Guide to Hong Kong: Natural Heritage
A series of stories, recommendations and tips on Hong Kong from people in the know. Explore our city based on the travel experiences that interest you and get itineraries for off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.
Hong Kong may be a buzzing urban metropolis, but its little-known secret is that some 40 percent of the territory is formed of country parks and nature reserves. Step outside of downtown and you’ll discover steeple-top mountain chains, remote hiking trails, rugged coastlines and wild beaches. Plus with more marine diversity than the Caribbean and one third of the total bird species in China, you’ll soon want to spend all your precious time outdoors.
The most prominent protected nature reserve is the Hong Kong Global Geopark of China, in the northeasterly Sai Kung. One of the prettiest of these areas is Yan Chau Tong Marine Park: a happy result of violent volcanic eruptions some 180 million years ago. Protected by mountain ranges, erosion through the ages has been kind—it’s worth a visit to explore the rocky headlands and cliffs which are surrounded by picturesque bays and turquoise waters.
Under the Sea
To discover what lies beneath Hong Kong’s calm waters, escape to Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park (Hoi Ha literally translates to “under the sea”), a sheltered bay that’s famous for its coral collection. You might be able to spot more than 60 species of hard coral just from a clear spot on the surface, or dive down further to happen upon colorful soft coral and more than 120 species of fish.
Keep your feet on dry land at the renowned Hong Kong Wetland Park, some 60 hectares of wetland reserve with specially designed habitats for its water-bird species. The large visitor center holds regular themed exhibitions, plus you can meet the salt water crocodile “Pui Pui.” Mai Po Nature Reserve is another must-visit wetlands that supports thousands of birds during migratory season—plus a whole host of vibrating insects and gei wai freshwater shrimp.
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Spotlight on: Yuen Long
Travel up into the far northwestern reaches of Hong Kong and you may be surprised to discover that the once rural outpost of Yuen Long is now a thriving modern town. The district has certainly come a long way since its first Chinese settlers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), but large parcels of land are still devoted to the bird-laden wetlands, scenic nature reserves and tranquil waterside villages.
Settlers from Guangdong, the Tang Clan, first established their walled villages in Ping Shan. They constructed a large number of traditional Chinese buildings—halls, temples and pagodas—that you can see if you follow the Ping Shan Heritage Trail. This 1.6km-long route offers a window into the unique characteristics of life in Yuen Long. While you’re here, try poon choi—a time-honored village dish with layers of ingredients served in a metal basin.
From traditional walled villages to ancient fishing villages, Yuen Long prides itself on protecting its age-old buildings and its lush green spaces. Head to Lau Fau Shan, a rural fishing village in Deep Bay that’s traditionally famous for its oyster farming—and its oyster sauce. Life today is somewhat sleepier: you’re more likely to find old fishing boats, rafts gently floating in the shallows, and expansive mudflats.
As the sun sets, the shoreline of Ha Pak Nai becomes a shutterbug’s paradise as crowds gather at the water’s edge, looking across the bay to Mainland China, while the day’s departing rays bathe the mangroves, fish ponds and sandy flats in a warm glow. Another unmissable Yuen Long stop before the day’s end is Ho To Tai Noodle Shop—a famous 1940s era eatery that serves bowls of firm, springy wonton noodles.
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