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TRAVEL WATCH: SEPTEMBER 6, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 9


Illustration for TIME by Bernard Chau

Take A Hike (But Don't Get Lost) in Hong Kong

By LEAH KOHLENBERG

Endless shopping malls, raucous restaurants and soaring skyscrapers--that's the image most people have of Hong Kong. But the city's not all a concrete jungle. Nearly half the land in Hong Kong has been placed in a total of 21 protected country parks. They include numerous hiking trails wending across Hong Kong Island, various outlying islands and the New Territories at the tip of the Chinese mainland. Here you'll find a very different Hong Kong: glistening waterfalls, panoramic views, brilliantly colored tropical flora and fauna, small villages where elderly folk practice tai chi or compete in a rousing game of mahjong. Best of all, these all-natural hikers' havens are peaceful, quiet and often just minutes away from the modern conveniences of the city.

There are more opportunities than ever for tourists and residents to take advantage of Hong Kong's natural beauty. Every year, thousands participate in the grueling Oxfam fundraiser, a 100-km march (or run) along the New Territory's spectacular Maclehose Trail. This year's event, Nov. 12-14, is already booked, but you can download maps and print directions to retrace the route by logging onto www.trailwalker.org.hk. And don't give up yet: there is still room to roam in the second annual Action Asia Challenge. Last year's inaugural event took 320 panting participants on a 28-km hike/run past natural obstacles and landscapes, starting with Victoria Peak. "It was difficult to convince people at first," says Esther Ma, the event's managing director. "People couldn't believe they could see all these beautiful, natural things in Hong Kong." To see for yourself, form a team for this year's Challenge, set for Dec. 5 on a new course through the New Territories. Men's, women's and mixed teams require a minimum of four challengers; you can get details by phone at 852-2179-5888 or via the Web at www.actionasia.com.

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Summer's over--all the more reason to head out to the great outdoors. And it doesn't get much greater than in Sabah

Want to hit the open trail unpursued by hordes of sweating runners? Make a pitstop for detailed land survey ordinance maps ($5.80 to $6.50 each) at the Hong Kong Government Publications Center near the Pacific Place shopping mall; overseas orders can be made on the Internet at www.info.gov.hk/landsd/mapping. You can also pick up a handy series of Hong Kong hiking and walking guides from the Hong Kong Tourist Association (www.hkta.org), which runs information booths at the Kowloon side Star Ferry pier, Hong Kong International Airport and elsewhere.

It's not a bad idea to bring along a mobile phone with programmed emergency numbers, particularly when hiking solo. Some hotel business centers can arrange for a rental, or call Cable & Wireless HKT, which rents phones from $100 for a week; visit www.hkt.com/1010 or call 852-2883-3938 for info. Don't forget to bring plenty of water, some fruit and a camera.

One hike that's sure to please is a little-known trek on Hong Kong Island. Set aside a couple of hours and take a cab or a bus from Exchange Square to the ritzy Hong Kong Parkview apartment complex off Wong Nai Chung Gap Road. As you step out of the vehicle, you'll see the trail starting with uphill concrete steps on the right side of the road just before you reach the apartments. You're now on the Wilson Trail, a meandering course over Violet Hill that takes in outstanding views of Tai Tam Harbor, Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay.

Another worthwhile eco-jaunt leads to Tai Long Wan, or Big Wave Bay, in the New Territories, a string of what are among Hong Kong's cleanest and most spectacular beaches. From Sai Kung town, catch a No. 94 bus to Wong Shek pier (or the 96R on Sundays and holidays). The first option is to get off the bus at Pak Tam Au, where you'll see a parking lot and a barbeque pit, and climb the stairs opposite the bus stop. The hike takes you down Ngau Wu Tun hill and past breathtaking views of the harbor before reaching the tiny Chek Keng ferry pier. Follow the concrete path up the Tai Mun Shan mountain overpass and down the other side to Tai Long village, where you can stop for a bowl of noodles or take a right through the village for the 10 min. walk to Ham Tin Wan. From here you can keep walking along Tai Wan (Big Bay) and up Nam She Tsim (Sharp Peak) for a real workout and a stunner of a view. The second option is to take a taxi from Sai Kung around High Island Reservoir to the start of Maclehose Trail's Stage 2. This pretty trail approaches Ham Tin's beach from the south by heading up past Sai Wan and down through scattered villages.

For other memorable meandering tips and trips through Hong Kong, pay a virtual visit to the Country Parks online database, where you'll find maps, directions, advice for family treks and valuable safety hints for happy hiking around the urban jungles of Hong Kong.

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