OUR URBAN BACKYARD, Lung Fu Shan Country Park (龍虎山郊野公園), Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong
Well known for its skyscrapers, Hong Kong actually has another face of lush green hills and pristine beaches to counterbalance the overwhelming urbanity. In fact, out of 1092 sq.km, about three quarters of Hong Kong’s land area is countryside comprised of hills, woodlands and beaches. No matter from which district in the city, nature is never far way. In 1976, the Country Park Ordinance was passed to enforce nature conservation. Under the ordinance, 24 country parks (郊野公園) have been established so far, protecting about 440 sq.km of natural landscape. Across the city, many neighbourhoods are situated within close proximity from one of these country parks, where Hongkongers treat them as urban backyards for morning exercises, afternoon picnics or evening hikes. For us living in Central and Western District, our closest backyard is Lung Fu Shan Country Park on the hill right behind Hong Kong University. We sometimes thought of walking up Lung Fu Shan and the adjacent Victoria Peak to catch the first glimpse of morning sun over the famous Hong Kong skyline. This has yet happened, but we do occasional short hikes when weather permits. From our home, it is just several minutes of bus ride to the trailhead of the 2.75km Lung Fu Shan Trail. Between Victoria Peak (太平山) and Mount High West (西高山), Lung Fu Shan or Hill Above Belcher’s (龍虎山) is a 253m hill right above the main campus of Hong Kong University. In 1998, Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established to protect the small patch of forest around the hill. With just about 0.1% of the total area of all country parks, the city’s smallest country park is home to almost one third of all species of birds, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and mammals found in Hong Kong. Given the park is situated at less than 30 minutes walking distance to the central business district, Lung Fu Shan is surprisingly valuable to the city’s biodiversity.
Before Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established, I visited the Pinewood Battery (松林炮台) on Lung Fu Shan with my parents several times. Completed in 1905 by the colonial government, the historical battery was heavily damaged during WWII. In the Battle of Hong Kong (December 1941), the battery was under rounds of air raids before it was abandoned on 15th of December 1941. In the 1980’s the military structures were pretty much lying in ruins. For me as a child, the ruined battery was a great place for picnic or to play hide and seek. 11 years after the establishment of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, the ruined structures were listed as Grade II historical buildings in 2009 and become one of the main features in the park. Display boards and a trail linking all the major structures are set up are provided on site to tell the story.
On a fine Friday afternoon, we decided to drop by Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre near the park entrance at Kotewall Road (旭龢道). Operated by Environmental Protection Department and University of Hong Kong, the small interpretation centre housed in a listed historical bungalow just a stone throw away from Hong Kong University was a pleasant surprise. Built in 1890, the 131-year bungalow was home for the watchman who protected the adjacent Pokfulam Filter Beds, the facility used to filter drinking water for Pokfulam Reservoir nearby. The former watchman’s residence is now converted into the visitor centre of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, welcoming anyone who wishes to know more about the ecology and biodiversity of the area. Apart from insect specimens and wildlife photographs, we were particularly interested in the videos interviewing the former residents of the bungalow complex, who were occupying the three historical houses in the complex until 1996. At the centre, we had a delightful chat with the staff there and picked up The Pulse of Nature – Mid-Levels West, a book of writings, illustrations and photographs that offers a variety of perspectives that explores the natural context of Mid-Levels West around Lung Fu Shan.
In 1890, a golden bell was installed at the main building of Wellington Barracks (威靈頓兵房), one of the three military barracks (the other two being Victoria and Murray Barracks) located between the business districts of Central (中環) and Wanchai (灣仔). The golden bell became a landmark and eventually led to the naming of the area, Kam Chung (金鐘), which literally means “golden bells”. The former naval dockyard known as Admiralty Dock gave the area its English name, Admiralty. For over 120 years, the military barracks had been a major obstruction for urban development, creating a bottleneck between Central and Wanchai. This situation remained for much of the colonial era until the late 1970’s, when the governor has finally convinced the military department to release the land. Demolition of the barracks began in late 1970’s and gave way to a series of developments that make up the present Admiralty: High Court, Government Offices, metro station, transport interchange, various commercial towers, the Asia Society complex, the luxurious retail and hotel complex known as Pacific Place, and the 8-hectare Hong Kong Park on the lower slope of Victoria Peak.
