One of the things that makes Hong Kong such an appealing destination is the possibility of keeping fit in the great outdoors. Now that the weather has cooled dramatically, I have spent the past couple of weekends hiking paths that overlook the vistas from the heights of Dragon's Back, Lantau Peak and Victoria Peak.
The territory has a maze of trails to please the seasoned hiker. But where does a newcomer to the city begin to explore these trails? I looked to iTunes to download the apps that would point me in the right direction.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department's (AFCD) Enjoy Hiking app is the most immediately useful, listing all the walks and trails by types and regions. The app provides trail information such as starting point, expected sights en route, difficulty level and a map of the route. So, now I had places to go.
But there were so many routes that I needed to get feedback from people who had walked the trails. I found it in the EveryTrail Pro app. It has guides and tips from experts, as well as members of the public, who have recorded their routes in detail and included photos. Many hikers use this app to share information.
I had read good things about Jardine's Lookout, so I took some visiting friends to conquer stage five of the Hong Kong Trail. But when we got to Hong Kong Parkview, the condominium on Tai Tam Reservoir Road where the stage began, I realised that there were trails leading in all directions. It was a case of the blind leading the blind.
The Enjoy Hiking app indicated the route would head towards Quarry Bay, so I led the group in a northeasterly direction only to find we were heading towards the Tai Tam Family Walk, a much easier trail that wouldn't give us the workout we wanted. I backtracked to the starting point and switched to EveryTrail Pro, which allowed me to track and record my signal directly on the topological trail map, and check with waypoints and pictures that we were on the right track.
It would have been far less frustrating if I could have checked my bearings against the trail map on the Enjoy Hiking app with the phone's GPS signal, or had the ability to view my location in terrain rather than satellite mode on EveryTrail Pro, which would show much more than just a canopy of green.
To track my fitness goals, I pulled up the iMapMyHike+ app, which marked out my path and recorded the essentials: duration, distance, pace, speed, elevation and, most importantly, calories burned. Once we reached Taikoo Shing for lunch, I saved the path and pictures taken on the phone to the route recorded on EveryTrail Pro and iMapMyHike+. This automatically uploaded the data to EveryTrail.com and MapMyHike.com, where I was able to review my hike once I got home.
My second hike on Lantau Island along the Olympic Trail turned out to be a little more complicated. I was not going to be able to track my route clearly on Enjoy Hiking and I could not find any shared maps on EveryTrail Pro; so I scoured the web for a gpx (an open GPS data exchange format) map that I could follow on MotionX-GPS.
Again, there were many possible trails from Mui Wo, but this time I felt confident knowing I was navigating towards a specific set of co-ordinates on the topographical map while seeing my location on MotionX-GPS. The app also recorded and uploaded all the key data, but didn't translate them into useful workout information. After a hearty meal at the hike's end point in Tung Chung, I posted the data on Facebook and Twitter directly from the app.
Enjoy Hiking is a handy application to source for information about the official AFCD gazetted trails, but not very helpful for tracking. It's a pity that although the department has done a good job of marking the trails and listing them online, the app is unable to use the trail markers to establish waypoints for hikers to navigate to. It would be much more useful if hikers could track their signal on the route map against the distance posts.
Use iMapMyHike+ if you want to track route and fitness data, but if you have a specific gpx file you want to follow, you will need MotionX-GPS. And until there is some way to merge Enjoy Hiking with EveryTrail's waypoint checks and social functionality, this might be more useful if you're planning to go off the beaten path. EveryTrail Pro has plenty of walks, guides and trips, and even shows trail routes on topological maps so you may find some 'unofficial' hikes. It is now my go-to app for hiking in Hong Kong. It won't be a case of the blind leading the blind any more.
Apps and downs
Enjoy Hiking is free.
MotionX-GPS is US$1.99.
iMapMyHike+ Lite version is free; US$1.99 for the full ad-free version that allows you to geo-tag photos to your saved routes and provides voice feedback throughout the session.
EveryTrail has a free lite version; US$3.99 for the Pro version, which allows you to sync all your trips online, record, share and map videos, and saves maps for offline use when you are using it without an internet phone connection.
All from iTunes.