A wilderness experience programme provides stars, nature, animals in the wild and more, writes Rebecca Tsui
Eight Hong Kong teenagers left the bustling city behind them last month to join 30 other students from all over Asia for a close encounter with the African wilderness.
With students from South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, the mainland, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Vietnam, the Hong Kong teens were able to get up close to nature during the Cathay Pacific International Wilderness Experience programme at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park - formerly known as Greater St Lucia - a World Heritage site in South Africa. For the first time in its 14-year history, the five-day course was held at Kosi Bay.
Hanneke van der Merwe, the principal of Ubungani Wilderness Experience - the training partner in the programme - said the course was not only designed to bring students into contact with nature but also to foster friendship among people of different cultures. 'We would like to give the students a chance to get to know more about themselves, as well as learning how to love, appreciate, respect and protect the environment,' she said.
Priscilla Ma Ka-wai, 18, said: 'We went for a walk in a sand dune forest and found so many different species of trees we have never seen in Hong Kong. Nature has to be protected.'
The students had a packed programme of activities. Unfortunately rough seas made snorkelling impossible, but a visit to the Tembe Elephant Park to look for the 'big five' - lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos and rhinos - made up for it.
'Seeing lions, elephants, giraffes and other animals in the wild - not in a zoo - has brought me much closer to nature,' said Melissa Chiu Ka-yan, 18.
Ronald Ho Long-hin, 16, said: 'The magnificent tides of the Indian Ocean, the precious wild lions and rhinos, the happy moments with delegates from around the world - the memories will stay with me forever.'
The students also got a chance to do some star gazing as the skies in this part of the world are clean and free from even light pollution.
Naomi Chow Sin-ying, 18, said she was amazed by the number of stars she could see.
'I've looked for stars in Hong Kong, but I can seldom find any. I'd never imagine the sky can be so beautiful.' she said.
'I enjoyed every single night of lying on the grassland, watching the stars with the other participants together.'
The students also visited native tribes in the area and learned about their ways of life, including their method of fishing.
'Local people make fish kraals in channels in the lake to catch fish. Fish swim in through the gaps and are trapped inside. I couldn't believe it would be possible to catch anything with such primitive methods until I saw it here,' said Ng Ka-yan, 17.