Hiking in Hong Kong
Lantau Trail (7-12)
Distance: 42.5 km
Time: 8 hours 9 minutes
Ascent: 973 m
Date: June 2019
Start: Tai O
End: Mui Wo
Do this hike if:
You want to feel like you're a million miles from civilisation
You love coastal paths and ocean vibes
Avoid this hike if:
Unrelenting spiderwebs drive you crazy
You can't handle long stretches on flat concrete
The Lantau Trail, the last of Hong Kong's four long trails that I was yet to conquer. At 70 km long (although my watch said a little shorter), it makes a giant loop around Lantau Island, starting and finishing in the seaside town of Mui Wo. Waiting for two rain-free days in a row, on a weekend, when I had nothing else planned, turned out to be a year-long endeavour. When it finally arrived, I blocked out the time in my diary and eagerly set out to see what Lantau would offer.
Weather forecast for day two: "Very hot - stay indoors". Once again, this wasn't going to stop me from finishing what I set out to achieve.
If you haven't read day one's adventures (sections 1-6), click here to check it out.
Section 7: Tai O to Kau Ling Chung (10.5 KM)
Tai O, early in the morning, was a completely different place to the frenzy I faced yesterday afternoon. No mobs of tourists running around, no deafening noise, just a sleepy village setting up for the day. If I didn't have 42.5 km of hiking ahead of me, I would have taken a moment to explore the town.
From the bus stop, I turned away from Tai O and set out towards a mountain I had traversed yesterday. But this time I didn't go up; instead I stayed on relatively level ground and followed the water's edge. The concrete path enabled me to set a decent pace, where I passed by a few rundown houses and not much else. Other than a handful of local dogs, I didn't see another living being along here. It wasn't long before the bay disappeared behind the trees, the dense foliage blocking the coastal scenery. However, I could still hear the water gently lapping against the shore, and the occasional scent of seaweed wafted up from the sea. It was a wonderfully peaceful start to the day.
It wasn't long before that peace was rudely interrupted by my archenemies: the Hong Kong spiders. They were back, and they had taken over the entire trail. Along the paved path it wasn't so bad, but after 3 km the trail turned to dirt, and the spiders had taken up residence in every available space. It felt like no one had come through here in months, although I was certain people walked this route every day. I constantly tried to duck under and manoeuvre around the webs, but each time I stood up straight I would find myself tangled up in another one. I was certain I would come out engulfed in a full silk cocoon at the end.
Other than the profusion of spiderwebs, I was glad to be off the concrete and back on a real trail again. I was heading inland, away from the water (which I couldn't see anyway), with only thick forest ahead of me. What I didn't realise was how thick it would be until I was in the middle of it. To say it was overgrown was an understatement. The route was rocky and uneven and needed close attention, but when I looked down I couldn't even see my feet due to the knee-high grass. I cautiously tiptoed through here, trying desperately not to roll an ankle while avoiding the arachnids. I was relieved there were no steep sections, but that didn't make it any easier. The grass gave way to slippery rocks, with several large puddles and creek crossings making sure my feet were drenched. It was so dark I didn't know if the sun was out or if the sky was blanketed by clouds. It was mind-boggling how rapidly my surroundings had changed in just 10 minutes.
I came out at a concrete path and presumed things would immediately improve. They didn't. While I could now see where I was placing my feet, my shoes were soaked, the spiders continued their infestation, and there was nothing to look at but an impenetrable wall of vegetation. I stomped along and hoped conditions would soon improve, while reminding myself that this was undoubtedly better than enormous crowds or billions of steps in the blazing sun.
After passing a secluded beach and an almost empty village (where the only signs in English all advertised beer), my wish was granted. The trees gave way to shrubs, the water views returned, I could see the sky, and the webs reduced to one every few steps. The path climbed higher and higher, winding its way along the coastline, giving me numerous photo opportunities of the rugged scenery. No buildings, no development, no human interference - it was picture perfect. I could hike along trails like this forever.
One kilometre before the end, my paradise ended: I hit a catchwater. There's always a catchwater in Hong Kong, and as I didn't spot any yesterday I knew I would hit at least one today. No shade, no views, nothing but concrete around every bend. At least I had the memories of the stunning landscape I had just passed through to occupy my time. Thankfully it was only one kilometre...
Section 8: Kau Ling Chung to Shek Pik (5.5 KM)
Except that it wasn't just one kilometre. The mostly flat, monotonous catchwater persisted for the majority of this section too. The sea was tantalisingly close, but a thin line of trees prevented any decent views for the majority of the walk. Right before the end the path turned into a local road, where the only difference was the undulating nature of the terrain. It was a forgettable 5.5 km.
