In the storm: barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm

Intense adventure over the Easter week-end. I had met Yuan, my trail-running barefooting friend for our first common barefoot hike. Weather predictions were fair, and although a low cloud ceiling could be seen, the day looked to be acceptable for a hike. Little did we know that it would transform into a barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm.

In Ma On Shan country park

Our starting point was in Ma On Shan country park, at its northern extremity, near the MTR station of Tai Shui Hang. The goal being to climb one or two of the local mountains (and where apparently Yeung, the third member of the group was quite familiar).

The climb appeared perfectly normal at first, with mostly earth and a few rocks. It was when we arrived to the top of the mountain, that things starting getting awry. We first had to clamber down rocks, to get to a position where two interesting rocks were present: the diamond rock and… a phallus rock!

Phallus rock
A very interesting rock, shaped naturally as a phallus.

The pic is courtesy of Yuan, my barefooting friend. And instead of a selfie, here a “footie”.

Barefooting is fun!
Barefooting is fun!

In the very same area, as we were climbing down rocks (and yes, it is rock scrambling, not simply going down), we came across a local species of chameleon, strangely very unafraid of us.

Chameleon
Chameleon spotted in the Ma On Shan park

Slippery path

Going down the mountain gives us already a good taste of what it was going to be later under the thunderstorm. Most of the trails were muddy, or muddy on rocks, which proves to be extremely slippery, as it had stormed just the day before. Progression was thus slower and quite cautious. This rendered us to one of those donkey paths often used by villagers in ancient times. This one being the “Mui Fa” ancient path.

Barefoot trail running on the Mui Fa ancient trail

The best part was getting to a clear fresh stream, where I managed to cleanse a little bit my legs and my arms. Little did I know that we were up for yet another extreme challenge.

In fact, after taking the Mui Fa ancient trail, Yeung decided to take us up another 540 m-high mountain… Just for the fun!

A slippery slope is just… slippery!

I guess I never really understood the meaning of slippery slope, until I climbed this mountain. Very steep slope, mud was freely detaching in some parts, making it extremely difficult to climb barefoot (and even with shoes). I had to use the local trees and my hiking stick at full to progress on this mountain.

Climbing a slippery mountain barefoot

Eventually, we arrived after some rock scrambling (but I kid you not, it was really climbing up rocks), to a sort of plateau with some unstable rocks where we made a pause nonetheless.

Dirty feet and slippery slope.
The state of my feet after climbing the slippery slope.

An unforeseen storm

The violence of the storm caught all of Hong Kong by surprise on Saturday, but fortunately, we were well on our way down the mountain when we took the brunt of it. Winds reached 100 kph, and in its violence, it was just short of a typhoon.

Thunderstorm over Shatin
The thunderstorm seen over Shatin

In terms of nature, it was interesting to observe a Hong Kong Newt, a form of Salamander up on the mountain, far from any stream.

Hk newt
A Hong Kong newt spotted on the mountain far from any stream during a thunderstorm.

Surviving the storm

The remainder of the story, for which, unfortunately, I don’t have pics, was a race to get down the mountain, as best we could. Unfortunately, the normal mountain trail transformed itself into something just short of a wet slide. I think I must have fallen a half dozen times, and on some very slippery sections, did not have other choice but to do a controlled slide downward.

It started getting scary when the thunderstorm got over us and lightning started striking. For the record, about 9,000 lightning strikes took place over Hong Kong during this storm. We were particularly exposed being in altitude and in this particularly nasty storm. However, with a lot of luck, we made it to the cover of the trees, which meant less chances of a direct hit on us. After that, we found finally the Mui Fa trail, and it brought us to a stream inflated by the waters of a flash flood.

And this allows me to illustrate yet another advantage of barefoot hiking: no problems at all with walking in the mountain torrents!

For the record, as some people might consider it irresponsible to be hiking in a thunderstorm, in the morning, nothing advised us of such a sudden and brutal storm, all that was mentioned by the HK observatory was “showers”. The brutality of the storm suprised many in HK and even caused a loss of life (boats capsized, and at least one person struck by lightning). When I noticed warnings of thunderstorm, I asked my companions to shorten the hike, but to get down was quite an endeavour, supposing to pass through several hills. Nevertheless, we were extremely lucky to have escaped with no loss of life and limb, so the lesson is simply to postpone hikes even if showers are forecast.

Hiking barefoot above the sea of clouds: Lantau Peak

My previous hike on Lantau peak was shod; it was thus only natural that I should attempt a barefoot hike on Lantau peak. The initial goal was just to manage to climb the mountain, but eventually, I managed to photograph a “sea of clouds“.

An opportunity hike

I decided to climb Lantau peak as I had to take my family to the airport. Remembering that I struggled with all my gear the previous time, I decided to hike light this time. My package contained water, my camera, my phone and a go pro. I also took a change of clothes and a fleece sweater, as I was expecting to be chilled on the return.

The departure took place pretty late, towards 3 PM, but that still gave me some margin, as sunset was to take place around 17h 30 pm, so I still had time to return to Nong Ping. However, on the way, I saw several Indians who were barely arriving within view of the summit around 16h 30, or close to 17h 00… Given that none of them had packed a torch other than their smartphone, I hope they managed to get down without issues.

