Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ Category

Butterflies and Getting Buffed

Monday, April 9th, 2012

I do quite a bit of mountain bike riding here in Hong Kong and one of the places I love riding is the Chi Ma Wan peninsula.  It is located on the same island that we live on  (Lantau Island).

The Princess has been keen to see where I ride so I suggested that we take a hike around the same track that I ride.  So, with backpacks packed and plenty of water we set out today to explore Chi Ma Wan on foot.

This morning’s weather did not look too favourable for a hike however not long after we rose it started to improve so we committed to the hike – rain or shine.  Fortunately it turned out to be the latter.

There are a number of ways to get to Chi Ma Wan (hiking, riding and ferry) but our chosen route was via the Discovery Bay (DB) to Mui Wo (MW) ferry then the coastal trail from Mui Wo.  We always enjoy the ferry trip from DB to MW.  We call it the slow boat to China – an old inter-island ferry the chugs along close to the shoreline.  The staff are friendly and the open air upper deck is perfect for taking in the sights and temperature of the day.

We departed DB around 1045 and arrived in MW less than 30 minutes later.  The closer we got to MW the better the weather became and by the time we arrived the air was clearing and the sun was peeking through thin layer of overcast.

Before setting out for Chi Ma Wan (CMW) we stocked up on some rations at Cafe Paradiso – some freshly made sandwiches on rye bread.  This turned out to be a good move later in the hike when we stopped for lunch.  They were delightful sandwiches!

We set out for CMW around 11.20 – the short walk to the start of the trail taking us past a small beach at the back of the main street of Mui Wo.  The coastal trail around to CMW is mostly concrete and it starts with a steep set of stairs that get the heart rate up straight away.  The track follows the coastline of the southern shore of Lantau Island around to Chi Ma Wan and the views from the trail are stunning.  You get to look back to Hong Kong island and south to some of the larger islands too.

Whilst the trial is mostly concrete there are several stretches of clay base. After the recent rains the trail was muddy in patches but this didn’t stop us making good progress along the path.

The one thing that was immediately apparent as we started out on the hike was that we were going to be in for a butterfly treat today. The spring temperatures have led to a huge increase in the number and type of butterflies and at times it felt like we were in a butterfly house.  Absolutely beautiful.

We arrived over at the CMW peninsula after an hour of walking and we enjoyed seeing the grazing “Lantau Cows” (the feral buffalo) that call this part of Lantau home.  One has to be a little careful where one steps on the trail because these “locals” don’t have any toilet training and they seem to be quite happy to decorate the trail with their rather larges “pats”.

The small beach leading into Shap Long Chung Hau (the small village the marks the beginning of the Chi Ma Wan area) is rather picturesque and, in some respects, set in an idyllic location.  However, the locals that call this part of the world their home are not exactly environmentally savvy and the beach area is full of rubbish.  It is a real shame that the culture here does not see anything wrong with having their backyard look like a rubbish tip (dump) – we guessed that it is going to take several more generations to wake up to looking after the environment a little better.

Despite the proliferation of rubbish in village area we enjoyed the views of the surrounding areas (beaches, mountains and bushland) as we started the climb up toward the reservoir behind Shap Long Chung Hau.  Before starting out on the next trail we walked passed two prison complexes and up toward a lovely reservoir that sits between two ridge lines – a beautiful watercourse that would be perfect for a “dip” in mid summer.

After traversing the dam wall we headed up some steep steps and onto the Chi Ma Wan peninsular proper.  Despite her recent bout of sickness (double pneumonia) The Princess handled the steps and gradients like a true pro and it wasn’t long before we were well into the Chi Ma Wan trail.

Fortunately quite a bit of the trail is covered by reasonable overhangs so we were protected nicely from the increasing periods of sunlight.  The shade also kept the temperature down as the afternoon progressed.

Small creek crossings, rocky outcrops and stunning views to the southern islands of Hong Kong made for a very pleasant hiking along the well trodden (and ridden) trails.  We enjoyed stopping periodically to take in the natural beauty of the area and to listen to the cacophony of insect “chatter” rising from the surrounding bush.

