Semi-rural lane a Hongkong Hongkong Island refuge

LEAFY Bowen Road, high above the north shore of Hongkong Island, is a jogger's joy, with a level, tree-shaded, 4 km-long ''fitness trail'' and 20 exercise stations. Non-joggers can easily ignore this, however, and concentrate on the lane's spectacular views of Wan Chai and Victoria Harbour.

The semi-rural roadway is named after Sir George Bowen, Hongkong's governor for 30 months in the 1880s. Probably best known for comparing his job to that of the Mayor of the English port city of Portsmouth, Sir George enlarged Legco a little and pursued a few infrastructural developments.

Waterworks was one of them, and Bowen Road was an integral part of his Tai Tam reservoir scheme. Much of the elevated, hill-hugging road runs over the aqueduct and conduit that still carry water from the reservoir's tunnel directly to Central.

Above the road, on the densely-wooded hillsides, natural water supplies plunge down stormwater channels. At Wanchai Gap, gullies turn into tamed waterfalls, to flow under and around ornate Chinese-style bridges and pavilions crowded into tiny Bowen Road Park. Alongside, the stepped pathway of ancient Wan Chai Gap Road, linking upper Stubbs Road with Kennedy Road, crosses Bowen Road.

Bowen Road's panoramas may not be as sensational as The Peak's, but they provide walkers with closer bird's-eye views of both the harbour, from the Western Approaches to Kwun Tong, and of Hongkong Island's northern shore, from Exchange Square to Happy Valley's racetrack and cemeteries.

There are a few fine homes at the western end of the road, and shanty cottages at the eastern end, where several shrines garishly litter the boulder-flanked roadside. Look out there for one of the granite boundary stones erected in 1903 by the ''City of Victoria'' (the old name for Hongkong's ''capital'').

The road's steep terrain deterred 19th-century merchants from building homes near the boundary, as did the later ban on vehicular traffic for most of the road's length (beyond Bowen Drive).

Early-20th-century Mid-Levels settlers preferred to live closer to the Peak Tram's Bowen Road station.

Wonderfully, Bowen Road remains an inner-city haven of greenery and birdsong for joggers and early-morning tai-chi practitioners. It is also a popular promenade for amahs with dogs, people with prams, and spry old chaps with canes.

At the eastern end, not many climb uphill to study the road's prehistoric mystery. Usually called Lover's Rock, the imposing boulder formation is a massive prayer stone for superstitious lovers. The panorama from its plinth is a romantic's dream.

Bowen Road East Mid-Levels, Hongkong Island Public transport Green minibus No. 9 from Star Ferry; alight either at start of Bowen Road or soon after, before it turns into Borrett Road. For walkers heading westwards, from Bowen Road's junction with Stubbs Road, take CMB No. 6 or 15 to Wong Nei Chong roundabout, and return to Central by foot via Magazine Gap Road or by Peak Tram via Bowen Road station. Refreshments Carry soft drinks and picnic snacks. Reference Countryside Series sheet-map for Hongkong Island.