As a reminder, if you expect your hike to have even a remote possibility of ending at night, you should carry a torch light.

The start of the hike

As usual, the hike starts on Pak Kung Au. This location is the starting point for both, Lantau peak hike and Sunset peak hike (where you hike all the way to Mui Wo). Pak Kung Au, being some distance from the town of Tung Chung, you must catch bus 23M (the one going to Nong Ping) and alight at Pak Kung Au station. From there, you have to walk uphill some short distance, before joining the start of the trail to Lantau Peak.

At the very start, you will see a memorial comemorating the two GFS (Government Flying Service) pilots who got killed in a helicopter accident on the flanks of Lantau Peak.

Memorial to pilots
A memorial is present at the very beginning of the trail, remembering two pilots of the GFS who crashed there

A heavy fog was blanketing all of Hong Kong, so I was not really expecting there to be any significant shots, but I was fine with it, as it was just for the exercise.

The endless stairs climbing in the fog
The start of the trail on Lantau Peak: endless stairs disappearing in the clouds.

The first time I climbed Lantau Peak, it was at night, with a heavy load on my back and with a much lesser degree of cardio. This time, I was able to keep up a good level of speed, and if I didn’t manage to reach the 1h 1/4 promised by the direction boards, I did manage to get to the top in 1h 25 mins.

Direction boards on Lantau Peak
Direction boards tell you how much time left until you reach the top of the mountain

A grueling series of stairs

While very well signaled and built and unlike suicide cliff, perfectly safe to climb, the hike is mainly an endless succession of stone stairs. Keeping a light backpack is paramount to conserving energy and not exhausting yourself up there.

For a barefoot hiker, the challenge is compounded by some rough trails along the way, with loose stones. With some training, you just breeze past those areas, and bare feet do consent more balance. However, if you are unsure of your balance taking a hiking stick can certainly help.

Rough trails
In some parts, instead of stairs, there are some rough trails. Barefooting requires some technique here.

Above the clouds

At a point, I exited finally from the cloud cover and was welcomed by a warm sun in its setting phase. There is always some marvel at seeing the sun after bathing in the fog, but the marvel was compounded when I turned around and saw that there was actually a sea of clouds! As a reminder, the “sea of clouds” is generally formed by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion”, where the air near the ground is colder than the air above, thus trapping the fog on the bottom.

Climbing on Lantau Peak and seeing the sea of clouds

It is often said that barefoot hiking allows you to experience the hike, as well as do it… But the real experience was the magnificent views on this hike. The gorgeous views would almost let you forget that there is an airport in operation just next to the mountain!

Sea of clouds on Lantau Peak
Just before the summit of Lantau Peak, a shot shows Sunset peak surrounded by clouds

Summitting!

There is always a thrill in arriving to the top of a mountain, in my case, the thrill was increased by the fact that I did climb faster than I expected. A lot of hikers were busy taking pictures around on that day. And for cause! The sea of clouds was just gorgeous.

Panorama pic
An idea of the gorgeous view at the top of Lantau Peak via this panorama pic.

The setting of the sea of cloud is so incredibly gorgeous, that it provides the occasion for many pics in dreamlike situations.

Hiker before sea of clouds
A hiker looks at the sea of clouds

Of course, I did have my own pictures taken up there…

On the top of Lantau Peak
On the top of Lantau Peak, barefoot. You can see Sunset peak in the background and the sea of clouds all around.
Snap before distance marker
I asked another hiker to snap a pic of me before the distance marker of Lantau Peak.

And after this, it was time to head back down…

The road down

The first few meters down from Lantau Peak are quite impressive as you progress down an almost vertical flight of stairs which can certainly give fear of heights to people who are subject to it. The views, however are just gorgeous, as you feel you are descending from heaven.

Stairs descending from Lantau Peak.
The vertiginous view on the stairs descending from Lantau peak.

The stairs are nothing to write home about, on the way down. You must just be careful if they are humid as they might be slippery (especially when barefoot), but beyond that, although I was barefoot, I managed to reach Nong Ping before any of the other hikers who left the top at the same time as me.

Wisdom path shrouded in fog
The wisdom path shrouded in fog

It was a bit difficult for me to maintain trace of my upward progression as I missed a number of the landmarks we had been through during the night hike. However, I managed to evaluate my (fast) progression on the way down, by recognizing a number of benches or other features along the way. What was missing most was the possibility of recognizing the wisdom path along the way. When I finally encountered it, it was shrouded in the fog, giving it an eery aspect.

On the way back

On the way, I checked the abandoned village near Nong Ping. In a previous post, I had mentioned about the creepy doll in one of the abandoned shops. It seems that since my last visit, some vandals broke the windows of that shop and stole the doll. A pity, as she was one of the features to give a friendly face to this abandoned village.

In Tung Chung, after catching one of the last buses from Nong Ping, I caught the E22 bus to take me home straight, without having to change 2x MTR.

As a conclusion, the Lantau Peak hike, although grueling by the efforts required, is quite an easy hike, which can be easily done even by relatively inexperienced hikers due to the presence of stairs all along the path.

