Hiking in Hong Kong
Morning Trail and the Three Peaks
Distance: 8.35 km
Time: 1 hours 49 minutes
Ascent: 515 m
Date: August 2018
Start: Morning Trail, Hong Kong Island
End: Morning Trail, Hong Kong Island
Do this hike if:
you want a short hike with a decent amount of elevation
you prefer to stay off wet, muddy or technical terrains
you're after great views of the city
Avoid this hike if:
you believe "concrete" and "trail" don't belong in the same sentence
it's the weekend - the area is overrun with locals, dogs and hiking groups
continuous climbing is not your idea of fun
While researching hikes on Hong Kong Island I came across a path marked "Morning Trail". Looking at the map I could see that it wasn't the longest trail around, but it was surrounded by little triangles (i.e. mountain peaks). I decided to combine the marked route with a few detours on the way to hopefully catch some awe-inspiring views over the city.
The Morning Trail starts at the end of a residential street, marked by a sign hidden behind overgrown trees, and ascends sharply from there. Straight away there was a disparity between my expectations and reality. A "trail", in my mind, indicates dirt, off-road, technical elements. This was anything but that. Instead it was a wide, paved road, devoid of cars but also devoid of any sense of adventure. The towering trees on either side made for pleasant scenery, and the silence hanging in the air was a welcome relief from the incessant traffic noise I am usually surrounded by, but I didn't really feel like I was hiking.
For about 1.6 km the road inclined non-stop, twisting and turning continuously, with distance posts counting up/down every 100 metres. There was rarely a moment of solitude along the path, with numerous other walkers (almost all of whom were accompanied by dogs) also getting in their daily exercise. A couple of brave souls powered past me in a half run, half shuffle, as they wheezed their way up the path. It's a great spot to get a workout in, but one that I am nowhere near ready to tackle yet.
The trail finally levelled out at a High West Park, packed with groups taking a break from their on-road hiking. I skirted around the edge of the crowd and followed the signs towards the Peak, a 1 km flat walk to the popular tourist attraction and the end of the Morning Trail. Along the way I rounded a corner and came face to face with a powerful waterfall, the wet season causing a deluge of water to drop furiously down the rock side only metres from me. Annoyingly a couple of service vehicles drove by, forcing us walkers to hug the boundary of the road tightly. If I didn't think that "paved" and "trail" went together, then "cars" and "trail" definitely did not.
At the Peak I was swarmed by tourists who had taken the easy way up: the Peak Tram. Of course I couldn't come all this way and not stop to glance out at the iconic Hong Kong skyline, along with hundreds of others taking loads of photos. The only difference between me and them was the workout gear I was wearing.
Ironically this is not one of my three peaks that make up the title of this post. Although it's called the "Peak", it isn't the top of anything. It's just a great spot for taking photos. Victoria Peak was still staring down at me, waiting to be climbed. And that's the direction I headed, ready to tick off peak number one.
A steep, residential road wound its way up the mountain, passing by nothing of note. Following my map I turned up a side street and climbed the stairs at the end, ending up at a dusty patch of flat ground, with no other soul in sight. Although I wasn't technically at the summit of Victoria Peak, this was as far as I could go - a fence surrounding several radio antennas prevented me from hitting the top. It didn't matter. Even from this spot I was rewarded with views towards the south, away from the city. The hills, the water, the islands, the silence - it was fantastic. I stayed here for a few minutes to soak it all in, amazed that I was so close to civilisation but felt a million miles away from it.
I returned the way I came, back to the residential road, and continued walking uphill towards Victoria Peak Garden. The Garden extended quite a distance along the road, converging in a gully that was dotted with picnic tables intermixed with towering trees. Several families were out enjoying the sun, and dogs were loving the freedom to run around unleashed. At the top of the hill was a manicured garden, where a bridal couple were having their photos taken. I was also busy taking photos here - not of the newlyweds, but it did look like a random stranger was stalking their intimate moment.
The summit was marked by a pavilion, which was the former site of the governor's mountain lodge. It turned out that many buildings had occupied this space over the decades, but most had been destroyed by typhoons. While there weren't any buildings here now, the pavilion did provide another view out towards Lamma Island. Several groups of people had set themselves up here for the day, with blankets spread across the ground and plates of food being shared around. I couldn't imagine a much better spot for a picnic.
On the other side of the pavilion a path labelled the Governor's Walk commenced. It led steeply down the mountain, my shoes slipping repeatedly on the damp sections. After a couple of minutes I split off from the marked path and headed forever down stone steps, through dense forest with that I had all to myself. The stairs took me back to High West Park, which I had passed through earlier. It was just as crowded as when I first passed by.
I walked straight through the park to find an almost hidden route in the far corner. Heading down a set of steps and along an uneven path, I took my first steps off the pavement and onto real dirt. An actual trail! I thought things might get a bit more interesting here, but my excitement didn't last long. Within a few steps the dirt turned back into concrete, this time in the form of a narrow staircase. Up and up it went, twisting through the overgrown trees and shrubs, climbing higher and higher without a break. Every hundredth step had been painted with white dots, keeping a running tally of how much effort I was putting in (although my legs could have told me that anyway).
I finally hit the top of High West Peak at step 567 (or so the paintwork told me), where the burning in my legs quickly disappeared. An almost 360 degree panorama surrounded me, stretching out across Kowloon, Lantau, Lamma, and the hills of Hong Kong Island. It rivalled the view at the touristy Peak, partly because of the more extensive views, but mostly because there was no one else around. I kept spinning around in circles, never sure where to look because it was all so mesmerising. I didn't want to leave, but I knew I had one more peak to hit and I was eager to see what it had in store for me.
Dragging myself away I headed down the 567 steps, across the dozen steps of dirt, and landed back at High West Park. From here I jumped onto the Morning Trail again, passing numerous hikers and their furry friends who were gasping their way up the hill. Instead of taking this road all the way to my starting point I turned off onto yet another set of stairs, this one going down. It led me to Pinewood Battery, a prominent military site during World War II that had definitely seen better days. The buildings were now empty concrete shells, cracked and crumbling, taken over by gigantic spiders (honestly, they were the size of my face). Informative signs were scattered about the large site, detailing the battles fought. It was interesting enough to draw a few people out, possibly to learn a little about the Battle of Hong Kong, or to check out something different to most tourist attractions.
Traipsing down hundreds more stairs returned me to the Morning Trail, but I didn't spend long here. As soon as I stepped foot on the trail I turned the corner and walked towards my final peak, Lung Fu Shan. Of course it was steps to the top, but it was easily the shortest climb of the day. Within a minute I was at the summit, where I found a pavilion, a couple of workout stations, and that was it. No view, no lookout, nothing to make this side trip worthwhile. Unsurprisingly, there weren't any others up here with me. I'm not sure if it was ever used.
I left immediately, straight back down the steps to the Morning Trail. This time I stayed on the path, walking back down to where I had started. Overall it wasn't a long hike, but it was enough to get my heart rate spiking a few times and provide me with my 'impressive view' fix. At least I know where to go for a leg workout - I'm pretty sure High West Peak will be seeing a lot more of me in future.
In September 2018, the most intense storm Hong Kong has ever seen, Typhoon Mangkhut, hit the region in a devastating fashion. Winds of over 200 km/h ripped out over 1,500 trees, leaving many trails obliterated. I ventured up the Morning Trail the day after the storm had passed, to assess the level of destruction. The trail had turned into one long obstacle course. It was possible to reach the top, but not without climbing over fallen trunks, ducking under branches and sustaining a few scratches along the way. Now it was more like a trail. Here are a few before and after photos.