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City Weekend

How a group of Hong Kong adventurers break the nine-to-five monotony

A meetup group organises short expeditions in the countryside called ‘microadventures’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 4:14pm

The first time Shaun Cunningham organised an expedition in Hong Kong, he was forced to go alone after no one else turned up.

Fast forward two and a half years, and the Microadventures Hong Kong Meetup group, set up by Cunningham, has more than 3,000 members.

The term “microadventure” was coined by British adventurer Alastair Humphreys. The 39-year-old explorer, whose first major trip was a four-year bicycle journey around the world, has written extensively about the benefits of taking small adventures for people with nine-to-five jobs.

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According to Humphreys, such trips should be cheap, short, simple to organise and physically and logistically realistic. He has since travelled all over the world – including Hong Kong – for his mini expeditions. In 2014, he climbed The Peak and camped there overnight with Hong Kong-based adventurer Rob Lilwall.

It was around this time that Cunningham also caught the bug for adventuring.

The 28-year-old venture development professional from Sydney, who launches start-ups in Asia, became inspired after reading about Humphreys’ spontaneous journeys – which usually focus on escaping urban environments – and subsequently attempted his own.

Buoyed by the thrill it gave him, he set up the microadventures group after watching Humphreys give a lecture in 2014 at Ming Hua Theological College in Central.

Despite a modest start, Microadventures Hong Kong attracted new members until it had a solid base of 300 people. Since then the group’s membership has increased tenfold, with between 10 and 20 people joining an adventure each week.

“It has been awesome,” he said. “A lot of people ask me why I do them and it’s because they have a creative element to them. It is just fun for fun’s sake. It brings back that childhood feeling – you have to strive towards that sense of adventure.

“Some people say it is quite prescriptive and there’s not enough spontaneity, but if you do not organise it, people may not do it at all.”

The group primarily attracts Hongkongers, while about a quarter of members are expats looking to explore outside the urban environment.

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Cunningham, who lives in Kennedy Town, said he felt it was “particularly good” to have an adventuring group in Hong Kong, where there is a culture of working long hours.

He also believed the group was important for showcasing the less well-known parts of the place.

“Hong Kong has a bit of a brand problem,” he said. “People think of it as a nature-poor city, but there is so much to explore.”

Alfred Yu is the group’s chief trip organiser. The 59-year-old businessman, who runs his own computer training company, moved to Hong Kong from mainland China at the age of 11.

Before joining the microadventures group, he would go on expeditions with his son, now 18, often taking him hiking and camping. His wife Julie now occasionally joins him for microadventures.

“It is open to all,” he said. “You do not need to travel very far away to find somewhere exciting, especially when you live in Hong Kong. We have the country parks, but people do not always go there.

“I have been travelling to interesting places myself and through the group it is possible for me to actually achieve new expeditions with others.”

Adventures normally include hiking, swimming, running and cycling or a combination of all four. The group arranges events suitable for people of a range of different fitness levels.

Yu said a recent expedition involved swimming around the beaches on Hong Kong Island, such as from Repulse Bay to Middle Bay.

Many of those who join the group go on their own. According to organisers, this makes them more open to making new friends.

Yu said he showed up for his first microadventure alone but found it extremely welcoming.

Hong Kong has a bit of a brand problem – people think of it as a nature-poor city, but there is so much to explore
Shaun Cunningham, group founder

“A lot of people who come do not know each other,” he said. “If you come with a friend, then you will only speak to them. But at our meetups, I do not need to encourage people, it happens quite spontaneously.”

Yu added: “And they are supportive – they help each other if they fall over or their tyre bursts.”

Laurence Hoang has been attending the group’s sessions twice monthly since they started. The 46-year-old customer service worker, who returned to his native Hong Kong from Brazil 12 years ago, said he needed some distraction from his office job.

“Microadventures means I get some fresh air and get over the stress of the week,” he said.

“I was a bit bored in Hong Kong – I wanted to do something ‘outdoorsy’. I like it because the people you meet in the countryside are a bit different than the ones you normally meet in the city.

“And 99.9 per cent of people in the group are very friendly. You meet local people and expats from all over the world. You chat with everybody and it’s great.”