Hong Kong Park occupies much of the former Victoria Barracks (域多利兵房). During construction, a number of historical buildings were preserved, including the Flagstaff House, Cassels Block, Wavell House, and Rawlinson House. The park design respected the natural topography of the site, maintaining a naturalistic setting for all to enjoy. Opened in 1991, Hong Kong Park was an instant hit for Hong Kongers. Combining the natural context and heritage buildings with the new water features, wide range of landscape elements, amphitheatre, lookout tower, large conservatory, and Southeast Asia’s largest aviary, the park has ensured that there would always be something to suit everyone’s taste. A combined visit to the nearby Zoological and Botanical Gardens would satisfy the desire of anyone who desires for a moment of tranquility in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district.
Kamikochi Valley and Hida Mountains or Northern Japanese Alps are the results from a series of geological processes that began 2.6 million years ago, when the Azusa River carved out a deep valley while the adjacent mountains rose abruptly. Further volcanic and sedimentary activities continued to transform the Kamikochi Valley until recently. Nowhere can illustrate the dramatic transformations of Kamikochi more evidently than the Taishoike or Taisho Pond (大正池), when the eruption of Mount Yake (焼岳) in 1915 dammed the Azusa River to form the beautiful Taisho Pond. Today, the tranquil turquoise pond right by the foot of Mount Yake has become the most popular destination in Kamikochi.
After two nights at Kamikochi, it was time for us to move on to Shirahone Onsen for a dip in its famous milky hotspring. Before leaving Kamikochi by the 8:25am bus, we opted for our last hike to visit Taisho Pond before breakfast. We headed out at 5am. The sky was grey compared to our previous two days.
Time was still early and the sun had yet risen beyond the mountains, though the air was fresh and filled with a sense of tranquility.
The trail to Taisho Pond soon led us into a forest. Bear sighting was an unlikely possibility. The last time someone saw a bear in the area was three weeks prior to our visit.
The trail led us passing through some wet and shaded forest area before reaching a wetland right by Azusa River.
It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Taisho Pond. Mount Yake (焼岳), the volcano whose eruption in 1915 caused the formation of the famous pond, stood right behind the turquoise water.
Unfortunately, the sky was grey and the early sunlight was still weak. The colour of Taisho Pond was not as vivid as we hoped.
Nonetheless, the peaceful scenery and the pleasant colour palette of Taisho Pond still looked magnificent.
The beautiful reflections on the mirror like water revealed how peaceful the Taisho Pond was.
Taisho Pond is the ideal place to admire the scenery of Mount Yake.
Taisho Pond seemed to provide a desirable habitat for wild ducks.
Fallen logs in the water dated back to the last eruption of Mount Yake.
A long boardwalk provides convenient access to the lookout of Taisho Pond.
On our return journey to Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge, we passed by a lush green wetland.
A small detour from the main path led us to the picturesque Tashiro Pond (田代池), a peaceful wetland with crystal clear water.
Along the way, we passed by a stubborn duck that refused to step aside from the middle of the main path.
Back to Nishi-itoya Mountains Lodge we had a close encounter with two Japanese macaque monkeys.
After two hours of hiking, we felt total satisfied for devouring the fantastic breakfast.
After two nights of delightful stay, it was time for us to check out of Nishi-itoya Mountain Lodge.
We made it just in time to catch the 8:25am bus to Sawando (沢渡) where we would make a transfer for Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉).
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007. After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal. We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water. Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects. Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem. We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos. As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead. It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes. It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose. It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond. Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America. The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century. Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.
We saw beavers several times in Algonquin. Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water. But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond. Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World. Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975. In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home. As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber. Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds. A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish. It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators. The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.
Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park. The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes. Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north. Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat. Many birds frequent the bog, and so as moose which come to feed and drink. Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area. A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair. By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.
Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012). That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.
This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us. The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.
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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