A final word: the overwhelming positive approach to barefooting on the trails

All the reactions of other hikers on the trail were admirative of barefoot hiking, so in general, hiking barefoot in Hong Kong is more of a subject of admiration. Barefooting on rough terrain commands even more admiration, as people cringe inwardly about the “pain” that could be a result.

While the terrain commands a slower hiking approach than shod, at the end of the day, the legs feel wonderfully light after the hike is over. Just good muscular tiredness, with no exhaustion on the feet.

As a barefoot runner and hiker, visibility is also important in convincing others to take the first step towards this life-changing practice.


Barefoot hike on Tung Yeung Shan and Maclehose trail

On a nice Sunday, my friend Matthew and me, both decided to go for a hike around , but an exploratory hike, without knowing too much where we were headed. In the end, it took us across some less traveled trails all the way down to the Maclehose trail.

Starting with a climb

Of course, although I live near to Kowloon Peak, this still means I must climb about 300 m to get to the Kowloon Peak viewpoint. As usual with any hike lately, I did it barefoot.

I met Matthew who was coming from Shatin, near to Tate’s Cairn, where I managed to fly my drone. As the scenery is gorgeous, I managed to take a panorama pictures with my Mavic Pro. To do this, the drone takes about 21 shots and stitches them together (in fact, I stitched them in post-prod under Lightroom). The result offers a gorgeous view over the whole area.

Panorama on Tate's Cairn
Panorama on Tate’s cairn

Around Tate’s Cairn and Kowloon Peak, it is fairly civilized as there are practicable roads around. It changes when you get around Kowloon Peak and down to Gilwell camp site. just near the camp site, there is a small mountain called “Tung Yeung Shan“, where a small (partly build) track leads.

An unnoticeable little mountain

Tung Yeung Shan often pales from its proximity with the famous Kowloon peak and its “suicide cliff”. So, only the most passionate hikers pay attention to the mountain on the right, yet, although not as spectacular or difficult as its big brother, this little mountain can be fun to explore.


Tung Yeung Shan by drone
An unremarkable small mountain in Kowloon.

Climbing the mountain is pretty straightforward as can be seen in this video.

Where it gets tricky, is once at the top, when you decide to follow the trail (there are some discrete markers here and there, but the trail is not much used, so you must really search for them among the high grass).

The view at the top offers a perfect perspective on both, Sai Kung and Shatin. A few months ago, I managed to capture a perfect picture of a group of young hikers on the same mountain.

Hikers on Tung Yeung shan
Hikers on Tung Yeung Shan


A drone view from Tung Yeung Shan

Getting lost to find your way

As this was a first time exploration, we relied heavily on trail markers by previous hikers. This worked well, until we got down from the mountain.

Going down Tung Yeung Shan

Then, at a point, the trail got lost in the middle of a woody area. The words “Nel mezzo del’ camin’ di nostra vita”, came to mind, and I pictured myself as a new Dante lost in the forests of life.

Lost in the woods
Matthew and me, lost in the woods on Tung Yeung Shan

We then had to do some exploring in the middle of an unmarked forest. In the end, hearing voices of other hikers, we finally managed to retrieve the main route.

For a barefooter, while descending, the most annoying part is those cutting edges of cement steps. Even more so than the twigs or small stones sometimes lodged in the middle of the steps.

On the MacLehose trail

There are two ways to reach Sai Kung: taking the MacLeHose trail, or taking the Wilson trail. We happened to take the MacLehose trail, but had misjudged our water resources. The MacLehose trail is quite picturesque and beautiful and easy to get down from (most hikers prefer climbing it). At a point, I took a water dip in a little stream by the side of the trail…

Cooling down
Cooling down my bare feet in a side stream.

We finally exited in a little town closer to Shatin. Exhausted by our exploration and the heat, I headed straight to get some drinks, while we decompressed after the gruesome exploration.

Barefooting above the abyss: second barefoot hike on suicide cliff

A little less than one year ago, I had started my history of barefoot hiking, by electing to climb suicide cliff. Since then, I climbed several other times on Kowloon Peak, some times by night, other times with my daughter… But I did not go back on the Southern ridge, climbing the steep walls that lead to suicide cliff… Until now! In October, I started my second barefoot hike on suicide cliff.

An early start

As suicide cliff can get quite frequented later during the day, it is preferable to climb in the morning. I thus prepared myself to start my hike around 9.30 AM, and obviously, even if not recommended, I climbed alone. Early departure allows also to skip the issues with sun beating down on the mountain later in the day.

I started off barefooting from home. While initially, it was uncomfortable doing so with the guards at my condo, with time it got easier as I tend now to run and hike barefoot quite regularly.

What changed from one year ago?

To be honest, no huge changes affected the trail this year. There were however two noticeable differences: a small tree fell across the trail at the beginning, consequence of the typhoon Mangkhut, and there is now a stark warning about climbing to suicide cliff.

warning board on suicide cliff route
Warning board on the Southern ridge route to suicide cliff.

These boards are also affixed at the other main entrance to Kowloon Peak, namely the stairs. Besides these warnings, the hiking conditions on the path have not significantly deteriorated from one year ago, so hiking is still very practicable.