We made good time along the trail however, around 1400 we decided to stop for a bite to eat – the lovely rye sandwiches we had made in Mui Wo.  We chose a huge rocky outcrop just above Tai Long beach for our picnic spot.  It was nice to stop and rest our legs and to take in the southern views across the Admasta Channel and toward Cheung Chau (a large island south of Lantau Island).

The Admasta Channel is a rather busy waterway.  It is the route taken by the many fast ferries that transit between Hong Kong and Macau.  We enjoyed watching the continuous procession of hydrofoils and catamarans moving at high speed.  We also enjoyed the company of two local black kites who kept a close eye on our lunch from overhead.  These beautiful birds are very common here in Hong Kong and they enjoyed the ridge line thermals rising up from the coast below.

With our bodies refueled and energy levels topped up we continued our hike westward toward Pui O.  The trail descends quite a ways on the western side (always a favourite part of the trail when I am mountain biking) so we had to be careful negotiating the steeper steps and washout parts of the trail – spraining an ankle is never a good thing when you are a little remote.

For some reason (flower types?) the butterflies increased in numbers as we headed further west along the trail.  We enjoyed photographing the more patient ones and taking in the sights on offer.  Butterflies are a one of The Princess’ favourite so she was in her element.  Indeed, I had to keep her moving (we’d still be out there if she had her choice!) along the trail.

We left the main trail above Mong Tung Wan bay around 1500 and took a side trail toward Pui O.  We had to be cautious of the slippery steps on the steep descent down to the Pui O trail however we managed to get to the bottom unscathed.

The trail around Mong Tung Wan to Pui O is concrete so the remainder of the hike was quite straightforward.  We enjoyed the distant views toward Cheng Sha beach and the mountains of Lantau Island as we made our way along the pathway toward Ham Tin (the small village near Pui O).

We arrived in Pui O around 1615 – just under 5 hours after departing Mui Wo.  We were a little foot sore and tired after the 15km hike but happy to have made the effort.  The Princess was very happy to have seen the trail that I frequent on my bike and very happy to have seen so many butterflies too!

End note:  It took us five hours to hike the trail and only 7 minutes in a bus from Pui O to Mui Wo!!  Oh – the bus ride had nothing on the hike (other than the time element!).

You can take a look at a map of the hike we did here

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Oasis In A Concrete Jungle

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Recently, The Princess and I decided to dust of the SLR cameras and take a day out in Hong Kong to shoot some photos.  It had been some time between photo shoots with the larger cameras and spring here in Hong Kong means some great days are available for outings.

We had heard about the Nan Lian Gardens in Diamond Hill – a “suburb” of Hong Kong located on the “Kowloon” side of the harbour.  These famous gardens are a must see for tourists and locals so we decided to make the short trip to Diamond Hill and take in the landscaped beauty that is Nan Lian.

The trip from where we live on Lantau Island is very straight forward – a bus from outside our apartment complex to the nearest MTR railway station (Sunny Bay) then a comfortable ride across the expansive Tsing Ma Bridge and on into the Lai King MTR station.  A walk across the platform to the waiting “red line” MTR train then several stops to the Prince Edward MTR.  Another change of train to the “green line” train then a short trip to Diamond Hill.  You can follow this route on the Hong Kong MTR route map here.

We arrived in Diamond Hill around 10.30 and took time to sniff out the local Starbucks – one can’t start a day of “shooting” without elevated caffeine levels in the bloodstream!

We were barely able to warm our legs up on the very short walk from Plaza Hollywood to the entrance of Nan Lian Gardens but we did get a sense of how bizarre it was that there were these acres of gardens inside a concrete jungle.

The entry into the gardens is free (a nice touch considering Hong Kong is very focused on making money!) and it wasn’t long after entering the garden that we were snapping away with our cameras.

The beautifully landscaped gardens meticulously maintained and the well laid our pathways allow visitors to get up close and personal with the plants, ponds and buildings.  We enjoyed finding vantage points that offered us framed views of the bridges and temples and the fish filled ponds.

Fortunately the temperature was in the low 20′s (centigrade) because there was not much opportunity to escape the sunshine.  We would suggest a visit in Spring or Autumn unless your acclimatized to the heat and humidity.

