Camping Hong Kong style: how to get perfect pitch
Hiking with friends and putting up a tent for a few nights is a great way to enjoy the city’s natural beauty. Here’s some tips for a successful trip
Hiking is one popular way to escape Hong Kong’s crowded streets. Another option is a weekend camping trip – especially if it’s a long weekend. A few nights away under the stars offer a connection with nature, and a cheap and cheerful break.
Hong Kong’s countryside is the perfect camping ground.
There are 41 designated campsites around the territory, from the horseshoe bays of Sai Kung to the higher altitudes of Lantau, with amenities including barbecue pits, benches and, at some sites, showers. Details are posted on the Leisure and Cultural Services Department’s website. There are many other unofficial spots waiting to be discovered.
One such place incorporates a challenging hike – especially when carrying backpacks bulging with gear and provisions for several nights away from home.
On a recent trip, our group of four packed our rucksacks with enough provisions for five nights away from home. We caught a taxi in Sai Kung town to Sai Wan Pavilion, the closest point by car to the camping grounds in Tai Long Wan.
With others to share the load, it was easier to take along more than just the bare essentials. Bags were stuffed with bulky foodstuffs – a bottle of wine, vegetables for a stew – and a guitar for entertainment. Our heavy backpacks meant more frequent rest stops, so the hike took longer than we expected.
A grass-covered rocky outcrop near the shoreline was a good spot for some simple post-hike stretches, to prevent muscle pains the following morning.
The setting at Sai Wan was spectacular, but don’t forget to pitch your tents before it gets dark. Check the wind direction, to better shelter the campfire.
With tents erected, the next task is going in search of firewood. Charcoal is heavy to carry, and there is always driftwood on the beach, or fallen twigs and branches lying around. Just make sure it’s thoroughly dried out, otherwise all you’ll get is a lot of smoke.
It’s best to either dig a pit in the ground, or build a ring of rocks to keep the wind off. (At a designated site or gazetted beach, campers are required to use the barbecue facilities.) For further protection, build a wall with rucksacks, at a safe distance of three metres.
Four chicken breasts had been soaking in a sealed container with teriyaki marinade since our group left the city. Sizzling between hand-held grills, after a tough day’s hike the aroma was irresistible.
Campfire cooking requires constant attention; the meat must be kept just above the fire and turned frequently to avoid burning the outside before the inside is cooked.
Another easily prepared, nutritious camp dish is a noodle stew made from a base of simple packet ramen. Boil some vegetables – such as potatoes and carrots – then set them aside. Use the same saucepan to fry onions and garlic. Mix it all together with the noodles, crack an egg on top and mix again. Don’t forget to pack salt and pepper.
We opened a bottle of wine to go with the food. Afterwards, appetites sated and eyelids growing heavy, we wile away the evening by the fireside before falling asleep. I wake at the crack of dawn and open the tent door. There’s nothing like fresh country air to invigorate you.
There are a few village shops in Sai Wan, and there should be a place open to enjoy a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast. It’s also a chance to stock up on an absolute necessity – water. A crate of beer was a non-essential load we decided to bear.
When decamping, be sure to clear up all rubbish and charred wood from the fire, and dump it at the garbage bins. Leaving just footprints and taking only photos – as per the country code – we continued north along section two of the MacLehose Trail.
We paddled barefoot across a shallow stream at the end of the beach before tackling the day’s first set of steps, which lead over the headland to Ham Tin beach. Geared up, it’s a steep, 45-minute climb. After collapsing at the top for a quick rest, we pressed on. From the summit, though, there’s a spectacular view of all the bays. Most rewarding was the sight of the fourth beach along the Tai Long Wan strip – and our second campsite – Tung Wan. It’s the northernmost and least visited beach in the area.
After another rest at Ham Tin, we mistakenly deviated from the trail. We walked inland and found ourselves squelching into stinking swampy land.
From here the journey is more arduous, with overgrown paths and loose rocks underfoot.
The descent is no less difficult. You may slip and slide down dusty, mudslide tracks, so proceed slowly to avoid injury. At the bottom, you are rewarded for your hard work. Fresh water flows from a stream onto the white sand and, with grass underfoot, it’s a perfect camping ground, with thick scrub sheltering the site from any wind.
The following day, not ready to return to the city, we rationed our food to make sure it would last another couple of nights. First to go was food that would quickly expire in our warming cool box, such as sausages. Pre-boiled eggs had been quickly devoured, though we managed to save raw ones for scrambling later.
On our last night, we would have been left with just instant noodles and eggs had it not been for the kindness of fellow campers. To ease their burden for the journey home, they shared their stocks, including a real campsite luxury – cheese – and many essentials for a local-style hotpot.
The stream at Tung Wan provides plenty of water which can be drunk after boiling and filtering. Although boiling will rid water of most bacteria, viruses and parasites, it cannot get rid of chemicals and toxins. To be extra safe, use a water filter before boiling, or take along water purification tablets.
Leaving Tung Wan, it’s possible to head back another way; along side the steep slopes of Sharp Peak. A hike of a few hours takes you to the road at Pak Tam Au, where a bus runs back to Sai Kung town.
Camping can be hard work, but it is also a rewarding way to experience nature. Several days spent in Hong Kong’s countryside can be a rejuvenating experience.
Tent: look for a three-season tent, with waterproof rating (PU) of between 2,000 and 3,000, to enjoy all-year-round dry camping.
Sleeping bag: most pack into compact bags, handy for keeping warm but also as a further layer between yourself and the ground.
Knives: multipurpose kitchen knives are great for cooking, but large, sturdy blades are more appropriate for cutting wood etc.
Fire lighting equipment: at the very least, keep cigarette lighters in separate waterproof containers, along with dry materials, like kitchen paper and shreds of cardboard.
Rope: a ball of string or, even better, 10 metres of Paracord, for erecting shelters, bundling firewood, or hanging lines.
Water bottles: empty bottles are handy for collecting rainwater, storing purified water, or sterilised river water.
Gaffer tape: to temporarily fix/hold things.
Lights: a battery powered lantern, a head torch or a simple handheld torch.
Travel towel: they take up very little space and weigh next to nothing.
Washing equipment: body soap, small bottles of shampoo, dish soap/scrubbing brush.
Toilet paper: because otherwise it’s a leaf.
Rubbish bags: it’s good to take all your waste with you.
First aid kit: - buying a pre-made kit ensures you have the essentials.
Seats and table: small, foldable seats and an elevated surface.
Sleeping mats: self-inflating mats are cheap, light and comfortable, if bulky. But they’re better than sleeping on hard ground.
Tarpaulin: can be spread on the ground as a picnic blanket, used as a ground sheet under the tent, fashioned into a raincoat, or strung up as a shelter.
Multitool: an array of blades such as saws, knives, pliers, and other handy gadgets.
Cool box: an almost essential piece of equipment for keeping beers chilled or food fresh.
Gloves: for carrying a heavy bag, handling hot pans or collecting firewood.
Mini burner: gas burners provide fire when all is wet.
Sewing kit: to fix and patch your bag, tent or clothing.