Despite this, it seems hikers get regularly stranded or even disappear on this mountain. It is thus not an endeavour to undertake alone. I provide a walkthrough in this post, but please do not climb the mountain alone if you are unfamiliar with the place.

The initial climb

As this time, I had a gopro camera with me, I filmed the main parts of my climb, mainly to give a feeling of what it is to hike on this route. I would invite you to watch the climbing videos in order for you to better understand the challenges, especially if you plan on climbing for the first time.

The start is taking place in the forest as starters.

The start of the climb on Kowloon Peak

The beginning of the climb is not really serious. Most of this path takes place within the forest, and you can grip to rocks or branches to secure your climb. The real technical part of the climb starts once you are out of the forested lower part of the mountain.

The fork

At a point, you are going to reach a fork in the path. To the right is the most challenging path (which eventually joins the first one), but I do not recommend using that path. One of the reasons being that I never took it, the second being that it is way more sandy than the other side. At any rate, I filmed the passage across the small stream, but be aware that the ropes which have been placed there are used and should not be relied upon.

The passage of the fork leading to the second half of the climb.

Rock scrambling

The second part of the climb, once you are out of the bushes is something of a rock scramble, more than a hike. You need to use all of your body to pull yourself up. This is a quite physical effort, which means that you can easily be drained after climbing the rock for two hours.

The second half of rock scrambling on Kowloon Peak

Open Air

View from Kowloon Peak
First stage, where you come up, above the bushy part of Kowloon Peak.

After all the rock scrambling, you will arrive to a plateau, where there is sufficient space to ensure that you can rest. The view on the city is also quite gorgeous at that point, and it is where you will take a breather after the intense efforts. This is where I flew my drone too, but had to land it quickly, as the wind was threatening to fly it against the mountain or have it escape my control. For being short, this video does a good job of providing a contextual view of the mountain.

I then resumed my climb, as it was the final leg towards suicide cliff.

The ledge to suicide cliff

Before getting to suicide clfif, proper, you must walk a tight ledge. Explaining how it looks does not help much, and you will only feel the thrill when you walk it yourself.

The final ledge to suicide clif

Needless to say, while looking very risky, this ledge is large enough to be walked along comfortably. Nevertheless, it is best to be slightly slanted towards the mountain, in order to avoid any loss of balance tipping you cliffside.

Obviously, on suicide cliff, the necessary selfies must be taken…

Selfie on suicide cliff
A selfie on suicide cliff
On suicide cliff
On suicide cliff

Scrambling upwards

Rock scrambling does not end with the suicide cliff. Not in the least. To get away from suicide cliff, you can only go down by the same path you came up (very steep) or continue climbing upwards (and that involves some more rock scrambling).

Rock scrambling

While not terribly technical per se, this involves however passing on a narrow ledge giving on a ten-meter cliff. Here again, unless you are scared of heights (in which case you should not even be attempting this climb!), no real issue. Just remember that taking your time and advancing prudently is key to hiking safely.

Once you get over that part, then, you must still get around a huge boulder, and it is not obvious unless you have already been there (although you can just follow the trail in the vegetation).

Getting around the boulder

Once at the top, you end up with big stones and rocks that can be a bit technical to navigate barefooted, but perfectly feasible. Here is an example:

Resting on Kowloon peak
Resting bare feet on the top of Kowloon Peak

Ending the hike

The final leg of the hike involves both getting around a communication tower with barbed wires and climbing to the radio tower and the helipad.

The final leg climbing up to the helipad

The last part of the hike is going down the stairs. Under no circumstances think about taking the “shorter” way down on Jat’s incline side! That route is treacherous and extremely dangerous, please always take the stairs, they present no risk at all.

Climbing down the stairs

As a conclusion, my advice is once again, to be very careful. It is always prudent to start a hike on a new route with someone who already knows the route. And if you wish to start a hike barefoot, make sure you recognized the terrain beforehand and that you pack a pair of shoes (there is no shame in adapting to the terrain). Finally, don’t think you need to prove anything by taking the most dangerous routes when there are less dangerous ones available. Kowloon Peak is a famous mountain, but it stays a mountain. It must be respected and handled with caution. Safe climbing!

A barefoot hike on Tai Mo Shan

Tai Mo Shan is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, culminating at 957 m. Despite being in Hong Kong for two years already, I had not visited Tai Mo Shan until recently. It must be said that it is a bit out of my way, and I already have the famous suicide cliff near to my place. I even went back there recently, but that will be the object of another post.

A photography meetup

I went up Tai Mo Shan with the members of a photography meetup, the PASM meetup. We went the day before the Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city, because prior to the typhoon, there is always some marvelous atmospheric effects in the sky.

Having missed the bus to Tai Mo Shan, we caught an Uber to be on the safe side. The side benefit of taking an uber was that the driver took us up about halfway up.

A windy start

Being on the side facing Yuen Long, we faced strong headwinds. An attempt to take off with my drone ended in a crash-landing that created some damage to the gimbal, although that damage was not immediately apparent.

Despite the wind, we managed to take some pictures on a rocky outcropping.

