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Explore Hong Kong

Video guide to hiking around Hong Kong’s Lion Rock - the trails, the sights, and how to get there and back

Reaching the summit of one of Hong Kong’s most distinctive landmarks takes some effort, but your reward is some spectacular views

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 7:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 3:01pm

At an altitude of 495 metres, Lion Rock is far from Hong Kong’s tallest hill, but it is one of the most recognisable. This is partly because of the distinctive profile of the craggy upper slopes, resembling a resting lion when viewed from parts of Kowloon and further afield.

Also, Lion Rock has become associated with the can-do character of Hong Kong people. This association began in the 1970s, with the RTHK television series Below the Lion Rock, about the lives of working-class people, many of whom had lived or still lived in squatter settlements on slopes below Lion Rock. Later, the “Lion Rock spirit” was cited by businessmen and politicians to describe Hongkongers’ industriousness.

During the “umbrella movement” protests in 2014, a band of intrepid activists hung a giant yellow banner on the rock, with black characters proclaiming, “I want real universal suffrage”.

Lion Rock spirit still casting its spell on Hong Kong

Although most people only see Lion Rock from afar, it’s a prime site for rock climbers, and there are a couple of trails to the top for hikers. Reaching the summit takes some effort, but the rewards are spectacular views.

Lion Rock is at the heart of the country park bearing its name, and a web of trails offers a variety of possible outings. While you could start an ascent from close to sea level, a road up the Kowloon Hills makes it possible to instead set off from around halfway up, at Sha Tin Pass.

From here, head up section five of the MacLehose Trail, which first aims for Unicorn Ridge. North Kowloon high-rises are close by, and even if there’s thick fog it can’t muffle the continual hum of the city traffic below.

Hong Kong hiker falls to his death from cliff on Lion Rock after ‘trying to take photo’

At the ridge, the trail dips gently, curling northwards, and then winds through woodland towards the south slopes of Lion Rock. The city hum fades, laughing thrushes may be among forest birds singing close by, typically unseen amidst the dense cover.

The Gin Drinkers Line – a series of defensive positions – was built across these hills in the 1930s, to guard against invasion by Japanese forces that were fighting in mainland China. Notions the holdout might last six months were swiftly proven fanciful in December 1941, when defending troops were forced to abandon the line within just two days.

Some relics are scattered along the MacLehose Trail here, and one – a marker stone – indicates one of the issues with the Gin Drinkers Line. Like some other markers, it displays distances to nearby positions, and was later spotted by a British military prisoner of war after he escaped. He expressed bewilderment that such information was readily available for the enemy.

There’s a junction in the trail, with a wooden sign indicating that Lion Rock Peak is 0.5km away. That’s a small distance, and though there are some steps going up, the slope here is gentle. So you may think it’s going to be easy.

Below the Lion Rock: Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation makes good progress on tunnel for Sha Tin to Central rail link

Well, not exactly. “This section of trail is very difficult and suitable only for experienced and well-equipped hikers,” warns a sign, indicating the climb will be challenging for regular folk.

If you’re deterred by the challenge – or if the weather has deteriorated – you can turn back or simply continue along the MacLehose Trail. Otherwise, it’s onwards and upwards.

The trail becomes steep but, in good time, the woodland thins and you can look back across the Sha Tin valley.

If you’re lucky, and start early, it will be one of those rare mornings when the route so far has been shrouded in morning fog. Then, the sky overhead suddenly clears, and you can look back over a sea of cloud, above which rises Tai Mo Shan on the northern horizon. And if not, Lion Rock is still a marvellous vantage in almost any weather condition.

Upturn in hiking in Hong Kong has a downside, as solitude becomes increasingly hard to find

Just a few more metres and you’re atop a ridge, with almost sheer slopes dropping to the fringes of Kowloon; Hong Kong Island lies to the south. With the city arrayed below, contrasting with the wild yet tranquil hilltop, this is an exhilarating place.

A rough track takes you westwards, dipping to a trail junction right above the main granite cliff. From here, you could scramble up to the head of the lion – but take great care; as recently as May last year a hiker fell to his death here.

From the junction below the lion’s head, you can follow another rough trail downwards. There’s some steep scrambling to be done between boulders, until the trail eases a little, and you rejoin the MacLehose Trail.

Walk westwards, and soon the MacLehose Trail takes you to a pavilion overlooking Kowloon. Some energetic residents of nearby areas like to walk up to here in the mornings, to stretch their limbs, sometimes jumping on the spot for extra exercise, or just to sit for a chat.

You could leave the area by taking a trail these walkers have followed. Or keep going along the MacLehose Trail, which climbs Beacon Hill, then drops and passes the Eagle’s Nest before arriving at Tai Po Road.

One alternative takes you to another well-known local geographical formation – Amah Rock. You can find it readily by following a side trail down through the woods, then making for a low hilltop.

The legend of Amah Rock tells of a local fisherman who went to sea but drowned. Not knowing his fate, his wife climbed to this hilltop each day, carrying her son on her back, to await his return. Eventually, she and her son were turned to rock by the kindly goddess of the sea, allowing their spirits to reunite with her husband.

There’s also a scientific explanation. Granite cracks as it cools, and as the granite here eroded and weathered, much of it fell away along the cracks, leaving a 15-metre-high column of granite blocks in a structure that geologists call a tor.

From a distance, Amah Rock can look slender, with a couple of shapes on top that somewhat resemble the wife’s head along with the son she carries. Up close, it seems squatter, the granite surface rough and orangish, as weathering continues – along with the wife’s vigil.

Getting there – and away

While you can walk to Sha Tin Pass from Wong Tai Sin and other nearby places, it’s far easier to take a taxi. When leaving, from Amah Rock, it’s a short walk down to a catchwater, from where a nature trail leads to Lion Rock Tunnel Road – arriving close to bus stops and near Tai Wai East Rail Station.