Header image courtesy of @picherron (via Instagram)
Hong Kong is renowned for being a mountainous city packed with natural scenery and spectacular hiking routes of all lengths and difficulties. Even when you feel like you’ve conquered them all, there is always some lesser-known hiking route waiting to be discovered!
Tucked away in the quiet northern pockets of the New Territories, the rugged route running from Kau To Shan (also known as Cove Hill) to Tai Po Kau is perfect for those seeking to indulge their adventurous spirit. Featuring dense forests and overgrown paths, this is no family-friendly trek, but if you're up for a bit of a challenge and fancy an off-the-beaten-path exploration, here’s your guide on how to tackle this hidden hike!
Many know Kau To Shan as a hilly area of luxury residences sought-after by celebrities and notables, but not enough attention has been given to the gem of hike sitting just in the backyard of the upscale neighbourhood. Despite Kau To Shan’s rather unseemly name, which sounds like (and is oft-times informally written as) “Dog Belly Hill” in Cantonese, the views are anything but. With superb panoramas of Sha Tin, Ma On Shan, and Shenzhen, standing on the crest of Kau To Shan really makes you feel as though you are on top of the world!
Taking you through Kau To Shan, Cheung Lek Mei, and ending in Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, this route winds for around six kilometres and can be completed in under three hours. Given that the entrance is located fairly close to Sha Tin’s town centre, the hike is remarkably accessible for urban dwellers; the whole journey from start to finish won't eat up more than half of your day!
Rising to 399 metres above sea level, Kau To Shan’s height is not overly daunting for the semi-experienced trekker, but the real challenge lies in the rugged surfaces and the steep drop-offs on your way downhill. You will need to come prepared with grippy hiking shoes and a walking stick to ensure safe and smooth handling of the uneven terrain. It’s also advisable to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants, otherwise, you'll risk getting scratched up by wayward branches and overgrown plants!
Distance: 6 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 328 metres approx.
Total time: 2.5 to 3 hours approx.
Getting to the start of the hike at Ma Lok Path is only a matter of a short and direct minibus ride from Sha Tin. From the bus stop outside Sha Tin MTR station, minibus 66K will drop you off at Ma Lok Path in about 15 minutes. Walk up the path and you’ll meet the entrance at the end of the road.
Blink and you’ll miss it—the entrance of the trail is made up of a few steep and obscure steps that give little sign of a discernable hiking path at all. That being so, scrambling up this initial sandy slope can be tricky, but luckily, there is a rope in place to assist you. If the inconspicuous trailhead is any indication, much of the path ahead is rather narrow and unpronounced, traversing densely vegetated, and wild-looking forests.
Don’t be too intimidated though; the trail is marked by brightly coloured ribbons and there aren’t many confusing junctions along the way. As long as you keep to the right and follow the guidance of the ribbons, you should be able to navigate your way up to Kau To Shan without much trouble. On another positive note, being enveloped by thick foliage from all sides means that you are guaranteed ample shade and protection from the sun even during blazing hot days!
Eventually, the path briefly emerges from the tangle of greenery to reveal an open area and a large boulder, from which you’ll get your first glimpse of the urban city mingling with nature’s magnificent beauty. This lookout point offers a clear view of the blocky industrial buildings of Fo Tan and the closely packed high-rises of Sha Tin, backed by lush, rolling peaks. Now would be a good time to stop not just for pictures, but also a short break, as the rest of the uphill climb will demand some effort. We’re talking bushwhacking and clambering over fallen trees!
You will know that the crest is near when the canopy of trees starts to thin, gradually opening up to more sky and mountainous views. After around 45 minutes of hard work, you will see a triangulation pillar marking the summit of Kau To Shan. Every step of the way will pay off when you feast your eyes on the breathtaking scene before you. From the cool blue waters of the Tolo Harbour and the lush CUHK campus sprawled over a hillside to the picturesque coastal town of Ma On Shan, it’s truly a view worth lingering on.
It should be noted that the pillar is perched quite precariously on some weathered and partially collapsed boulders, so if you plan on mounting it to take photos, do exercise caution.
The exposed ridge descending from the summit gives you the opportunity to enjoy uninterrupted views of the New Territories’ undulating landscape, including the sharply rising peaks of Grassy Hill and Needle Hill. This section of the hike is well-defined and easy to follow, so take advantage and fully soak up the scenic surroundings. Soon after, the trail plunges back into the shady forest and you are once again on narrow and rugged terrain. The downhill trek gets somewhat technical, particularly when you encounter the steep and sandy slopes, so be mindful of your footing and utilise your hiking stick to help with balance!
Once you reach the wide concrete road of the Tai Po Kau Forest Track Cheung Lek Mei Section, you can let out a sigh of relief, as the hike becomes much less treacherous from here. There are actually numerous routes crossing through Tai Po Kau that can get you to your endpoint at Tsung Tsai Yuen. For the most straight-forward way out, turn right at the next junction onto Tai Po Kau Forest Track Kon Hang Section, and trek on for another kilometre until you reach a crossroad that connects to various colour-coded nature walks in Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve. You’ll want to transition onto the brown walk and stay on the main trail.
Most of this section is dense with vegetation, but there is little worry of getting lost as the route is obvious and well-signposted. If you’re lucky, you might even see yourself face-to-face with the area’s fascinating wildlife like fireflies and snakes!
Upon exiting the brown trail, take a right turn and follow the concrete road towards the entrance of Tai Po Nature Reserve where your journey concludes. Fronting the nature reserve are multiple bus stops served by buses 72, 72A, 73A, and 74A, which takes you to locations across New Territories and Kowloon. If you want to return to Sha Tin, simply hop on minibus 28K and get off at the last stop.