Bailey at Tai Mo Shan.
Bailey shooting pics on the protruding rock on Tai Mo Shan.

Climbing up

Although we had come halfway up on Tai Mo Shan, we still had halfway to walk, and so, we started climbing. Along the way, there is a viewpoint over the town of Tsuen Wan. While it is just the habitual cityscape of Hong Kong with high rises and some view of the sea (read: unremarkable), it was interesting to play with the drone around that area.


Bailey and Grace and Tsuen Wan
Bailey and Grace with Tsuen Wan in background

Of course, since the scene was there, I did take a dronie… Barefoot of course, as I was hiking the whole mountain barefoot.

Dronie on Tai Mo Shan
Dronie on Tai Mo Shan

The most fun was when another Mavic Pilot came down the mountain with his own drone, while he was actually riding a scooter. We then exchanged dronies capturing each other with our respective drones.

Two drone pilots in a dronie
Two drone pilots taking a dronie

The sunset over the mountain

Finally, after having climbed even higher, we came to an ideal position to see the setting sun. We were blessed with some angel lights shining through the clouds which made the sunset quite spectacular. Despite the proximity of the typhoon, and despite being on the exposed side of the mountain (again), there were no gusts, so the drone managed to be quite pliable.

sunset over Tai Mo Shan
The sunset over Tai Mo Shan.

Despite the lower dynamic range of the Mavic Pro, the picture is quite similar to the picture shot with the Nikon D 750.

View of the angel light through Nikon
A view of the angel light through my Nikon D750.

The reason for the absence of reddish sky is due to the wind which dispersed the pollutants which habitually diffract the blue part of the solar light. Habitually, Hong Kong and Bangkok are gifted with quite spectacular sunsets due to the high presence of pollutants in the sky. An approaching typhoon, obviously disperses these pollutants.

Going down

Once the sunset over, we started going down, also to get home on time to shelter from the typhoon. Nevertheless, that is when the sky started showing some spectacular hues.

Barefooting down the mountain
Bailey going down the mountain barefoot.

It was the occasion for me to shoot a pic of Bailey who, after a lot of prodding, finally decided to take off his shoes and start barefooting down the mountain.

Obviously, I took it to the next level, when I decided to jog down the mountain with my heavy backpack, still barefoot… But that is how a barefoot hike can be as much fun as a barefoot run!

Getting to Tai Mo Shan

We took it the easy way, as we hired an uber which took us up to halfway the mountain. Nevertheless, if you wish to climb Tai Mo Shan more “classically”, you must first head to the Tsuen Wan West MTR station. From there, you grab bus n° 50 and alight near the mountain. From there, it is impossible to get lost, as the path to the top is straight and paved until the end.

Peng Chau island: an oasis in Hong Kong

Everybody knows Cheung Chau and its crowded streets. Now go a bit outside of the beaten path and you may come across Peng Chau island, a small island which feels pretty much more like an oasis.

Originally, a lime production center

Until the 1970’s, Peng Chau was a bustling area of industrial production for two main products, namely lime and matchsticks.

Lime was obtained by burning oyster and clam shells, corals, to produce the final material which was then used in various other industries. After the 1950’s lime was used less and less in construction, and eventually the lime kilns went out of business.

The matchstick production faced a similar fate when disposable lighters appeared in the 1970’s. Today, all that remains are old buildings (which I did not visit on this occasion).

View by drone on the ferry pier of Peng Chau
View by drone on the Ferry Pier of Peng Chau

An excellent light hike path

Cheung Chau might be appreciated and invaded by tourists, but Peng Chau has nothing to envy to its big neighbor. Actually, it might be worth saying that Peng Chau beats Cheung Chau by the peace on the island. Being a small island, the area to cover is pretty limited, but with less tourists around it is much more pleasant.

Beach in Peng Chau
Nothing beats the deserted beaches of Peng Chau

Nothing beats thus the deserted beaches of Peng Chau. Nothing to do with the crowds of Cheung Chau and the numerous glass pieces that can be found along the beach.

The island built a very convenient hiking path which was a pleasure to trod barefoot. You can also climb up to the Finger Hill view point on stairs which are quite easy to hike upon.

The Old Fisherman’s rock

One of the landmarks of the island, at its northern end is the “old fisherman’s rock”, a balanced rock formation, a bit similar to the one found in Tap Mun island.

This place is easily reached after 20 min-1/2 hour walk from the ferry pier. The interesting part of this rock is the view it affords on both, discovery bay (Disneyland) on the other side and the Tsing ma bridge in the distance.

Nearby, there is an even more secluded beach, where I managed to stumble upon a scene directly taken out from the 1950’s… A young lady smoking a cigarette in the middle of the sea.

Smoking beauty
A young lady smokes a cigarette in middle of the waves

A small island

Cheung Chau is said to be small, but it seems that Peng Chau is quite smaller. This is best understood when looking at it from a drone.

Peng Chau by drone
As can be seen, the relative size of Peng Chau is very comparable to Cheung Chau

The main island is connected by a land bridge to a tiny island called “Tai Lei”, on which are hosted most of the utilities for the island. BTW, there are no cars at all on Peng Chau, which makes it absolutely lovely.

