Trail opens up natural natural treasure trove

THE Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail offers a pleasant way to learn some natural history. Other sightseeing features boost the trail's attraction for day-trippers.

The day's best starting point is the Sai Kung Country Park Visitor Centre. Sporting traditional Chinese architectural designs, the centre contains displays illustrating Sai Kung's country parks, reservoir construction and natural history.

Take a break beyond the parks' barrier gate, at the roadside barbecue and picnic site. Later, at the end of the nature trail, visit the Sheung Yiu Folk Museum. Housed in a restored fortified village, it reveals much about villagers' lifestyles.

Skirting a creek, the nature trail's surfaced pathway wends for almost a kilometre past farmhouses, orchards, an ancient lime kiln and the walled village. Buy the trail booklet to learn about the area's geology, plants and ancient Hakka ways of life.

The Hakka family of Wongs who settled in Sheung Yiu arrived about 150 years ago. Their major source of income was a lime kiln. The dome-shaped stone structure, built beside the creek, used local materials - firewood and seashells or coral - to produce lime for the building industry. The village's walled embankment and tall lookout tower protected the Wong clan from pirate boats.

Nature enabled them to be self-sufficient, as the trail booklet notes. Cloth and ropes were made from the century plant. Spleen and liver troubles were cured by one shrub while another shrub's evil-smelling leaves repelled the creek's mosquitoes.

The spiny-leaved screw pine was an especially versatile evergreen. Its leaves made strong matting and were used to wrap up Dragon's Boat Festival glutinous rice dumplings, while an infusion of its pineapple-like fruits prevented heat stroke.

Furniture was made from the Cuban Bast tree, whose bark produced measuring cord. The sand paper vine creeper's leaves were ideal for polishing ivory chop-sticks. Blossoms of night-blooming Cereus went into a tonic for respiratory problems.

Bamboos had a hundred uses. One tree's seeds were ground into a flour - a boon during the Japanese occupation, when rice supplies were scarce.

The villagers had a little rice paddy, abandoned many years ago. The terrain was better for orchards, and tangerine, pomelo and longan trees still flourish.

The longans also provided tea leaves, nuts whose powder staunched bleeding, and timber for furniture and carts. Native creeping figs and guava trees (an ancient import from America) provided other fruit.

For further protection, a luck-bringing fung shui grove of trees was planted behind the village. Nature always needed a little human encouragement to bestow its blessings on a village.

Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail Sai Kung East Country Park. Public transport KMB No. 94 (to Wong Shek Pier) hourly from Sai Kung terminus. Alight at car parking area near Visitor Centre. Sai Kung Country Park Visitor Centre, open 10 am-5 pm.

Sheung Yiu Folk Museum, open 9 am-4 pm. Both closed Tuesdays and major public holidays. Free admission. Refreshments Refreshment kiosk near Visitor Centre; take own barbecue and picnic items. Reference Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail, from Government Publications Centre in GPO Building, or from Visitor Centre; Countryside Series map-sheet for Sai Kung area.