On 27th of June 2021, the fifth generation Peak Tram made its last trip up the Victoria Peak. The service would then be shut down for an extensive upgrade, laying new tracks and introducing larger funicular trains in the next six months. From the 30-seat wooden train operated by a steam engineer in 1888, to the upcoming 210-seat fully computerized and universally accessible aluminium train, the Peak Tram is about to enter its sixth generation in 133 years. The Peak Tram is, in fact, the oldest funicular system in Asia, and the first public transportation system in Hong Kong. We would occasionally hike up the Peak via Lung Fu Shan Country Park and descend by taking the Peak Tram to Kennedy Road Stop, where we would walk through the Botanical Gardens to return home. It was a 7-minute treat of lovely scenery from 28m to 368m above sea level every time we hopped onto the peak tram and sat on those inclined seats at the maximum of about 27 degrees. Before the pandemic, riding the peak tram was almost a compulsory activity for all foreign tourists. Today, the funicular is popular with local visitors during weekends.
The Peak Tram has always been a means of transportation for leisure. At 552m above sea level, the Peak is the perfect retreat from the summer heat. In 1881, Alexander Findlay Smith, who worked for the Scottish Highway Railway before, convinced Governor John Pope-Hennessy to operate a funicular route between the south of Murray Barracks (now Admiralty) and Victoria Gap on the Peak. He hoped the new transportation system would boost visitor numbers to his prestige Peak Hotel. Apart from hotel visitors and tourists, the Peak Tram also served the wealthy expatriates who lived on the Peak. Findlay Smith soon put the Peak Hotel and Peak Tram onto the market. At the end, the hotel and funicular landed in the hands of Hongkong Hotel Company, the current owner of Peninsula Hotel Group. Before 1920, the funicular was the only means of transportation connecting the Peak with Central, the downtown of Hong Kong. It has been 83 years since the Peak Hotel was burnt down in 1938. Its former site is now occupied by the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場). Opposite to Peak Galleria now stands the Peak Tower (凌霄閣), another eye-catching retail complex that also doubles as the Upper Peak Tram Terminus. Below the Peak, the city’s skyline has changed dramatically in the past century. Perhaps the only thing that stays recognizable in the past 130 years is the funicular system itself.
In 2014, local film Dot 2 Dot (點對點) was screened in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The film was often described as low key, low budget and slow paced love story to the city. Amos Wong’s film explores the history and identity of Hong Kong through the encounter of a graffiti artist and a Mandarin teacher. It begins with the Mandarin teacher, newly arrived from Mainland China, discovering mysterious graffiti composed of dots at every metro station in Hong Kong. She is able to decode the graffiti by connecting the dots into meaningful imagery related to the local history of the particular neighborhood. She then comes up with her own graffiti and engages the unknown graffiti artist in a battle of graffiti riddles. It turns out that the graffiti artist is actually one of her students, who himself is a professional designer returned to Hong Kong from Canada. The movie follows both characters to explore different neighborhoods, including the quest to check out the boundary stones of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城). At the end of the film, the teacher finally realizes the true identity of the graffiti artist after visiting the westernmost boundary stone in Kennedy Town (堅尼地城). The story ends with them enjoying the peaceful sunset together at Kennedy Town ‘s praya.
Considered the capital of the former British Colony, Victoria City at the northern shore of Hong Kong island was the city’s first urban settlement. Victoria City was defined by the four “wans” (四環) or districts: Sai Wan (西環), Sheung Wan (上環), Chung Wan (中環), and Ha Wan (下環) or present’s day Wanchai. In 1903, the government erected seven stones to mark the boundary of Victoria City. The city soon expanded beyond the boundary limits and the stones became obsolete. Measured 98cm in height, tapered at the top and marked with the inscription “City Boundary 1903”, these historical boundary stones are mostly forgotten, except for history buffs who occasionally check on these urban artifacts and share their photos on the Internet. Six out of seven boundary stones survive to the present day, except the one at Magazine Gap Road in the Mid-Levels that was negligently removed by retaining wall contractors in 2007. For the remaining six boundary stones, it is possible to visit them all in a 5-6 hour hike. The hike offers hikers an interesting opportunity to walk around the old city centre, from the waterfront of Kennedy Town, halfway up the Victoria Peak and down to the Happy Valley Racecourses to the east.
One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation. At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers. The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong. At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination. During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak. Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.
Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).
After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began. A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.
Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.
Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.
The trail was exposed with hardly any shade. Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.
It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.
Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.
There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.
After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak. The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.
From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.
Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).
Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣). The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.
The descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.
The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.
Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).
The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.
Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山), a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.
After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.
The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.
Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.
There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.
Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.
The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.
Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).
At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.
Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.
Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most. The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.
In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus. We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.
When we are short of time but still want to have a brief getaway from the city of Hong Kong, we often hop on a bus to Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a relatively new residential district at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island for a short hike over Pottinger Peak to the cozy surfing beach of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) and Shek O (石澳). The hike takes a little over an hour, and is relatively simple, involving two sections of stepped path, one going up the Pottinger Peak and one descending down to the beach. No matter how many times we have walked this route, it was always a pleasant surprise to reach the top of the Pottinger Peak and have the first glimpse of the turquoise water south of Hong Kong Island.
The trail begins in Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a residential neighborhood at the eastern tip of Hong Kong Island.
Looking north during the ascend to the Pottinger Peak, the Victoria Harbour outside of Junk Bay (將軍澳) is busy with cruise ships and boats of all sorts.
Looking down from the uphill trail, the residential area of Siu Sai Wan looks quite densely populated.
Watching beautiful butterflies hopping between flowers is a pure delight.
Looking south from Pottinger Peak, the peninsula of Shek O and Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) lie right ahead.
A ruined shelter on Pottinger Peak has been used as a temporary shrine.
It seems that the temporary shrine is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.
Walking ahead, one can clearly see that much of the seaside land between the Big Wave Bay and Big Wave Bay.
On the downhill route, there are several Camellia trees (茶花) by the trail.
The stepped path continues to the hill adjacent to the Big Wave Bay. The noise of the crowds and public announcement from speakers can be heard long before we reach the beach.
Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) is a decent little beach at the southeast of Hong Kong Island.
The natural rock formations around the area of Big Wave Bay are quite interesting.
Though the beach can get a little crowded during summer weekends. For the rest of year, it’s popular for surfers.
Some prefer to stay away from the crowds on a rocky slope near a BBQ site.
For families, small streams out to the sea can be an interesting playground with small fish and seaside creatures.
About half an hour of walk south of Big Wave Bay, there is a Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲), a tied island linked to the mainland of Shek O Village by a tombolo. On the tombolo, a narrow blue bridge is built for pedestrians who wish to visit Tai Tau Chau. The area is popular for couples taking wedding photos.
At one side of the tombolo, a peaceful tidal pool acts like a perfect mirror. The colours of the rocks around the pool reveal the varying water level from time to time.
The coastal granite of Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) are quite interesting after so many years of natural erosion and carving by the waves.
Despite the occasionally scary waves at this part of Hong Kong, many still brave the danger and climb onto the uneven coastal rocks for wedding photos.
The waves at Tai Tau Chau are beautiful but also terrifying sometimes.
Like the Geoparks in Sai Kung and Northeast New Territories, the coastal rocks at Tai Tau Chau are quite unique.
Just a stone throw from Tai Tau Chau lies the bigger beach of Shek O, a really popular outdoor destination for city dwellers of Hong Kong.