Tai Lei island by drone
Tai Lei island by drone

On the opposite side of the Ferry pier, there is a, inviting beach inside a cove.

Peng Chau main beach
Peng Chau’s main beach

One warning however: there is a large infestation of big cockroaches all over the beach’s wall. Seem they have a huge pest problem on the island, and by the behavior of the insects they are not very scared of humans.

At night, that beach provides the ideal setting for some night photography with a magnificent view on the Tsing Ma bridge.

Tsing Ma bridge seen from the Peng Chau beach
The Tsing Ma bridge seen from the Peng Chau beach.

How to get there?

Getting to the island is pretty easy. You must go to pier number 6 in Central, and from there catch one of the two hourly ferries. It takes roughly 40 mins to navigate until Peng Chau, but the island itself is covered in half a day, depending on your walking speed.

Barefoot hike on Devil’s Peak

Devil’s peak is probably one of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong. The proof of it is that many old people come up there for their morning or evening exercise. It was thus just logical that I would attempt a barefoot hike on Devil’s peak.

One of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong

The Devil’s peak, despite its scary name, is one of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong, its path being mostly cemented. Of course, it depends where you make your entry, but it is quite an easy hike with a very moderate climb of roughly 20 mins to 1/2 hr. Many oldies come on the peak to exercise in the morning or in the evening.

Climbing to the Gough battery through the shortcut takes  a bit more scrambling as it is a makeshift path. Still, for a barefoot hiker, it is very easy (about the level of Dragon’s Back).

The path to Gough Battery
The Path to Gough Battery

The Devil’s peak is at the end of the Wilson trail, one of the famous HK hiking trails crossing across all of Hong Kong. However, you don’t need to complete the full Wilson trail to reach Devil’s Peak. There are far easier entrance points.

Gorgeous views

The Devil’s Peak is located just next to the Permanent Chinese cemetery of Junk Bay. For Westerners, there is a something unique and soothing in this view, for Chinese, it tends to make them extra nervous.

When looking on the other side, the view extends on Kowloon bay and Victoria Harbour and is a favourite spot for sunsets.

Angel's light on Devil's peak
A view of the gorgeous sunset on Devil’s Peak with “angel’s light shining down

A view by drone provides even a better context as it allows to capture both, the devil’s peak and the view behind.:

Devil's peak at sunset by drone
Devil’s peak seen by drone on sunset

The Permanent Chinese cemetery

Obviously, in Chinese-language sources, you will not find a lot of resources on this cemetery, but it has a gorgeous view on Junk Bay. As previously explained, there is a lot of superstition around death in the Chinese population, so they get very nervous by the simple evocation of cemetery. You can see below a view by drone of the cemetery which faces the sea in good “feng shui” manner.

Permanent Chinese cemetery of Junk Bay
The Permanent Chinese cemetery of Junk Bay

Cemetery of Junk Bay
Cemetery of Junk Bay

The panorama is quite gorgeous from up there.

A panoramic view of Junk Bay
Panorama of Junk Bay

Kowloon bay view

However, despite the majestic beauty of Junk Bay, the best view at sunset is obviously on the other side. When there are clouds, the “angel light” effect can lead to some quite stunning pictures.

Angel light over Kowloon Bay
Angel light over Kowloon Bay

Obviously, because of its ease of access, a lot of photographers occupy the premises at evening, often with ND filters to dim the sunlight. I did not use a ND filter, yet the result is quite acceptable in my feeling.

By drone, you can have a general view including the Devil’s Peak and Gough’s Battery, but the lack of dynamic range on the Mavic Pro’s sensors do flatten a bit the colors of the sunset.

Drone view of sunset over Devil's Peak.
A drone view of the sunset over Devil’s Peak

At any rate, here is the sunset with my Nikon:

Sunset over Kowloon Bay
Sunset over Kowloon Bay

And to end this, a panorama over Kowloon Bay:

Panorama over Kowloon Bay
Panorama over Kowloon Bay

How to get there?

Getting to Devil’s Peak is as simple as taking the MTR to the station Yau Tong. From there, you will have two paths to reach Devil’s peak: the first one which involves a quite steep climb on a paved road. This path is generally preferred by some Chinese who are superstitious and scared of walking close to a cemetery. If you can, you may do a barefoot hike on Devil’s Peak.

I do recommend the second path, which passes near to a temple. I provided a google maps instruction below. The climb is much easier. Just beware that at dusk, you may have wild boars forraging in the surroundings. Never touch them or approach them and they should leave you alone.

A day trip to “grass island”

The nice thing of Hong Kong is that in merely one hour, you can reach isolated islands where you are basically left to explore. Ok, I am exaggerating, of course, for a day trip to “grass island” is anything but adventure. Tap Mun in its Cantonese name, the island has long been a fisherman’s haven back in the days where China did not plunder all the resources around. Nowadays, there is a hesitant reconversion towards tourism, but the island lacks facilities and is small, both of which make its charm and make it less well known.

An antiquated ferry

Catching the ferry to Tap Mun island can be done in two places, both of them already involving about one hour commute. You can either catch it in Sai Kung, or near HK University, in Tai Po district. The ferry in those places is called “kaito”, an older indigenous name. The ferry does stop on its way to several small islands where people disembark, apparently to camp or swim.

