Star treks: Hong Kong's best night hikes
Night hikes are a great way to escape the crowds and the heat, while taking in a different view of the city
Andrew Li and three friends went on their first night hike last month, crossing the Twin Peaks above Stanley in southern Hong Kong Island. "We set off about 9pm," he says. "It was much more exhilarating than hiking in the daytime. There was only a narrow focal point, in our torch beams, and it was a lot cooler. During the day, there are usually others and noise. But at night you're in touch with nature; it's just you and your friends."
Tough, but well worthwhile. "We got to the tops of the peaks and looked over Repulse Bay, which was a pretty amazing backdrop," Li says. "Hiking at night was more private and serene, more magical."
EMBRACING THE DARK
The upsurge of interest in night hiking arose, at least partly, through the advent of Barclays MoonTrekker, a fundraising trail walk on Lantau that began in 2009. Founder and director William Sargent is a long-time night hiker.
"I grew up here and hiked Sunset Peak at four years old, with help from my parents," says Sargent. "I've been night hiking since I was 13 or 14, looking for snakes. I love wildlife, and you can see a lot more at night — like porcupines, owls and sleeping birds."
For the first MoonTrekker, Sargent was surprised to see 400 people joining, although the number was capped at that for safety reasons; this year, 1,500 people will run and walk the route. "MoonTrekker has become a 'gateway' event for many people," he says.
This year, those people include Li, who started hiking about 18 months ago to offset the calorie intake during his career with Privé Group in the food and beverage industry. He and his friends made their first nocturnal foray in training for MoonTrekker.
Kim Swenson is now something of a veteran night hiker, and she's set for her second MoonTrekker. Her first nocturnal attempt didn't go well. She joined friends who were training for Trailwalker and set off from Parkview, aiming for the Twin Peaks. "I got freaked out at the top of Violet Hill," she says. "It was eerily quiet and I ran down, back to Parkview."
Last year, Swenson retried night hiking as her company, CBRE, is a key MoonTrekker sponsor. This time she embraced it. "I'm open to trying something new and now we do regular night hikes," she says. "It's a good personal challenge with good camaraderie. You get different views at night. When it's clear, it can be breathtaking, stunning, with views most people in Hong Kong will not see."
Tony Basoglu has been hiking in Hong Kong for about 20 years. Along with supporting events such as MoonTrekker, he leads night hikes for the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup Group. "I thought we should try night hiking some time, as I've got three kids and a full-time job, so there's not lot of free time to go hiking. I follow easy routes that are under 10km and relatively flat, taking around 2½ hours."
The Hiking Meetup Group regularly organises three to five hikes every night. "It's a bit of exercise, and there's a large social element," says Basoglu. "Night hiking is very different to daytime. You get fireflies; Hong Kong is full of fireflies, and see large vistas, with twinkling city lights. If walking the south side of Hong Kong Island, there are the lights of shrimp fishermen. You see things in a completely different perspective."
The largest mammal Basoglu has encountered here is a porcupine, though he hears a lot of loud rustling, probably a wild boar running off as hikers approach.
First timers are especially nervous about snakes. But Basoglu observes: "Snakes don't come up to you; they want to get out of your way. When people come with a group, they soon get used to it, chatting as we walk the trails."
Trails from the dark side
Circuit of The Peak: from the upper Peak Tram station, along Harlech Road and Lugard Road
Sir Cecil's Ride above Quarry Bay: from Mount Butler Road on Jardine's Lookout
Dragon's Back, southeast Hong Kong Island: from near the junction of Shek O Road and Tai Tam Road, returning to Shek O Road above To Tei Wan
Stage 2 of the Wilson Trail: from Parkview to Quarry Bay
Stage 5 of the Maclehose Trail: from Tai Po Road to Sha Tin Pass; with care, also take the side trail to Lion Rock for fantastic views over Kowloon
Shek Pik Country Trail, Lantau: from Ngong Ping to near Shek Pik Reservoir dam
How to hike right at night
• Start small, and build your skills and confidence
• Take a trusted torch or headlamp, and back-ups
• A topographic map from a government publications centre will keep you on course
• Carry water, snacks and mobile phone
• Do not hike alone