Exploring Hong Kong by road: three routes that show city's best views
Using a car, whether it's your own vehicle, a hire car, an Uber car or a taxi, lets you reach some places the city's efficient public transport doesn't serve. Take these routes and you'll appreciate Hong Kong even more
When the road you're aiming for vanishes on your car's GPS navigation system, you know you're in for an adventure. Sandwiched between trucks heading to the landfill at the end of Wo Keng Shan Road near Fanling, we missed the turn onto the road leading up to Robin's Nest and had to double back.
We eventually found the road, a two-way affair that's barely the width of one car. We gingerly negotiated the steep and winding 3km track until finally we reached a dead end just below the 492-metre peak, very near the border with China.
I scaled the dirt trail to the summit on foot. As I looked out towards the hazy Shenzhen skyline, surrounded by a vast sea of green and waves of silence, I reflected on how fortunate we've been to have a car at our disposal for the past few months.
I never saw the point of having a car in Hong Kong, what with the perpetual traffic jams, impatient drivers and sky-high parking fees. And the city's efficient public transport system generally does a great job of getting you around.
But having our own wheels has helped us discover more of the city - its geography, history and culture - and deepened my affinity for it. Especially with a baby, having a car makes travelling easier and has sparked our sense of exploration.
While we're certainly not championing more cars on the road, we encourage you to rev up a mini road trip in Hong Kong. Don't have a car? Rent one through carshare.hk, hire a driver through Uber or GoGoVan, or just take a taxi. Here are three routes we've tried and recommend.
ROUTE 1: Mountain meander
Stop 1: Kowloon Peak
This 602-metre mountain, also known as Fei Ngo Shan, offers a panoramic view of Victoria Harbour. Head up the one-way Sha Tin Pass Road towards Tate's Cairn. You'll pass by some temples and pavilions, as well as many elderly morning walkers. On your right you'll have an intermittent view of the Hong Kong skyline. There's the four-decades-old Hang Jik food stall near Shap Yi Watt Village famous for its tofu pudding, but save your stomach for the upcoming pit stop.
Follow Jat's Incline downhill, then take a left on Clear Water Bay Road and another left onto Fei Ngo Shan Road. You'll crest at Tung Shan (544 metres), where you can park and relax under a shaded pavilion that looks out over Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.
To get to Kowloon Peak, hike the trail adjacent to the pavilion - it's short (about 1.5km long) but technical, going up and down Middle Hill. Be prepared for overgrown trails and steep inclines.
Stop 2: Chuen Lung Village, Duen Kee Restaurant
Arrive hungry, because you're likely to overindulge at this self-service tea house. Set in a rustic village house at the foot of Tai Mo Shan, Duen Kee Restaurant (57-58 Chuen Lung Village, Route Twisk, 6am to 2pm, tel: 2490 5246) has been around since the 1950s.
For about HK$100, two of us stuffed ourselves silly with dim sum and drank our fill of tea made with stream water from Tai Mo Shan. We sat at a table under a parasol on the ground floor, but if you want to be serenaded, grab a seat on the second-floor terrace among the chirping birds in cages.
By 9am on a weekend a lot of the items will have sold out. You'll have another yum cha option round the corner, Choi Lung Restaurant (2 Chuen Lung Village, 5.30am to 3pm, tel: 2415 5041), but it's equally popular.
Stop 3: Tai Mo Shan
You can't drive all the way up Hong Kong's highest peak at 957 metres, but to a car park at about 830 metres elevation. Tai Mo Shan Road, a tight two-way road off Route Twisk, will take you to the spot.
If the weather's good, you'll have a spectacular panoramic view of the northern and western New Territories, the Yuen Long and Pat Heung plains, and even Shekou and Shenzhen on crystal clear days. When the temperature drops to near freezing point, you might catch a glimpse of frost.
Stop 4: Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden
Established in 1956, this sprawling green sanctuary was originally set up by the Kadoorie brothers, Lord Lawrence and Sir Horace, to provide aid to poor local farmers.
Kadoorie Farm (Lam Kam Road, Tai Po, kfbg.org extends up the side of Tai Mo Shan and a network of footpaths and roads wind their way through vegetable gardens, greenhouses, animals, pavilions, bridges, waterfalls and picnic spots - you could easily spend a few hours wandering here.
On the upper reaches of the farm are two viewing points: the 550-metre Kwun Yam Shan and the Kadoorie Brothers Memorial Pavilion. There's a daily shuttle bus service but private cars are also allowed inside - just email [email protected] in advance to reserve your space.
Refresh and refuel at the outdoor Sun Garden cafe near the farm's entrance. There's vegetarian food and healthy drinks, but on a sweltering summer's day we opted for gelato and iced coffee instead.
