ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Nature

DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China

An hour-long morning flight brought us from the ancient Chinese capital Xian to the southern part of Minshan Mountains (岷山), a transitional area where the flat Sichuan Basin meets with the Tibetan Plateau.  Geologically it is right on the vaultline between the Yangtze Plate and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plate, and is therefore prone to earthquakes.  Ecologically it is the habitat for the endangered golden snub-nosed monkeys and giant pandas.  For travelers, it is an famous destination for two of China’s scenic attractions: Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝) and Huanglong (黃龍).  At 8:15am, we landed at the Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport, a highland airport (about 3400m above sea level) opened in 2003 to serve the constantly growing demand of tourism.  We hopped on a minibus outside the airport for Jiuzhaigou.  The bus ride took a little over an hour, traveling through villages, mountain passes, and valleys.  Just as suspected, the minibus dropped everyone off at a village parking lot some 10 minutes of drive away from Pengfeng Village (彭豐村), where the main gate of Jiuzhaigou National Park and our guesthouse were located.  A bunch of taxi drivers came over as if hawks saw their preys.  Despite the rain, we pushed away the drivers and attempted to find our own way to Pengfeng.  We walked into the adjacent village (don’t even know the name) and asked around.  We eventually flagged down a car whose driver (a guesthouse owner) was willing to drive us to Pengfeng for a small fee.  By the time we reached our guesthouse Friendship Hostel in Pengfeng, it was almost noon.

It didn’t took us long to refresh ourselves and began our afternoon adventure into Jiuzhaigou National Park.  It was a 20 minute from our guesthouse to the park entrance.  It was rainy and chilly and hardly visitors were entering the park this late in the day.  We bought the admission ticket excluding the shuttle bus fare as we wanted to do some hiking in the area close to the park entrance, while leaving most of the park highlights for the next day.  It was a slippery hike in a wet afternoon, but we had the trail pretty much all by ourselves.  Our plan was to walk as far as we could and get a taste of the park.  Along the Shuzheng River, in the remaining time of the day before the park closed, we covered the lower half of Shuzheng Valley (樹正溝).  Despite the rain, we had some tranquil moments on the trail until reaching the area between Bonsai Shoals (盆景灘) and Sparking Lake (火花海), where apart from the magnificent turquoise lakes and scenic waterfalls, we also had our first experience of the horrific tourist crowds, which unfortunately, was also what Jiuzhaigou is well known for in recent years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinding through valleys and passes, the airport bus passed by a kitschy welcome sign of Jiuzhaigou in the middle of nowhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow was already present at mountain passes on our way to Jiuzhaigou.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt noon, we finally reached Friendship Hostel at Pengfeng Village.  We chose to stay at Pengfeng because of its walkable distance from the park entrance.  Despite simple, the guesthouse had a causal and welcoming atmosphere.

dsc_8348We reached the visitor centre and ticket office of Jiuzhaigou National Park at about 1pm.  It was rainy and chilly and we were a little tired from the early morning flight, but our hearts were excited.

dsc_8349The trail along Shuzheng River was mostly consisted of boardwalk paths.

dsc_8374The hike was wet and sometimes slippery, but we felt like we were the only visitors for the first two hours.

dsc_8389Out of the nine Tibetan villages in Jiuzhaigou, seven are still populated.  Closest to the park entrance, Heye Village (荷葉寨) is also one of the biggest.  As we approached Heye, the rain began to recede.

dsc_8397Heye Village (荷葉寨) was the first village we encountered.  Houses in Heye were still decorated in Tibetan style.

dsc_8408Village houses of Heye Villag (荷葉寨).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Heye Village, we continued to walk along Shuzheng River until reaching an area with a number of small lakes, including Bonzai Shoals (盆景灘), Reeds Lake (蘆葦海), Double Dragon Lake (雙龍海), Sparkling Lake (火花海), and Sleeping Dragon Lake (臥龍海).  Despite the gloomy weather, we had our first glimpses of Jiuzhaigou’s crystal clear turquoise water.

dsc_8427Water plants were clearly visible in the crystal water.

dsc_8458At Reeds Lake (蘆葦海), the reeds can grow as tall as human height.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADrying reeds on racks near Reeds Lake (蘆葦海).

