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.