The better side of Hong Kong: Top 10 nature reserves
Emerald hills, cotton-soft beaches, close encounters of the wild kind -- the description is practically Amazonian.
But it's Hong Kong we're talking about. That neon-lit metropolis of frantic lives lived distractedly. Not many unassuming tourists would ever have thought that three-quarters of its 1,104 square kilometers of land is actually rural and nearly pristine.
Want to see some of this nature stuff? Here are our top 10 picks:
See the Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) website for bus routes
See the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) permits page for application for private vehicle access permits within country parks
1. Cold weather friend: Tai Mo Shan Country Park
Usually hot and humid, Hong Kong is the kind of place where people will make special trips to mountaintops to look at icicles during cold spells.
Tai Mo Shan is the place to check out the frost on those rare winter days when the peak drops to below zero temperatures.
Hong Kong's highest mountain, Tai Mo Shan reaches 957 meters. The peak and its surrounding country park record the highest rainfall and the coldest temperatures in the territory.
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It is also home to Hong Kong's highest waterfall, the 35-meter Long Falls.
Being the tallest peak in Hong Kong's New Territories, the views are splendid. On a clear day, much of Kowloon, Victoria Harbour and even Hong Kong Island can be seen.
The park is home to more than 100 species of birds and butterflies. But it's also got tons of snakes, including the bamboo snake, which you will spot alongside hiking trails if you're lucky.
Getting there: There are many hiking trails in Tai Mo Shan Country Park. See the AFCD Tai Mo Shan page for more details. A good place to start is to take bus 51 from Tsuen Wan and get off at Tsuen Kam Country Park Management Centre.
2. Planet annoying ape: Kam Shan Country Park
Seems like every Asian destination has its own designated area for pesky monkeys and people love to visit for a laugh no matter how many angry monkey stories they hear.
Kam Shan Country Park is Hong Kong's own monkey haven. The macaques attempting to steal your bag of chips right out of your hand are fun to interact with most of the time.
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Feeding the monkeys intentionally is illegal and even dangerous as they can become aggressive. These monkeys wouldn't be afraid of you if you held a machine gun.
Apart from the monkeys, the rest of Kam Shan is verdant and inviting. There are four reservoirs within the park, making gorgeous scenes of blue glass lakes adjacent to fluffy green hills.
Smuggler's Ridge runs through Kam Shan Country Park. It is a section of the former British military defense system, the Gin Drinker's Line. Built in the 1930s, the remains of these significant defense bunkers are still very much intact.
Getting there: Take bus 72, 81, 86B, or a red minibus to Tai Po Road near Piper's Hill.
3. Almost Thailand: Kiu Tsui Country Park
The Kiu Tsui Country Park archipelago is Hong Kong's own tropical island vacation site.
The most popular points within the area are the beaches. Find a private ferry service along the Sai Kung promenade near the bus terminus and get to the sandy strips at Hap Mun Bay or at Kiu Tsui, also known as Sharp Island.
On a good day, the beaches are full of glistening bodies and the vista is of an endless aquamarine sea dotted with blindingly-white yachts.
The park even has fun geological features. Low tide reveals a tombolo, connecting Sharp Island with a tiny islet called Kiu Tau. You can walk between the two at the right time of day.
The beaches have full facilities, including toilets, showers and barbecue pits.
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Getting there: Take a kaido to Kiu Tsui or Hap Mun Bay by the Sai Kung bus terminus.
4. Best sunrise: Lantau South Country Park
It's the second best place to see a sunrise. The first being in your Facebook friend feed.
Head to Lantau peak in Lantau South Country Park for Hong Kong's best dawn experience.
Hike to the summit in the dark and arrive just in time for dawn. It sounds a little tree-hugging radical, but it is worth it as one of Hong Kong's most unique experiences in nature.
Save some time by spending a night at the Ngong Ping Youth Hostel not too far away. The climb takes around two hours.
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Getting there: Take the ferry to Mui Wo at Central Pier 6. At Mui Wo Pier bus terminus, there are bus routes to all parts of Lantau. Or take the MTR to Tung Chung station where you can take Ngong Ping 360 cable car or bus to Ngong Ping. Lantau Peak sunrise trail entrance is near the Wisdom path. beta.discoverhongkong.com
5. Small, beautiful things: Tai Po Kau Special Area
Tai Po Kau Special Area is the best place to spot local species of flora and fauna. Unlike country parks, less recreational facilities are available at this nature reserve. There are no barbecue sites.
Nature is firmly the first priority here, with original forests preserved. It is a complete break from the concrete jungle.