dsc_8465Winding boardwalk along Reeds Lake (蘆葦海).

dsc_8484A Tibetan roadside shrine with colourful prayer flags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABird enthusiast taking photos of an eagle with a professional telephoto lens.

dsc_8513With water coming from two opposite ridges, one of the highlights of our day was Sparkling Lake Waterfalls (火花海瀑布).

dsc_8558Looking down the turquoise water of Sleeping Dragon Lake (臥龍海) from the zigzag boardwalk on the higher ridge.

dsc_8541Small waterfalls at both sides of the boardwalk from one lake down to another were virtually everywhere in the Sparkling Lake (火花海) area.

dsc_8591It was almost 7pm when we returned to Pengfeng Village.  We opted for a recently established restaurant of Chongqing cuisine for dinner and retired to our guesthouse after a brief visit to a small grocery shop.  As we hoped for a good rest in a rather cold night, all we could wish was some fine weather in the next morning.

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Our posts on 2016 Xian and Jiuzhaigou:

DAY 1 – NIGHT ARRIVAL, Xian, China
DAY 2 – QIN EMPEROR’S TERRACOTTA ARMY, near Xian, China
DAY 2 – BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA (大雁塔), Xian, China
DAY 3 – HAN YANG LING MAUSOLEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – SHAANXI HISTORY MUSEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – GREAT MOSQUE (西安大清真寺) AND MUSLIM QUARTER, Xian, China
DAY 3 – MING CITY WALL, Xian, China
DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 5 – ARROW BAMBOO LAKE (箭竹海), PANDA LAKE (熊貓海) & FIVE FLOWER LAKE (五花海), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – PEARL SHOAL FALLS (珍珠灘瀑布), MIRROR LAKE (鏡海) & NUORILANG FALLS (諾日朗瀑布), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – LONG LAKE (長海) & FIVE COLOURS LAKE (五彩池), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – RHINOCEROS LAKE (犀牛海), TIGER LAKE (老虎海) & SHUZHENG VILLAGE (樹正寨), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 6 – ASCEND TO FIVE COLOUR POND (五彩池), Huanglong (黃龍), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 7 – FAREWELL JIUZHAIGOU & XIAN, China

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ALGONQUIN LEGEND AND MAZINAW PICTOGRAPHS, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Once there was a legend…

Before the creation of land there was only the expanse of boundless water, on which a large floating raft carrying all kinds of animals searching for land.  Great Hare, the chief among them all, urged the beaver to dive into the water and bring back a particle of earth.  The beaver went reluctantly into the deep deep water but after a long time came back exhausted and empty handed.  The animals then turned to the otter for the request but it too failed reaching the bottom.  The animals fell to despair amid fears of floating in the endless water eternally, then came the small and weak muskrat who was willing to give another go.  Off it went for a day and night and finally resurfaced unconsciously with belly up and paws closed.  The animals pulled the muskrat onto the raft, and opened its paws one by one.  Not until the last paw was opened then they found a single grain of sand.  The Great Hare dropped the sand onto the raft and the magic began.  On the raft, the sand started to grow larger and become rocks and then mountains and then the entire world where all animals could thrive and find their own food.  The first generation of animals lived happily since then and died peacefully.  The Great Hare then created humans out from the various animal corpses, such as the elk, bear and fish, each with their own dialect and tribal origin related to the deceased animal.

This version of a cosmogonic legend was passed down orally throughout generations of the Algonquians, the people who dominated pre-colonial Eastern Canada including the Atlantic Coast, Quebec, Ontario and the Great Lakes regions.  Their ancestors roamed over these lands since thousand of years ago, leaving vivid evidences of their beliefs with pictographs and petroglyphs discovered throughout the Canadian Shield.  The tale combining water, animals and Algonquin pictographs is the story of Bon Echo Provincial Park.  With the exact etching dates still unknown, the 250+ pictographs on over 65 cliff surfaces along Mazinaw Lake at Bon Echo Provincial Park is widely recognized as one of the oldest First Nations pictograph sites in the Canadian Shield region.  Etched with red ochre (a natural mineral of silica and clay with iron oxide), these pictographs of human, animal and abstract figures were applied onto the cliff surface by people on canoes.  Most of these rock art were used in search for helping spirits, or in rituals of shamanism, when the shaman used these pictographs for healing, prophesy and vision quests.