After an hour or so of taking photos and enjoying the views we headed for the vegetarian restaurant that was located in the garden complex.  The restaurant is set under a man made waterfall – a nice feature to observe when dining.  The dishes on offer were very tasty and we enjoyed sampling some new cuisine.

From the restaurant we continue along the meandering pathways and across the bridge to the Chi Lin Nunnery – a sprawling complex that adjoins the Nan Lian Gardens.

The Chi Lin Nunnery is the site of some very large temples, stunning statues and beautiful lotus ponds.  We enjoyed taking our time to capture some of the nunnery and reading about the history of the complex’s buildings.

After several hours of touring the gardens and the nunnery we made our way back to the MTR station and headed home to Lantau Island.

We both agreed that the visit to Diamond Hill was worth the effort – it only took us 7 years of living in Hong Kong to find it!  We would highly recommend a visit to this beautiful location – you won’t be disappointed.

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Mudskipper Heaven and Bird Watcher’s Delight

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Wooden Winged One

The Princess and I had, for some time, been promising ourselves that we would visit the Hong Kong Wetlands Park for some time and today was the day.  This eco designed park is located in the New Territories here in Hong Kong – about an hour long trip from where we live.  You can learn more about the New Territories by clicking on this link.

The weather forecast showed some light showers however, when we woke and looked out the window the clouds were quite high and the rain was nowhere in sight.  A “go” order was given and after a light breakfast, a shower and back packing we were on our way.

To get “up to” the N.T we took a bus from Discovery Bay then the Mass Transit Rail (MTR) to a place called Tin Shui Wai and then the Light Rail Transit (LRT) to the entrance of the wetlands.  A pleasant trip on a weekday (not a lot of people to negotiate) and reasonably efficient given the interchanges we had to negotiate at the railway stations and bus terminus.

Here is a copy of the MTR route map for you to take a look at.  You can follow the Yellow Line from Sunny Bay to the purple line at Nam Cheong then north to the Tin Shui Wai station.

We had not traveled on the LRT before and we were both very impressed with the extensive and efficient network of tracks and stations.  This network was planned into the design of the development of the N.T and it goes to show what can be done with a bit of pre-thought and planning.  What a wonderful system. This Wiki article will give you some more information on the development and design of the LRT.

We arrived at the wetlands just before midday, paid the very low entry fee (around $4.00US) and proceeded to sort out our camera gear for the walk through the park. The Princess had bought here Canon 550D and Lumix point and shoot and I carried my Canon 50D along with two lenses and the new Panasonic HD video camera.  We “pre-watered” and had a quick bite to eat then set off around the park.

Reflective Beauty

The park’s walkways are elevated (makes sense in a wetland!) in most places and follow a variety of trails that allow visitors to view the streams, mangroves, and lakes.  There are plenty of signs to read and information to take in and all in all the impression we got is that this is well designed and well managed.

The first part of the “in the park” took us past man made creeks and waterfalls (the water levels are controlled in parts of the park) and on to small lakes that are filled with beautiful waterlilies.  We enjoyed using our zoom lenses to capture some of the waterlilies that were in bloom!

The middle section of the park consists of a walk through a mangrove lined creek and fortunately the tide was out when we were there.  This allowed us to get up close and personal with the resident mudskippers.  Neither The Princess nor I had ever seen these interesting little creatures before and it was a real treat to watch and photograph them.  They darted in and out of their little mudholes, jumped and slithered along the muddy banks and sucked up nutrients from the mud with their oversized mouths.

Nutrient Mud

Nutrient Mud

From the mangrove walk we made our way past flowering garden beds and through the butterfly gardens to several bird hides that were constructed for the public to view and photograph the variety of birds that inhabit the wetlands.  We don’t claim to be bird spotters however it was nice to try our hand at capturing some of them through the lenses of our cameras – not an easy task!

In one particular hide we were surrounded by some serious bird spotters and their camera gear and I must say that I had a bit of  “lens envy” going on.  Some of these guys had clearly invested some serious cash into some very large lenses.  My relatively small 300mm zoom lens just couldn’t compete with these purpose designed and built zoom lenses that these guys were packing.  Fortunately, The Princess was still happy with my compact zoom and her own 200mm lens and we held our heads high with the results we achieved.  However, Roey will indeed pursue the purchase of one of these “must have” lenses in the future.  After all – it is all about size!