Section 9: Shek Pik to Shui Hau (6.5 KM)
Section nine started on a main road, walking along the edge of a reservoir that I saw from up above several times yesterday. The bird's eye view was far more breathtaking than the close up version, but I much preferred this to the catchwater (even with the cars and buses flying by). It was also better than the view on the other side of the road, which was of a prison. The inmates had scored prime real estate, peering directly out over the sea. I'm sure there are worse places to be locked up than on Lantau Island.
Fortunately, it wasn't long before I was off the main road and on another quiet hilly street that offered shade and relative silence. Ten minutes later I was back on a trail again, hitting the dirt and stone steps with gusto. Perhaps I should have been a little less enthusiastic, as the effort to climb the hill caused rivers of sweat to pour off me. The air was completely still, creating sauna-like conditions that had me reaching for my water every couple of minutes.
After what felt like an eternity the ascent levelled off and a superb single track appeared before me. The sea views I was after were few and far between, but there were no spiderwebs, no concrete and hardly any people. The terrain constantly varied, providing a mixture of dirt, stone steps, gravel, rock-hopping, and lastly sand as I made my way down to a beach. A couple of families had set themselves up for the day on this isolated stretch of coast; it looked like the ideal spot to escape the masses that infiltrate other parts of Lantau.
Dragging myself away, I climbed up a never-ending steep staircase to an empty street, which led me out to a town on a busy main road. Tranquility gone.
Section 10: Shui Hau to Old Tung Chung Road (6.5 KM)
It was a brief trek through the unremarkable town before I turned off to face more stairs. By now it was the hottest part of the "very hot" day, humidity was hovering around 95%, and I had hundreds of stairs before me. The sun's rays were doing their best to turn me to liquid, but I kept pushing on. Every now and then I passed a small clearing containing large painted urns, well-maintained and lined up evenly. I was used to seeing the armchair-shaped graves around Hong Kong but the urns were new to me. This was the only noteworthy feature on the agonising climb.
I finally reached the top to find... another catchwater. The off-road segment had only lasted 800 metres, and the rest of this 6.5 km section followed the concrete waterways. This was supposed to be a "trail" - who was it that decided a catchwater fit that description? Once again, I could spot speckles of blue through the trees, but they never opened up enough to see the panorama as a whole. I power walked through here, hoping that the end of the section meant the end of the catchwater.
Section 11: Old Tung Chung Road to Pui O (4.5 KM)
It didn't. There was more catchwater. I had a brief interlude at a rare lookout point, but otherwise I plodded on for another three kilometres, staring at the trees and the smooth concrete before me. At one point I passed a mini-waterfall crashing down beside the path, a momentary diversion from the monotony. Several people were cooling off in the natural pools at the top of the falls, and I was sorely tempted to jump in and join them. I continued on, eventually hitting a downhill trail for a brief moment before emerging at the beachside destination of Pui O. One more section to go.
Section 12: Pui O to Mui Wo (9.0 KM)
I had hoped that being in Pui O meant I would have the opportunity to see the popular beach. If it wasn't for a brief glimpse of the shore across an inlet, I wouldn't have even known it was there. I instead spent the first couple of kilometres walking on the road, passing by rental accommodation and holidaymakers, with the water eluding me yet again.
For a change (*eye roll*), the route turned off up a yet another set of stairs, which continued on, and on, and on. Periodically I would turn around and catch a partial view over the water, but they weren't nearly as impressive as what I witnessed earlier in the day. Every time I thought I must be at the top, more steps would appear - I was trapped in a succession of fall summits, the end never in sight. It turned out to be the biggest ascent of the day, right when my legs were at their most fatigued.
Finally, finally. there was no more uphill. The track then alternated between horizontal and downhill, all on singletrack, all in the shade. It was a beautiful way to finish this odyssey, with sporadic views over the sea. There was only one negative - the dreaded Bluetooth speaker. I thought I might have escaped hearing any of the horrible screech that the elderly locals like to blast out, especially walking along such remote trails today, but it wasn't to be. The music (if you could call it that) carried far through the forest, ruining my idyllic experience for several minutes before and after passing the offenders. Once I was out of earshot, I could resume my quiet solitude.
Back in Mui Wo I followed the road around to the ferry terminal, signalling the end of the Lantau Trail. I was ecstatic to make it back well before nightfall, but also a little bummed I missed the ferry by a mere two minutes. It did give me a great excuse to sit at a cafe overlooking the water, stuff myself with the world's largest basket of fries, and reminisce on the incredible journey I had taken over the last two days. Lantau Island is an extraordinary place, and I had no doubt I would be returning many times for more hiking adventures.
Final Stats for the entire Lantau trail
Distance: 70 km
Time: 15 hours 16 minutes
Ascent: 2892 m
Descent: 2892 m