On a Friday evening in early summer 2013, we headed off to Bon Echo Provincial Park after work.  After over a decade since Angela first explored the park in a canoe trip, we decided to revisit this beautiful provincial park for its starry sky, pristine lake scenery, and mysterious pictographs on the 100m Mazinaw Rock cliffs.   After almost three hours of driving from Toronto, we arrived at Lennox & Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area south of Bon Echo.  Unfortunately half the night sky was covered with clouds.  We left disappointingly and headed for our accommodation at Northbrook’s Pine Grove Motel, about 15 minutes drive south of Bon Echo.  After midnight, the sky cleared up and we had some fine moments of stargazing outside the motel.  Early in the next morning, we drove north on Highway 41 and entered Bon Echo Provincial Park.  After a short walk along the shore of Mazinaw Lake, we rented a canoe at Bon Echo Outfitters to explore the lake.  We left the small cove at Lower Mazinaw Lake, passed the unique channel The Narrows, and paddled along the cliffs of Mazinaw Rock at Upper Mazinaw Lake looking for the Aboriginal pictographs.  At one point, we docked our canoe by the shore and hiked up to the summit of the rock cliff for a birdeye view of the park.  After canoeing, we returned to the Narrows where a bench and a lamp post offered a magnificent spot to enjoy the scenery of Mazinaw Rock.  We stayed at the Narrows for the rest of the afternoon, braving the cold water with our feet, taking time-lapse photography of the scenery, watching boats coming through the Narrows every twenty minutes or so, listening to the sound of gentle waves and occasional songbirds, and enjoying every tranquil moment of daydreaming under the warm afternoon sun.   It was the perfect picture of Ontario landscape, the legendary homeland of Aboriginal Algonquins, and one of the splendid settings of our delightful Canadian memories.

17That night, we were the only visitors staying at Pine Grove Motel in Northbrook.

18The sky cleared up after midnight, and we indulged ourselves with some splendid moments of stargazing under shooting stars and a faint Milky Way.

19That night was cool with mild wind. The dark sky was not entirely clear but we still got a glimpse of the Milky Way with naked eyes.

1The next day, we entered Bon Echo Provincial Park under the morning mist.

2We decided to rent a canoe to explore the vast Mazinaw Lake.

88_01Canoeing is the best way to enjoy Mazinaw Lake.

4Given the cliffs of the 100m Mazinaw Rock, Bon Echo is also popular for rock climbing.

9Aboriginal pictographs on cliff surface.

10We docked our canoe and walked up to the top of an island for its amazing view.

7We paddled by this quiet lone bench and lamp post at the shallow channel called The Narrows..

5The bench at The Narrows was the perfect spot to spend the afternoon.

6When there was no wind and boat, the lake was like a perfect mirror for Mazinaw Rock.

3We tried a few times walking into the shallow water in front of the bench at The Narrows as it seemed temptingly clean.  Despite less than a foot deep and the warmth of early summer, We couldn’t stand the freezing water for long.

11We stayed at The Narrows till late afternoon.

12The tree roots by the water at The Narrows looked sculptural.

13Peaceful Mazinaw Lake represents the beauty of Ontario landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe low sun reminded us that it was almost time to leave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATripod, lamp post and Calvin.

15Final view of Mazinaw Rock at The Narrows through the viewfinder.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


ANCIENT REEF AND ESCARPMENT, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

Continuing on the accounts of our experiences at parks in Southern Ontario, this time we would write about the Bruce Peninsular National Park.  At Bruce Peninsular that separates the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron, Bruce Peninsular National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park are popular among hikers, adventurers, and tourists.  From Tobermory at the tip of Bruce Peninsular, regular tour boats take visitors out to Flower Pot Island to appreciate its unique rock formations, and Cove Island for its romantic lighthouse.  Adventure seekers also regard the Fathom Five National Marine Park, the area south of Cove Island, as a paradise for shipwreck scuba-diving.  Back on the shore of mainland, Tobermory is a hub for all activities in the area.  Regular ferry also departs from here to Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world.  Near Tobermory, the Bruce Peninsular National Park offers a well maintained natural reserve for nature lovers and hikers who either begin or end the 700km Bruce Trail that connects Tobermory to Niagara.