Shy Skipper

After almost four hours of walking, photographing and videoing flowers, mudskippers, birds and butterflies we returned to the impressive main entrance building and took in a late lunch at the wetland’s cafe.  We both opted for a feed of fish and fresh vegetables and neither of us was unhappy with our choice.

We left the wetlands park around 4.00pm and returned to the LRT line – we opted to take a slightly different route back to the main MTR station at Tin Shui Wai.

The return trip was as uneventful as the trip to the park and before long we were back in Discovery Bay.  If you are living in Hong Kong or planning to visit then we would recommend a visit to the wetlands.  It is a perfect way to see a different side of Hong Kong.  After all, this place is not all high rise buildings, market stalls, shopping centres or crowds of people.  In fact, over 40% of Hong Kong has been protected as nature reserves and over 70% of Hong Kong had no development.  The wetlands give you some appreciation for the fact that the government does indeed have some interest in protecting the natural reserves and not just making money from developers!

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Tai O Ride

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Last year we purchased two small fold up Dahon bikes and we have been planning to ride them from the village of Tung Chung to Tai O (on Lantau Island) here in Hong Kong.  Today was the day!

We left the apartment around 0900 and rolled our bikes to the bus stop (about 2 minutes away) then folded them up and waited for the bus to Tung Chung.  The bus driver was most impressed with our two small bikes and how compact they were when folded.

Tung Chug is about 15 minutes by bus so before we knew it we were unfolding our bikes (this takes all of about 30 seconds) and saddling up for the ride to Tai O.

The ride starts out in the bustling high rise village of Tung Chung and then follows the incredibly well laid out bike paths toward and through the next bustling high rise village of Yat Tung.  The pathways are all flat and easy going.

We joined the narrow cement pathway that is laid along the northern foreshore of Lantau Island just behind the Yat Tung estate and continued along the flat pathway around Tung Chung bay toward the village of Sha Lo Wan.

Being a weekday meant that there were not too many people on the pathway (the weekend would be a different story!) and we were able to chat to some of the local hikers about the trip ahead.  They informed us that the path became steep and rocky toward the end of the ride (approaching Tai O).

For the first 50% of the ride we were able to peddle the small inclines and downhills and we enjoyed the variety of flora as we cycled along the path.  At times we passed through tiny villages and were given “welcome” barks by the local dogs.  We said “josan” (good morning) to the friendly locals and stopped at times to take some photo’s of the decorated temples and village houses.

The pathway became steeper in parts as we rode west and, at times, we had to get off the bikes and push them up the hills. Indeed, the last 15% of the pathway consisted of steps and a rocky pathway and this meant we learned the true meaning of “push bike”.

We approached Tai O around 1300 (some three hours after we started our ride) – a welcome sight for our sore bums?  The approach to Tai O offers a very good view of the stilt houses and we enjoyed taking some photo’s of this relatively untouched local fishing village.

We rode through the village and literally past the front doors of the houses – space is a premium here.  All of the houses are built on concrete stilts and the majority of them are made of steel.  We were told that the framework is wood but the ‘cladding’ is metal.  The houses would be like ovens in summer.

As we approached the main centre (Tai O market street) we rode past a very nice looking restaurant called the Balcony Cafe.   This quaint little place was the perfect place to stop for lunch so we parked the bikes and took up a seat out the back over the water.

We shared some very tasty garlic broccoli, an excellent fried rice and a delightful sweet and sour chicken as we watched the coming and going of the local fishermen. A great place to dine!

Timmy (the owner) and his staff were excellent hosts and we would highly recommend the Balcony Cafe for a meal and/or coffee (great coffee) – we did both.

We had planned to catch the ferry from Tai O back to Tung Chung however, we were enjoying ourselves too much, so we missed the ferry.  Fortunately there are a number of options for getting back to civilization from Tai O.  Our plan was to take the bus from Tai O to Mui Wo however we discovered that bikes are not allowed (even fold up bikes) on the bus.  Next option – a taxi.

There was a taxi waiting at the rank so we folded the bikes up and placed one in the boot and one in the back and set off for Mui Wo.  The drive to Mui Wo took around 20 minutes and it was nice to take in some of the beautiful scenery of Lantau Island on the way.