All in all, the ferry ride takes over one hour, exploring the surroundings of Plover Cove. Upon arrival in Tap Mun, you disembark right on the jetty.

Tap Mun Island jetty
Tap Mun island jetty by drone

Most of the visitors (a lot of mainlanders from China) rush into the restaurants instead of exploring the island (which is small, less than 1 km² for the walkable section). As to me, I did the whole hike barefoot as is now becoming customary.

Tin Hau Temple

The island is small, so five minutes after leaving the jetty, you will come across one of the oldest structures of Hong Kong, the Tin Hau temple. Aged 400 years, this temple is said to be connected to a cave on the other side of the island.

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A sign of the relationship of the island to the sea life can be found in the presence of a wodden model boat inside the temple. If you go there, don’t miss the delicate ceramic figures on either side of the altar.

When taking a look at the big picture, you can see the location of the temple is just near to the harbour, and was probably at the center of the fishing community 400 years ago. You can also see to the right how Tap Mun island provided a nicely protected cove for fishing boats.

Tin Hau temple by drone
Tin Hau temple seen by drone

The first traces of population on the island go back to AD 1573, the Tanka people starting to use the island and building the Tin Hau Temple towards the XVIIth century.

A grassy island

The nickname of “grass island” is easily understood once you walk a bit around. Great parts of the islands are covered in grass, with some forest on the uninhabited part.

Grass island
Grass island and the pavillon on the northern part

Once again, using a drone allows to see the full size of the island and to better understand its structure. I did have some interested people during my flight, however. Thankfully my friend, Matthew, was helpful enough in talking to them.

Flying a drone
Flying a drone over the harbour

Some tourists do sit down on the gentle slopes, others try to camp over there.

Sitting on the slopes of grass island
Sitting on the slopes of grass island

In fact, the walkable portion of the island island is about 1 km, so you get around very quickly. But the presence of shelters makes it quite easy to move around and visit the island.

Shelter on Tap Mun island
Shelter on Tap Mun island

Feral cattle

Tap Mun island is also home to a small population of feral cattle. Namely, these are descendants of cattle that were released when the locals left. Nowadays, although “wild”, they are among the kindest animals of the sort that you can see in Hong Kong. They are all over the grassy slopes of the island.

Feral Cattle in Tap Mun island
Feral cattle in Tap Mun island (calves in this case)

Although kind, these animals are not domesticated. As such, you should not caress them or attempt stunts with them. Of course, this recommendation falls into deaf years with mainland Chinese who get into hot waters trying to have a pic taken with the cows.

Chinese tourist attempting stunt with feral cattle
A Chinese tourist attempts a stunt with a feral cattle

The “Balanced Rock”

The “balanced rock” is a natural rocky formation created by erosion, which left two rocks standing in equilibrium on each other.

Balanced rock of tap mun island
The balanced rock of Tap Mun island – and I am barefoot as usual.

Many tourists stop on the top of the cliff and take in the beauty of the island.

Tourist on Tap mun
Tourist on Tap Mun island

To get there, you must take a small buffalo path on the flanks of the hill (left on the photo below).

Balanced rock by drone
A view of the balanced rock seen by drone

Legend has it that a cave nearby communicates with the Tin Hau temple. At any rate, it is worth veering off the main course and seeing the balanced rock up close, but few hikers do that (the descent looks more impressive than it actually is, as I did it barefoot).

Fishermen on the island

The fishing past of the locals is still very present nowadays on the island. During my visit, I could see a man fishing on a cliff right above the crashing waves.

Old man and the sea
An old fisherman casts his line as the waves break around him.

Further to that, there were two other fishermen who were trying their luck near the balanced rock in a position less exposed to the waves.

Two fishermen near the "balanced rock"
Two fishermen casting their lines near the “balanced rock”

Finally, here is a walk through Tap Mun island with my friend, Matthew.

How to get there?

 

The first ferry for Tap Mun island  leaves at 8.30 in the morning (full schedule here). To catch it, you must first take the east line of the MTR to University Station.From there, you can walk or catch  a taxi to the Mau Liu Shui ferry pier.

Another barefoot hike on the Dragon’s Back

On this extended week-end of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, it was exciting to go for a hike. The easiest option available was, obviously, to go for another barefoot hike on the Dragon’s Back.

A crowded hike

On week-ends, habitually, the hike is pretty crowded, but on Chinese New Year, it became worse. Indeed, between mainland Chinese, expats and a throng of Filipina maids, the hike became quite busy.

However, as we started earlier, it was a bit less crowded at the start in the forest. You can see the terrain is pretty flat, with just some roots to watch for and the odd pebble.

Dragon's back beginning
Walking through the first part of the hike, which is a forested flat hike.