450 millions years ago during the Silurian era, a shallow warm sea covered a vast area of Northeastern United States and the Province of Ontario in Canada within a depression in the Earth crust known as Michigan Basin.  Known as the Niagara Escarpment, the northern edge of Michigan Basin is still visible today.  The Niagara Escarpment runs like an arch from the western edge of Lake Michigan up along the southern edge of Manitoulin Island, and from the Bruce Peninsular all the way down to the New York State, cutting through Southern Ontario between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie where the Niagara River makes the famous 50m drop at Niagara Falls.  For 700km from Niagara-on-the Lake to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail runs almost in alignment with the Niagara Escarpment.  It is the longest and oldest marked hiking trail in Canada.  Before hitting its terminus at Tobermory, the trail enters the Bruce Peninsula National Park where we visited twice in 2007 and 2011.

The first time we visited Tobermory, we spent a long time on the beaches at Burnt Point.  We were fascinated by the crystal clear water in gradient tones of turquoise.  The rocks at the beaches were light grey in colour, and were covered with small holes as if bombarded with rounds of shelling.  These unique grey rocks eroded by wave actions and layers of flat stone platforms in the turquoise water were fossil evidences of the prehistoric past at the Bruce Peninsula, when the tropical sea of Michigan Basin was full of marine life and coral reefs.  It was hard to imagine that the cool temperate Bruce Peninsular was once a tropical reef similar to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  During our second visit of the park we spent a little more time visiting its unique grotto and stone beaches, and walking its network of hiking trails where from time to time thousand-year old cedar trees and prehistoric reef fossils revealed the ever-changing natural landscape of our planet.

1In Tobermory, boat tour is popular from May to October.  Most boats depart from the Little Tub Harbour, where a cluster of bars and restaurants gather to serve the tourists.

2 big tub lighthouseThe Big Tub Lighthouse was declared a recognized heritage building since the early 1990s.  A major restoration to the the Big Tub Lighthouse was made in 1987 after a fierce winter storm washed away its shingle sidings and part of the foundation.

3]Near the Visitor Centre, there is a 20m tower structure which gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the park.

4Beyond the furthest point of the loop trail lies the beaches of Burnt Point.

5At Burnt Point, the turquoise water was beautiful especially under the warm sun. The light grey rocks were quite comfortable to sit on, which make a perfect spot for a short break after the hike.

6At Burnt Point, the water was so clean that the flat rock platforms under water could be seen clearly from above.  When the wind brew over the peaceful bay, the rippled image of the rocks produced a poetic Impressionist painting on the water surface.

7At Burnt Point, a large rock revealed its unique perforated surface above water.

8At Burnt Point, the soft-looking moss on rocks was actually very hard and rough.

9The orange moss added a little accent colour to the grayish-white rock at Burnt Point.

10At Burnt Point, erosion on the rock revealed interesting patterns.

11“Someone was here” – A visitor built an Inukshuk structure to mark his/her presence at Tobermory.

12Indian Head Cove Beach (background).  Many visitors love to explore the Grotto near the beach. The Grotto (foreground) can be reached on foot from the beach but it requires some simple rock climbing skills.

13Swimmer who chose to different route to enter the Grotto.

14The entrance to the Grotto (foreground) and Indian Head Cove Beach (background). Visitors have to climb down from the cliff top to reach the Grotto on foot. It isn’t an easy direct route but it still attract many visitors. Swimming from the Indian Head Cove Beach is another popular option to access the Grotto if the water is warm enough for a comfortable swim.

15Approaching the Grotto.  There were many visitors gathered around the entrance into the Grotto.

16 Inside the Grotto lies a pool of glowing  turquoise water. There is an opening through the rocks in the water that leads to the lake beyond.

