during your stay, but also before you arrive, emailing comprehensive notes about your booking, a map of how to get to the hotel, recommendations of nearby bars and restaurants, a list of Hong Kong apps you should download before your visit, and a Cantonese “survival guide”.

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