Bathed in neon and hulking around the banks of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong is a monolithic metropolis, as close to Bladerunner as you’ll get in this half of the 21st century. The traffic is chaotic and the buildings are huddled close and stretched towering towards the sky. At first thrilling glance, Hong Kong is nothing but steel and glass, but there’s more to the city than meets the eye. Here are a few places where you can escape the maze: tranquil green patches in the city of skyscrapers.
#1 Victoria Peak
Ok, it’s hardly a secret, but Victoria Peak is an unmissable stop on any Hong Kong tour. Catch the historic Peak Tram at the Garden Road Terminus and travel 400 metres up the mountain that looms over Hong Kong Island. As the city slowly drops away, greenery flashes past the window and you are lifted out of the heaving commercial hub and into a rooftop garden. Spend an hour wandering the green paths of the Peak and have your camera ready – on a clear day you can see all the way to Kowloon.
#2 Edward Youde Bird Aviary
In a quiet corner of Central, at the foot of Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Bird Aviary spans some 3000 square metres. The netted enclosure is bliss on a hot Hong Kong afternoon, filled with lush vegetation and water features, and around 600 birds. As you walk the elevated concourse from the top to the bottom of the aviary, pheasants, partridges and thrushes twitter and flap around beautifully, brightly coloured and calm in the face of snap-happy foreigners.
#3 Nan Lian Garden
Deep in Kowloon, the Nan Lian is a sculpted Chinese garden of picturesque bridges and manicured miniature trees, set against the backdrop of Kowloon Peak. At it’s centre is the Pavillion of Absolute Perfection (seriously), a brilliant gold house serviced by a pretty red bridge. Festooned with lily, lotus flowers and jasmine, the Nan Lian Garden is hard to find but worth the effort – a sweet-smelling oasis in the desert.
#4 Off Peak at Happy Valley Racecourse
The Wednesday night races at Happy Valley are a huge drawcard for tourists, but the park is equally fascinating without the horses. On an average night, the centre of the track is taken over by sports, fitness and leisure seekers who swarm the inner fields, jog around the tracks or simply bask in the glow of the 1000 megawatt stadium lighting. It’s interesting because it’s so epically Hong Kong – a park that isn’t a park, encircled by towering buildings, filled with people who are looking for green space in the midst of a concrete jungle.
#5 Yim Tin Tsai
Day trips to Lantau and Lamma Island yield quiet roads, tourist cafes and sweet little beaches, but for a truly weird outing hop a weekend ferry to Yim Tin Tsai. The ‘ghost island’ was completed deserted up until a couple of years ago, with buildings left standing and household objects abandoned within. The roofs are long-decayed but the walls hold debris of forgotten people, long-disappeared. There’s also a guy on the island who sells snacks.
#6 Tai Tong Organic Ecopark
The green belt of Hong Kong’s New Territories includes sprawling national parks including Tai Mo, Tai Lam and the northern Lam Tsuen, which draw serious birdwatchers from around the world. On the northern edge of Tai Lam, the Tai Tong Organic Ecopark is a working fruit farm where you can pick strawberries and lychees, skirt the lake and drink in the majesty of the surrounding forests, which seem a million miles away from the city (because they are).
#7 Tian Tan Buddha and the Ngong Ping 360
Hop the MTR to the end of the line, alight at Tung Chung and get ready for a hair-raising trip to the top of Lantau Peak. The Ngong Ping 360 is a glass-bottomed cable car that soars hundreds of feet above the mountains for almost six kilometres and it’s stomach-heaving stuff if you have a fear of heights. (Do not, for example, lie down on the glass bottom floor if your boyfriend suffers from vertigo, because you will traumatise him for life. Or so I discovered.) At the top of the peak you’ll find the Po Lin monastery and the 250 tonne Tian Tan Buddha, a whopping 34 metres tall.
#8 Ham Tin Beach
The big southern beaches of Hong Kong Island – Repulse Bay and Shek O – are in relatively easy reach, but they’re also fringed with skyscrapers and heaving with tourists in the summer. For a truly off-grid experience, you have to drive out to Pak Tam Au in the far northeast and hike for hour or two to Ham Tin Beach at Tai Long Wan (and obviously, bring water). If you make it to this wild place, you’ll be swimming in pristine water off the coast of a national park with nothing but islets and outcroppings on the horizon. Strictly for the intrepid traveller, but bravery brings its own rewards, eh?
(Lead image: Austronesian Expeditions/Flickr)
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Simone Ubaldi is a ghostwriter, music journalist, film critic and frequent flyer. She has written for The Age, The Monthly, triple j Mag, Paper Sea, Faster Louder and various other publications, and appeared on ABC Radio National, triple j and Melbourne's 3RRR FM. She has co-authored four books, including memoirs of Bon Scott and Mark 'Chopper' Read, and she stashes a lot of her writing here.