17A view from the Grotto looking out.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


A TALE OF ROCKS AND MAPLES, Algonquin, Ontario, Canada (2/3)

Two billions years has passed since volcanic lava hardened into rock formations that stretched as far as the horizon, covering over half the size of what we now know as Canada.  Millions of years of rain and snow gradually sculpted off the high peaks and odd spires, leaving behind a low relief of undulating rocky terrain mainly made of volcanic igneous rocks.  Being as some of the oldest rock formations on this planet, the Canadian Shield or the Laurentian Plateau is far older than any myths or tales being told in North America.  10,000 years ago, the last Ice Age came to an end, and the retreating glaciers carved out valleys, scraped away sediment and soil, and left behind thousands of lakes and rivers and bogs that make up the majority of Canadian landscape.  Part of the southern tip of the Canadian Shield is exposed with visible ridges and low plateaus.  Along with the myriad of lakes and rivers and bogs spreading over this tip of the rocky shield, and the relatively young forests of spruces, birch and maple, people found a charming beauty from this piece of ancient land.  Native people once resided here a few thousands years ago, then came the Europeans, then came loggers and the railway, tourists and the highway.  This is how the tale of Algonquin Park unfolds.

The Acer saccharum or Sugar Maple, from maple syrup to autumn foliage, is a major contributor that shapes the identity of Ontario, Quebec and Northern US.  Despite its vast distribution across much of the Northern Hemisphere, the maple and its leaves are commonly associated with Canada and the Canadian flag.  First being adopted as an emblem by a group of French Canadians in the 18th century, the maple leaf was then included in the coat of arms of Ontario and Quebec and later of the entire nation.  As a symbol of strength and endurance, the maple leaf was finally chosen and became the Canadian national flag in 1965.  Appearing on a number of Tom Thomson’s paintings, the sugar maples in the Algonquin emerged as the visual focus in this Canadian landscape every autumn.  Seeing the fire crimson maple crowns stand out against a backdrop of dark evergreen and golden birch trees reflected in the serene lake water has become an annual ritual for many, attracting uncounted numbers of tourists every October entering the gate of Algonquin and hiking one of the interpretative trails along the Highway 60 Corridor.  This is the moment when the unforgiving nature appears to be the tamest and easiest for human appreciation.  This is how the maple story intertwines with the tale of the mighty ancient rocks of Algonquin.

1Autumn foliage of sugar maple tree.

2Other than crimson maples, the golden birch trees and evergreen complete the colour palette of Algonquin autumn.

3We may not be lucky enough to have caught the peak of fall colour every year but we still enjoy every moments in Algonquin Park when the fallen leaves with various tones of red and orange pave the trail.

4We enjoy hiking in the fall without the hassles from mosquitoes or black flies; so we can focus on the natural beauty around us.

5Moss and roots and fallen leaves.

6At the lookout of Booth’s Rock trail, distant maple hills and the peaceful Rock Lake make up the stunning scenery of Algonquin. It was the most rewarding moment to reach the lookout overlooking the river from a high point.

7Rock Lake and the maple hills.

8Standing on the rock ridge overlooking the forests and lakes of Algonquin, observing the cloud shadow sweeping across the landscape, is remarkable.

9Stone cairns by the shore of Rock Lake.

10Fire red maples in contrast with the evergreen at the background.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


TAI LONG WAN (大浪灣), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong’s Last Environmental Frontiers

Facing the Pacific to the east, Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) of Sai Kung has been voted by many as the number one outdoor destination in Hong Kong.  At the eastern tip of Hong Kong’s territory and the east coast of Sai Kung Peninsula, Tai Long Wan consists of four gorgeous beaches, including Tung Wan (East Bay), Tai Wan (Big Bay), Ham Tin Wan (Salty Field Bay), and Sai Wan (West Bay).

In 2010, an unauthorized land excavation at Tai Long Sai Wan (Big Wave West Bay) sparked public outcry urging for proper environmental protection and land-use parameters of country park enclaves, the 70+ pieces of private or government land adjacent to or surrounded by country parks.  Despite not designated as country parks, many enclaves are environmental sensitive areas with great value to the conservation of natural heritage of Hong Kong.  In 2013, after great effort from environmental groups, Tai Long Sai Wan was finally incorporated into the boundary of protected country park.  However, under great pressure from profit orientated private developers and anxious government for finding easy solution to tackle housing shortage, many country park enclaves are in grave danger in the near future, including Sai Kung’s Hoi Ha Wan (Jone’s Cove), the priceless marine park famous for its marine biodiversity and mangrove forest.