We arrived in Mui Wo in time to catch the ferry across to Discovery Bay (DB). So by 4.00pm we were sitting on the deck of Pacific Coffee in DB resting our tired but satisfied bodies and enjoying a late afternoon coffee.

Summary – a great day out and absolutely worth the effort.  If you intend to ride to Tai O then make sure you are up for pushing your bike for a bit (unless you have one of those very good mountain bikes and you are really keen).  Make sure you give yourself at least 3 hours (with only short breaks) and, if you intend to catch the ferry back after lunch, leave yourself time to dine and enjoy the Tai O atmosphere before departing.

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HK to LA – August 2010

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

After two trips to the Hong Kong airport yesterday (trying to get to Vancouver) I decided that I would give up on the idea of flying directly to Vancouver and take the first available flight to North America.  It turned out to be a flight to LA.

I secured a business class seat on the Boeing 777 and departed on the early afternoon flight out of Hong Kong – all good!  The flight was smooth and reasonably quick (picked up some tail winds) however there was a family that included four obnoxious children that literally did not stay quiet the whole trip.  They used business class as a playground (jumping from one seat to the next) and their parents effectively ignored them for 14 hours.  Fortunately I was on the opposite side and didn’t have to contend with them jumping around me.  It was nice to arrive in LA!

I passed through customs quite quickly (based on previous experiences), picked up my suitcase and headed off in the direction of Terminal 2.  Fortunately, I was cornered by a “officially approved” charity collector that informed me that I was heading off in the wrong direction.  She earned her $US10 donation because I would more than likely not have made the next flight to Vancouver had I headed off in the direction I was going.  LAX is a big place and the signage is not that user friendly – it always pays to ask before you set out in the direction you “think” is right.

So, after heading the right direction for Terminal 2, (and not before being approached by several other collectors) I found the Air Canada check-in desk and asked for a listing for the next flight to Vancouver.  Because I hadn’t listed pre my departure for LA, I need to call Air Canada reservations (whilst waiting at the AC counter) and list.  Whilst I was doing this the duty supervisor came over to the desk and managed to access the back end of the system and get me listed for the flight – loved her work!!  Maybe this is one of the reasons Air Canada just won Best Airline In North America for 2010 (albeit that the staff were a bit puzzled about this when I congratulated them!).

Anyway, with the listing complete and a ticket in hand I proceeded through the lengthy but thorough scanning procedure and settled into my first North American Starbucks for the trip – ah coffee.

After a short wait at the gate “mustering” area I boarded one of Air Canada’s “E” jets (Embraer 190) and settled in for the flight to Vancouver.

I was a little “bushed” after the rather sleepless flight from Hong Kong so I dozed a little on the flight to Vancouver.  Unfortunately (a result of flying in business class) I didn’t have a blow up “pillow” and these days you have to pay for one when flying Air Canada (ah yes – the low cost model) and you can only pay with a credit card.  The joys of flying with a full service carrier that is trying to adopt a low cost model.  Did I tell you that they won Best Airline Of The Year for North America?

Anyway, fortunately I woke up as we were flying over the beautiful San Juan island area of Washington state and, with the perfect visibility, I was able to enjoy the bird’s eye view of this beautiful region.  A must visit on a future trip – mental note!

The flight arrived on time and, after a quick “welcome to Canada” customs process I was back on “Canada Eh” soil and ready for a feed of King Crab at Gary’s place.

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Trail Running

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

This afternoon I decided to purchase a set of the new Philips SHQ4000.  These lightweight headphones are designed for sweaty outdoor use – perfect for summer hiking and running in Hong Kong!

Of course I couldn’t wait to try them out and confirm Philip’s claim that they are sweatproof etc… so I hit the mountain trail up behind where we live and sweated my body to bits!  In fact, in addition to hiking up the mountains, I ran the flats and back down the mountain too.  I can honestly say that my body must have lost a kilo or two of sweat (still going as I am writing this) and the headphones did the job.

It was quite unique hiking and running to music – something new for me.  However, it is nice to listen to nature too.  In fact I think I will alternate between the wearing the headphones and “going naked” (at least by the ears!).

More sweaty stories to follow.


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