It can be hard to picture an outdoorsy side to Hong Kong when you’re standing in the centre of the city buzz, surrounded by towering skyscrapers, lights flashing and traffic whirring in every direction. But on the fringes of this bustling metropolis, a whole new world opens up: green, mountainous scenery rolls into sunny ocean shores and winding trails and hidden gems beg to be discovered. It makes for the perfect daytrip to escape all that hustle and bustle – and for repeat visitors, promises a new adventure every time and myriad ways in which to experience the boundless potential of Hong Kong’s many contrasts.
A favourite escape into the great outdoors is Lantau Island, a region of great scenic beauty and home to beautiful Buddhist architecture, as well as Hong Kong’s playful and charismatic ‘pink’ dolphins. Hong Kong’s largest outlying island, travellers flock here largely in pursuit of the Big Budda, one of the tallest seated Buddha statues in the world at 34 metres high.What makes this bronze icon so special however is its location – set amongst raw natural beauty overlooking a series of misty undulating peaks, imparting a distinct sense of peace and serenity.
The colourful Po Lin Monastery next door adds further cultural insight and spiritual atmosphere, while the Ngong Ping 360 cable car makes every second of the journey there count. The 25-minute ride from Tung Chung boasts astonishing bird’s eye views over the mesmerising play of sea and mountains.
Lamma Island is also naturally stunning and with no cars on the island, is pleasantly laidback. Here, it’s all about the relaxed villages to explore, the superb seafood restaurants and the long stretches of golden sands. Hung Shing Yeh is the largest and most popular spot for beachfront bliss, with its clean waters and powdery sands as well as the convenience of change rooms, volleyball nets and bites to eat. Lo So Shing Beach is the quieter option, with fewer crowds and a backdrop of untouched hillsides. Those in search of utmost privacy – with a dash of adventure – can retreat to Turtle Beach, which is actually closed for half the year for turtles to nest. The only way to get here is via a walking track which takes about an hour.
All over Hong Kong there are trails winding and weaving their way through the diverse array of landscapes, so for the walking and hiking enthusiasts, there are many more impressive routes to tackle in search of deserted shores, volcanic landscapes, feng shui woods and remote temples. A two-hour trek from Ngong Ping you can find yourself at the best sunrise vantage point in the city – atop Hong Kong’s second highest summit, Lantau Peak on Lantau Island. You can also start at Mui Wo for a longer and more challenging route.
But even on Hong Kong Island itself there are some spectacular walking tracks that combine the beauty of nature with sweeping panoramas from afar. Take in the world-famous vistas of Victoria Harbour from a peaceful, leafy outlook on the Peak Circle Walk, winding around the highest point on Hong Kong Island. Alternatively, the longer and more popular Dragon’s Back trail offers spectacular views over Shek O, Tai Long Wan, Stanley and the South China Sea.
Prefer to have two legs spinning on a bicycle than hitting the trails on foot? There are some wonderful cycling trails around Hong Kong too. Pedal through the wetlands of the New Territories, head out for a half-day ride through scenic woodland paths and wetland wildlife at Nam Sang Wai or go mountain biking along the well-planned Tai Lam Mountain Bike Trail. There are more urban bike routes to be found as well. Follow the paths tracing the Shing Mun River from Sha Tin to Tolo Harbour or, head upstream for a breezy ride to Wu Kai Sha.
Whether you’re looking for a quick break from the city chaos or you wish to escape completely and be wholly immersed in the thick of nature, Hong Kong is a place where you can do that and so much more. There is always more to do, see and experience beyond the obvious. The trick is to look beyond the facade of that iconic city skyline because what many travellers don’t realise is that about 80 per cent of the city limits are green. This opens the door to a never-ending raft of possibilities that can only be found in the great outdoors.