In 34 °C heat, hiking under the sun is not the most comfortable way to spend a Sunday.  However, in exchange for the crystal clear water of Tai Long Wan, a cold beer at sandy beach, and a bowl of fresh “shan shui” tofu dessert at a village eatery, all the sweat and exhaustion really didn’t matter much.  Besides, seeing the great scenery and breathing in the fresh air of Sai Kung is far healthier than spending the weekend sardining in Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui.  I started the hike from Pak Tam Au bus stop, walked past the half-desert village of Chek Keng and the hill pass of Tai Long Au, and stopped by Tai Long village for a bowl of noodle and tofu dessert.  I spent much of the afternoon hopping between the four beaches of Tai Long Wan.  At the end of day, I walked up the steep MacLehose Trail outside Sai Wan Village for the pass of Chui Tung Au.  From there, it was another 30-minute walk above the magnificent Highland Reservoir to Sai Wan Pavilion for the village-bus back to Sai Kung Town.

In many ways, hiking in the countryside of Sai Kung made me realized that every square inch of mangrove forest and coral reef left in Hong Kong is so preciously beautiful and yet so vulnerable at the same time.  Not only do they are challenged by the rising sea temperature caused by global warming, but also seriously threatened by the pathetic vision and monetary greed of certain developers and governmental officials.
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The sleepy village of Check Keng faces the inner gulf of Chek Keng Kau.
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A bowl of “shan shui” tofu dessert at Tai Long Village came as the perfect way to cool down my overheat body.
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The first glimpse of Tung Wan made me hard to believe that I was in Hong Kong.
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Markings from a frequent visitor in a small rock alcove at Tung Wan.
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Tai Wan offers the biggest stretch of sandy beach at Tai Long Wan.
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Wooden bridge at the entry point of Ham Tin Wan.
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Scenery of Ham Tin Wan.
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Looming in a distance, Sharp Peak offers one of the most challenging and rewarding uphill hike in Hong Kong.
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It was so hot that even a little dog preferred a dip in the water.
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Because of its close proximity to the village-bus stop, Sai Wan seemed to receive the most number of visitors.


27 LUGARD ROAD – Controversy at the Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Walking along the paved ring path of Lugard Road and Harlech Road at the Victoria Peak is probably the most popular short trail for viewing the magnificent skyline and natural setting of the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula.  It is accessible from the city either by a short ride on bus, microbus, taxi, car or tram, or on foot with a one-hour uphill hike.  Well signed and shaded, the hour-long stroll on the ring path is pleasantly suitable for all.

Since September last year, Lugard Road came under spotlight for a controversial development project that could see the century-old Edwardian mansion of 27 Lugard Road converted into a luxurious hotel.  The new acquirer of the property had already gained approval from the government despite public outcry in objection to the proposal.  Apart from the major renovation and additions to the historical building, the proposal also introduces some form of shuttle service for future guests staying in one of the 17 hotel rooms.  There is pubic concern for the now pedestrian-friendly road to be taken over by cars. Some parts of the road are already too narrow for small cars. How to manage regular traffic on the narrow Lugard Road without compromising pedestrian safety is one of the biggest concerns from the public.

In the past few months, Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong has been gathering support for a petition to revoke the project.  This organization raised concern about waste management and pollution generated from both the construction and operation of the business.  Surrounded mostly by Pok Fu Lam Country Park, the immediate area of Lugard Road belongs to a crucial green network at the centre of the Hong Kong Island which acts like a backyard of the downtown core.  The recent approval to the hotel project seems to signal and welcome future development near the greenbelt. Grounded on these worries, any negative environmental impact resulted from the project may represent a hefty loss for the public.

