Published on July 23rd, 2012 | by Aeris0
HONG KONG: TROPICAL PARADISE IN DISGUISE
Grace Brown uncovers wild Hong Kong…
Do you think of lush forests, sleepy fishing villages and bubbling waterfalls when you think ‘Hong Kong?’ Didn’t think so.
For a heaving 42 million tourists last summer, Hong Kong was a convenient stopover en route to Europe, or a glamourous getaway in itself… They came mostly for a healthy dose of hedonism, and to pay homage to the city’s hundreds of gleaming malls. Most were probably unaware of the enchanting jungles and sparkling white beaches, just 20 minutes beyond the towering skyscrapers — or that 90 per-cent of Hong Kong is in fact, wilderness…
Take Upper Cheung Sha Beach — this glorious palm beach of bouncy, white sand stretches for several kilometres, and it is a joy to stroll along through the waves. You can reach it by hopping on the MTR to Tung Chung, Lantau (be sure to leave an hour to get there). From there, take a short bus ride to Upper Cheung Sha Beach and spend the day kayaking, paragliding and frolicking in the water. When the sun begins to set, it’s fun to wander down the sandy, vine-covered path to Lower Cheung Sha and see both sides from the pagoda overlooking the bay. Continue down the slope to High Tide, serving up authentic Thai dishes and ice-blended mango — the perfect end to a summer’s day!
For an adventure, The Machlehose Stage 2 is one of my favourites. We took the MTR to Hang Hau (in the New Territories), then a green taxi to Sai Kung’s Long Ke, near the pristine High Island Reservoir — from there begins a breathtaking coastal trail. This hike is not for the faint-hearted: it begins steeply uphill, along giant Mediterranean cliffs. Our efforts were rewarded by the spectacular, glittering turquoise beach of Tai Long Wan, just beyond those cliffs. A few small groups were setting up barbecues or camping overnight on the powdery white sand.
We continued on to a charming local noodle restaurant overlooking the next bay, before reaching a rickety old bridge leading to Chek Keng bay, from where we caught a small boat to Wong Shek Pier, Sai Kung. Watching the bays and coves go past, we realised how far we had come. The last boat sometimes leaves as early as 5pm, so be sure you start no later than 10am if you want to stop for a swim, and bring plenty of cash for boat fares, which vary depending on whether a small boat ($20 per person) or a sampan ($800 per group) is available.
For a trip to the beach on Hong Kong’s laid-back south side, try The Dragon’s Back & Shek-O: Take a taxi to Shek-O Road (near Cape Collinson Road) and proceed up the hill. While ‘the dragon’ sits at an intimidating 284 metres high and rolls itself along the top of Shek-O mountain, the path soon levels out and you’ll find yourself walking along the flat ‘back’ of the mountain, overlooking Shek-O beach and To Tei Wan Village. We usually conclude the day’s efforts with a swim in the sea and dinner at the main Thai restaurant in To Tei Village (with wonderful seafood fried rice served in a juicy pineapple). You can take the minibus to Shau Kei Wan, and from there catch the MTR.
Another fantastic summer escape is Lamma Island. Hop on the ferry from Central Pier 4 and arrive at low-key Lamma. This island has a rugged landscape with granite hills, organic farms, tiny villages and no cars. It is perhaps most famous for its fresh fish and crispy squid on the wharf. The bigger, more established ones lie across the island at Yung Shue Wan, but we found the one on the ‘Southern Tree’ side of Sok Kwu Chau to be equally tasty, particularly the crab curries. Meander or cycle through the little café and farm-lined streets back towards Yung Shue Wan and you’ll reach a beautiful beach with bronzed rocks sheltering each side. There is a particularly elegant, verandah-style restaurant on the sand, from where I would probably enjoy a glass of chilled wine at sunset.
Lastly, allow me to share with you a secret forest with eight waterfalls, between Nam Shan and Pak Tung: This all-flat Lantau trail is so mysterious — with overgrown paths, bubbling waterfalls, toadstools and fluttering butterflies — my friends always remark that it is like walking through a fairytale (I think it resembles a Lord of the Rings film set…). To get there, catch the ferry from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo, Lantau and from there, get any bus to the Nam Shan Country Park (10 minutes from the pier). The start of the trail should read ‘to Pak Tung’ and ‘Sunset Peak.’ Once you have climbed the only uphill part and reached the helicopter pad with panoramic views over the mountains, you will reach a fork in the road. Take a sharp left, onto the path with the sign ‘to Pak Tung’ and proceed.
This is especially fun if it’s been a raining (which is often, in Hong Kong!). The waterfalls and refreshing rock pools will be invitingly full, overflowing across the stoney path… After a day of splashing in the falls (and ideally a picnic on the rocks), catch the bus back to Mui Wo and stop by The Kitchen for arguably the most flavoursome, thin pizzas in town.
When you return to the neon-and-tramway hustle and bustle in less than an hour, you’ll be left wondering whether it was all a dream.