Once again, the Dragon’s back is one of the easiest and most accessible hikes of Hong Kong. I did it several times, and at least once before, barefoot at night. So, the whole first part of the hike went excessively well, if I except the habitual “barefoot!” exclamations of other hikers, or Chinese sniggering in my back. A few people gave me the thumbs up, some commenting that it was pretty “hardcore”. Filipina maids, generally look aghast…

 

On the Dragon’s Back

Once on the Dragon’s back, it was just the habitual ups and downs on the ridge… I decided not to fly the drone because of the high wind speed in altitude. In addition, the slight haze visible did make it less interesting to take pics (I had better pictures with better lighting and atmospheric conditions from previous visits). My wife took her turn photographing this time, and I played model.

Dragon's back
Past the first leg of the Dragon’s back.

Walking further on the trail, there was always that mixture of marvel, stupefaction or admiration in the other hikers. Seldom indifference, if at all. For a society tolerating plenty of devious behaviors, seeing someone barefoot seems pretty shocking…

My wife, this being said, wore her hiking boots. She gave me, also the occasion of shooting some pics of her along the trail.

Mitchy on Dragon's Back
Mitchy wearing hiking boots on the Dragon’s Back trail

Riding the Head

Reaching the end of the trail, this time, we pushed further to what might be deemed the “head” of the Dragon’s back: a cliff dominating the village of Shek O.

While situated beyond a warning panel, the views on this cliff are quite gorgeous and deserve a visit. However, the crowd present on the Dragon’s Back kept taking risks.

I noticed especially the Filipina maids, who have a propensity to take risks for the perfect selfie. Here, one of them kept posing on one leg right at the edge of the cliff (and it was quite windy!). The moment after this pic was shot, a wind gust blew away her cap…

Dragon's back maids
A Fililpina maid poses in equilibrium on one leg

The interesting of this last part of the hike from a barefoot hiking point of view, is that the granite of the cliff is a perfect terrain for walking barefoot. Where I used to find the terrain particularly slippery with hiking boots (the sand is rather treacherous!) or even trail running shoes, here, the rock was just perfectly adhesive with my bare feet. So, while this picture (courtesy of my wife!) may appear risky, it is well below any real risk-taking as there is a further ledge on the other side of the cliff, and there was no risk of slipping. The big issue is when people try taking selfies and don’t appreciate the distances behind them.

Barefoot on dragon's back
A barefoot portrait on the cliff above Shek O. Photo @mitchayfern

Shek O beach

The final goal, after coming down from the Dragon’s back, was to go to Shek O village. We did arrive there, had lunch, and then headed to the beach. With the strong winds the waves were quite powerful, and nobody was swimming. It was a perfect occasion to use the drone and shoot some spectacular scenes over the water.

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The interesting part was that some Filipina or Indonesian was having her prenuptial pictorials on the beach. I pirated some pics.

Prenup pictorial
Prenup pictorial on Shek O beach

Sometimes, some pics can be just as telling or as funny as you can imagine. Composition-wise, it was also interesting.

Prenup pictorial
Criss-crossing looks on the pictorial

Later, I also took a video of Shek O beach with my Mavic Pro:

How to get there?

I previously explained this point in a previous post. Please consult it for information. Once you complete the Dragon’s back trail, you can catch the bus n° 9, heading to Shek O. Be warned though, on crowded periods, the village and the beach can be quite busy… and the bus waiting queue can reach epic sizes.

 

A stark warning for Suicide Cliff

Today, as I was passing on Fei Ngo Shan road, I found a new message affixed at the bottom of the stairs leading to Kowloon Peak. This is a stark warning for suicide cliff, a hike that has seen recently at least one death and several rescues every month.

Stark warning for suicide cliff
The Government warns hikers to turn back on the path to suicide cliff

A useless warning?

This warning has not dissuaded visitors in the least as can be seen on this picture. Furthermore, hikers deliberately disregard the warning. In other web sites, some hikers post pictures of very dangerous attitudes, such as hanging by the hands from a rock. As a lawyer, I guess this is a way to exclude the liability of the government should someone else fall to his death on this hike.

The fame of suicide cliff has attracted a motley crowd, often composed of foreigners and newcomers who desire to visit this place, without knowing the route at all. On busy days, you just follow the crowd. On less busy days, the potential for an accident is quickly come. You should thus document yourself on the route, and more particularly, to take it slow.

Hiking safely

Even though web sites and blogs such as this one do celebrate the beauty of the place, I must repeat the need for caution. I hiked to that place with a group for the first time. I covered that hike several times, in group and without group, before doing the hike barefoot. This hike can be dangerous if covered without the appropriate precautions or too fast. It is also important to recognize the terrain beforehand. You must also be aware that this hike cannot be covered in less than three hours and this is from the most well-trodden route.

Finally, it is better to climb to suicide cliff, and not to go down. The potential for slipping and falling is 100x bigger when going down a steep wall, rather than climbing it and going down the stairs. Shortcuts do not exist without dangers in mountain. Similarly, do always pack a light in your luggage if starting the hike in the afternoon. It is better to carry a little more and be safe.

 

Avoid Jat’s incline route

And again, a reminder that I often do on this blog: avoid Jat’s incline route at all costs. That route is dangerous, challenging and deadly. The beauty of suicide cliff can be seen in so many ways, that it is absolutely useless to endanger yourself beyond reason. Hike safely and hope that the stupidity of some does not oblige the authorities to close this marvelous place to the public.