ImageCompleted in 1919, Lugard Road was originally built as a scenic promenade.  With the narrow width, the road can hardly serve as a proper road for vehicles.
ImageSubtropical vegetation, including this famous Indian Banyan tree, provide shading for most of the ring path.ImageThe lookouts along Lugard Road offer some of the most iconic views of Hong Kong.
ImageThe path that leads up to No. 27 of Lugard Road.
ImageAlliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong is gathering support for a petition to revoke the project.
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DAY 78 (1 OF 2) – SENDERO AL FITZ ROY, PARQUE NACIONAL LOS GLACIARES (NORTH), EL CHALTEN, ARGENTINA

Today was our last full day at El Chalten, and also our final hiking day in Patagonia.  We woke up with great joy of seeing Cerro Fitz Roy against the blue sky.  The weather was finally on our side, and how lucky we were on picking today for hiking Sendero al Fitz Roy (about 9 hour return).  Often considered as the most important hike in El Chalten, this hike would get us to Laguna de los Tres, a glacial lagoon at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy.
Arranged by our host, a bus picked us up at our guesthouse at 8am and took us to Hosteria El Pilar, an alternative trailhead about 45-minute drive from El Chalten.  Perhaps it was the fine weather, it seemed that there were many hikers on the trail.  The first 3 hours was easy and pleasant.  Whatever we reached an opening in the woods we would have a great panoramic view of Fitz Roy and its surrounding mountains.  About an hour into the hike we came face-to-face with Glaciar Pierdras Blancos with Fitz Roy in the background.  Then an hour later, on the path before the campsite of Poincenot, it seemed that there was just a small evergreen forest standing between the majestic Fitz Roy and us.  After Poincenot, we crossed a river and reached the next campsite at Rio Blanco, where a sign reminding hikers about the upcoming steep and rocky route up to Laguna de los Tres.  This last hour of uphill hiking was by far the most difficult trail we had encountered during our entire trip.  Not only the steepness and roughness of the path, and the slippery conditions at certain wet spots, but also the extremely strong wind near the top altogether made this part of the hike really physical demanding.  Temperature dropped dramatically and the wind significantly picked up its strength when we got near the top.
At last we reached the lookout at the top of the rocky path where the panorama of Laguna and Glacier de los Tres and Cerro Fitz Roy dramatically unfolded in front of us.  The steep ascend was challenging, but the view at the lookout was unbelievably rewarding.  The gusty wind never really slowed down.  We picked a spot behind a large boulder to avoid the wind, sat down, set up the tripod for videos and timelapse, and had some apple juice, a chocolate bar and some nuts to reward ourselves.  Half an hour went by and we could see storm clouds moving toward us from behind Fitz Roy.  Minutes later, Fitz Roy was fully covered, and then came the icy rain, and lastly, the flurries.  We had no choice but to abandon the idea of checking out another lookout further down the side of the lagoon.  We decided to pack our gear before the storm turned ugly.  The wind was so strong at this point that we almost had to crawl out of the boulder area to reach the main path, because we simply had trouble standing up with the gusty wind pushing from behind.  When we reached the foot of the hill and saw the dark grey clouds behind us, we felt so relieved.  No more Fitz Roy.  Near the campsite of Rio Blanco, we filled our water bottle at a glacial stream and felt grateful that we had at least half an hour at Laguna de los Tres to enjoy Cerro Fitz Roy (from behind a rock).  The sun was out again while we moved away from the campsite of Poincenot, although Fitz Roy was still covered by heavy clouds, and it stayed that way for the rest of the day.  And according to the weather forecast by the park ranger, tomorrow would be a rainy day.  On our return, we were in no hurry to rush back to El Chalten.  We took our time to enjoy the serene beauty of Patagonia at this very last hiking day of our trip.
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Read more on El Chalten in 2013 South America
Day 74 – Patagonia Once Again, Ushuaia to El Calafate
Day 75.1 – Laguna Torres, El Chalten
Day 75.2 – Estepa Restaurant, El Chalten
Day 76.1 – El Muro, El Chalten
Day 76.2 – Laguna Capri, El Chalten
Day 77.1 – Laguna Torre Once Again, El Chalten
Day 77.2 – Domo Blanco Ice-cream, El Chalten
Day 78.1 – Sendero al Fitz Roy, El Chalten
Day 78.2 – In-house Dinner, El Chalten
Day 79.1 – Goodbye El Chalten

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought