Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 January, 2009, 12:00am

The Peak offers stunning scenery and a surprising amount of history; expansive views across the city and out to Lantau and Lamma islands are superb - on those sadly rare, smog-free days.

Victoria Peak itself is surmounted by a radio and microwave repeater station - a modern continuation of 19th century semaphore masts, which signalled shipping arrivals and departures in Hong Kong waters. Just below, the foundations of Mountain Lodge, the summer residence of Hong Kong governors until 1941, can still be seen, surrounded by open parkland. The original gatehouse stands a few hundred metres below. Winding paths lead down to Harlech and Hatton roads and on to the remains of Pinewood Battery; which, when completed in 1903, was one of the highest artillery coastal positions in the world. Recent interpretative signage attempts by the Central and Western District Board are better than nothing, even if the information provided is rather shaky and language standards are, well, substandard; but that, alas, epitomises contemporary Hong Kong.

Lugard Road, which encircles The Peak, is named after Sir Frederick Lugard, the distinguished African administrator who served as governor here from 1907 to 1912. The road was completed in 1925 and the northern side is raised high on a viaduct against the cliff face. One of The Peak's oldest houses, No27 Lugard Road, was built as a residential mess for Butterfield and Swire staff in 1911. Extensively restored in the 1980s, the house - now a private residence - has the staircase from the old Hong Kong Club in Central, which was cannibalised when the building was demolished in 1981.

Victoria House, the chief secretary's official residence on Barker Road, was built as the Victoria Hospital for Women and Girls to celebrate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897; Victoria Road - opened that year - was also named in honour of this event.

Planted more for geomantic than aesthetic purposes, Podocarpus macro-phyllus (Buddha's pines) are highly prized - and priced - on the mainland; larger specimens are frequently stolen from monasteries and private gardens and smuggled across the border. Along with the thousands of white pebbles that now carpet what were once grassy lawns and flower beds, these pines were installed, with a few other luck-gathering devices, when Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen moved in. Just as well, then, that Victoria House has a troupe of security guards.