ROUTE 2 - Rural retreat
Stop 1: Sha Lo Tung
Sha Lo Tung, site of the villages Cheung Uk, Lei Uk and Lo Wai, was established three centuries ago by Hakka settlers who took advantage of the lush plateau and mountain streams for agriculture. In the shadow of Ping Fung Shan, Pat Sin Leng, Cloudy Hill and Wong Leng, it's an idyllic location. But as Hong Kong's economy evolved and agriculture took a back seat, these villages were gradually abandoned.
As a ecological haven for plants, freshwater fish and insects, Sha Lo Tung was classified as "site of special scientific interest" in 1997. Most of the structures are being reclaimed by nature, but there are still some residents, and at weekends a store sells tofu pudding, noodles, snacks and drinks.
The entrance to Sha Lo Tung Road is just after Fung Yuen Road along Ting Kok Road by a scrapyard. Take the left and follow the narrow two-way road uphill until you get to a public toilet. Park there and walk a few hundred metres along the dirt path to Sha Lo Tung.
Stop 2: Tai Mei Tuk
If you've already worked up an appetite, stop by Luca (64A Lung Mei Tsuen, Ting Kok Road, tel: 2662 6737) and have one of the best pizzas in town while dining alfresco on a terrace. Then stretch your legs a little with a walk or ride (there are many bike rentals in the area) across the main dam of Plover Cove Reservoir. Over the dam, you can cycle for another 3km to the end of the road at Pak Kung Tsui, overlooking Tolo Channel.
Stop 3: Robin's Nest
From Tai Mei Tuk, continue along Ting Kok Road to Bride's Pool Road, till you reach the T-junction with Sha Tau Kok Road (Wo Hang). Take a left, and a couple of kilometres later, take the right onto Wo Keng Shan Road. Near Man Uk Pin take a right onto the very narrow nameless road.
Also known as Hung Fa Leng (Red Flower Ridge), Robin's Nest was once part of the Frontier Closed Area, set up in 1951 as a restricted border fenced with coils of barbed wire between China and Hong Kong. This internal border was later shifted several kilometres northwards, making Robin's Nest accessible. Sit on the summit and soak in the scenery and tranquillity on this relatively unknown peak.
Stop 4: Zen Organic Farm
You'll almost forget you're in densely populated, bustling Hong Kong when you're on Zen Organic Farm (Ping Che, Ta Kwu Ling, zeno.com.hk tel: 6692 2671, HK$30 entrance fee). Started six years ago by Ng Ping-leung and Joey Ng Pik-wan, the siblings had taken over the 250,000 sq ft plot from their father, who ran it for 30 years as a pig farm.
Certified by Baptist University's Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre, the farm grows about 100 different crops. In season now - and visitors may pluck their own produce - include dragon fruit, watermelon, yellow figs, bitter melon, hairy gourd and old cucumber. The produce is also sold online organnetmarket.com and at small independent grocers, and supplied to hotels and restaurants.
Stop 5: Tong's Road House Seafood and Grill
Round off the road trip with an ice-cold beer, fresh seafood and steak at the recently opened Tong's Road House (1 Tong Yan San Tsuen Road, Ping Shan, weekends 11am until late, tel: 3521 0144). The 5,000 sq ft restaurant has 220 indoor and outdoor seats, a children's playground and free parking. Amid a sleepy area of Yuen Long, we seem to have escaped Hong Kong - exactly how a road trip should feel.
ROUTE 3: Island gems
Stop 1: Mount Austin
At 554 metres, this is the real Peak (the famous Peak where the tram stops is only at 396 metres). Drive up Mount Austin Road and park at the pavilion where a panoramic view of Pok Fu Lam awaits. On Sundays and public holidays, however, the road is open only to taxis and residents of the area, so you'll need to park at the Peak Galleria and walk up via Victoria Peak Garden. The earlier you begin this route, the better.
Stop 2: Mount Butler
Off Tai Hang Road, take Mount Butler Road up past the quarry and radio station and onto Sir Cecil's Ride, which is drivable for a few hundred metres until it veers off into a trail. This quiet spot offers a good view of Victoria Harbour and in the mornings you'll find elderly walkers doing tai chi here.
Stop 3: Tai Tam Reservoir
Along Tai Tam Road heading to Shek O and just past Red Hill, take the right onto Tai Tam Reservoir Road leading down to Tai Tam Harbour. The calm and serene stretch is a great escape from the crowded southside spots during summer.
Stop 4: Shek O
This really isn't a secret, but thick buttered toast washed down with milk tea at Lu Lu Shop (742 Shek O Village) is the perfect end to a morning drive.