The area is listed by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society as one of the best places to see rare birds and insects. Trail walkers who pass through quietly can spot exotic birds, butterflies, other critters, indigenous flowers and fruits.
Tai Po Kau is also a popular place to catch and observe fireflies in Hong Kong.
Getting there: Take buses 72, 72A, 73A, 74A, or green mini-bus 28K at Tai Wo MTR station, get off at Chung Tsai Yuen Bus Stop and walk back 50 meters to reach the entrance to Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve.
6. Sexy rocks: High Island
High Island is one of the best sites within the Hong Kong Geopark.
A collection of 12 special geological sites spread around Hong Kong, the geopark is a rock enthusiast's dream.
High Island alone has some of Hong Kong's most spectacular rock formations. The mounds of rocks form angular patterns, as though someone went at it with a giant chisel. At Po Pin Chau, there's a hill that was broken clear into two sections by natural forces.
Getting there: Take bus 94 at Sai Kung Market or 96R at Diamond Hill MTR station (service on weekends and public holidays only). Get off after Pak Tam Chung and walk along Tai Mong Tsai Road to the junction ahead. Turn into Man Yee Road of Sai Kung on the right and walk on for about nine kilometers to the High Island Reservoir East Dam, the starting point of High Island Geo Trail. www.geopark.gov.hk
7. Most inclusive: Aberdeen Country Park
The Aberdeen Country Park on Hong Kong Island has the physically impaired in mind.
The park has a wheelchair ramp and a picnic area for the disabled. Disabled visitors can use the wheelchair trail to enjoy the scenery nature has to offer. Braille maps and information boards are also in place for the blind.
It is one of Hong Kong's oldest country parks and is located close to urban residences. The hiking trails are mostly easy and are popular with kids on school field trips.
Getting there: Take green minibus 4A or 4C from Lockhart Road in Causeway Bay to Shek Pai Wan in Aberdeen. Or green minibus 4B that runs between Wanchai and Shek Pai Wan. At Shek Pai Wan, follow Aberdeen Reservoir Road up the hill for the portal of Aberdeen Country Park. Stage 3 of the Hong Kong Trail starts at Peel Rise next to Pui Tak Canossian College on the right side of Aberdeen Reservoir Road.
8. Real tweets: Hong Kong Wetland Park
This is Hong Kong's prized centerpiece of a nature reserve.
The Hong Kong Wetland Park in the New Territories has a stunning variety of animals in Hong Kong. As such, it has become a hub of conservation, ecotourism and education.
It is also home to Pui Pui the crocodile, Hong Kong's endearing reptilian mascot.
You can make a day out of visiting the Wetland Park and its facilities for visitors. The stream walk, mangrove boardwalk and the bird hideouts placed right next to the fish pond gets you up close and personal with wildlife.
Getting there: At West Rail Tin Shui Wai Station, change to Light Rail Transit 705 or 706 to Tin Sau Station or Wetland Park Station to get to Hong Kong Wetland Park. See www.wetlandpark.com for more details.
9. An eyeful of Victoria Harbour: Pokfulam Country Park
Victoria Harbour looks extra amazing from the Peak Trail in Pokfulam Country Park.
The Trail leads you to tourist hot spot Victoria Peak, known simply as "The Peak," so you can tick that off the list when you get to the end.
Popular as a dog-walking area for moneyed residents of the Peak and of Hong Kong's Mid-Levels, you can break out your glamour hiking outfits for this field trip.
The Pokfulam Reservoir is also Hong Kong's oldest and is a sight in its own right.
Getting there: Pokfulam Country Park is served by many public transport routes. To get to the Peak Trail, take bus 15 or 515, or green minibus 1 to the Peak. See www.afcd.gov.hk for more detail.
10. Best for the imagination: Lion Rock Country Park
Lion Rock is a huge rock formation perched at the top of a hill. Squint hard, exercise some imagination and you may see the rock's resemblance to a lion.
It has become a symbol of Hong Kong and is an inspiration for pop culture.
The hiking trail to the peak is relatively easy but can be quite steep and challenging near the "head" of the Lion Rock. Unobstructed views of Hong Kong take the edge off the pain of the hike.
Amah Rock on the hilltop near the entrance of Lion Rock Tunnel is another famous giant rock formation. It looks a bit like a woman with a baby on her back.
The story is that a woman stood carrying her baby, waiting for her husband to return home. She and the baby waited so long, they turned to stone.
Getting there: Lion Rock Country Park is a very accessible destination, with bus routes stopping or passing through from all parts of the territory. See www.afcd.gov.hk for details on bus routes.