The first impression people have of Hong Kong is a busy international financial centre with crowded trains, congested roads and a skyline full of skyscrapers. Very few people appreciate the fact that nature is only a short bus ride away from the city’s downtown.

View of Central and Wanchai from Wilson Trail section one near Wong Nai Chung Gap

There are many hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. The Wilson trail is a 78km path that runs through many country parks. Section one is the most difficult and it is very popular among hikers and runners because it is close to Central and covers 4.8km – a decent 2 hour workout. Most people start at the entrance next to Wong Nai Chung Reservoir and finish at Stanley Gap Road.

View of Tai Tam Reservoir on the south side of the Island from Violet Hill

The trail goes over Violet Hill, then a steep 1300-step ascent to the Twins before descending towards Stanley. Along the way, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of Repulse Bay and Stanley. Unlike many country parks in other countries, the Wilson Trail is open 24×7. Many people hike in the evening, especially in summer to avoid the heat.

The end is near - view of Stanley from Wilson Trail section one

Kat O (吉澳) / Crooked Island

Kat O is the largest island in Hong Kong’s Northern District. Its name means “Lucky Bay” because its shape provides a natural shelter for fishing boats. Together with Ap Chau, they form a geopark popular among tourists and students. There is no public ferry service to the island. It is only accessible by private charter boat.

"Devil's Face" en route to Kat O
Kat O used to be a thriving fishing village with 10000 inhabitants

Kat O used to be a thriving fishing village with over 10,000 inhabitants. Many houses are now left abandoned and the only school on the island closed in 2006. Walking through the the main street of Kat O, you can see many houses with collapsed roof and crumbling walls. Some even have pictures hanging inside and household items strewn about the floor. It looks like a scene from a zombie movie or nuclear disaster site where residents had to abandon their home in a hurry.

This abandoned house in Kat O is entirely entombed in a Banyan tree

Kat O is also witness to the fast-paced economic developments in China in recent years. Across the waters of Mirs Bay to the north of the island is Yantian Container Terminal in Shenzhen, one of four biggest ports in China.

Yantian Container Port to the north of Kat O is one of four largest ports in China

The Tin Hau Temple on the island was built in 1763. In 2006, the island underwent a massive HK$700 million facelift and celebrated Da Jiu Festival  (太平清醮). The temple’s original wooden doors have been preserved. They depict temple guards painted by Gurkhas based on their impression of Chinese deities because they were asked to repair doors that they damaged when they were stationed on the island in the 50s and 60s.

Gurkhas' impression of Chinese temple guards
Gurkhas' impression of the God of Wealth
Decorative figures under the roof of Tin Hau Temple at Kat O, built in 1763. It is a listed Grade III historic building
View of Kat O Public Square from Tin Hau Temple

Ap Chau (鴨洲) / Duck Island

Ap Chau is a tiny island with only a handful of inhabitants. Its called ‘Duck Island’ in Chinese because it resembles a duck floating on water. The village on the island was set up by American preachers from the then Taiwan-based True Jesus Church in order to shelter fishermen and their families who converted to Christianity in the 1960s. The single primary school on the island opened in 1958.

The main tourist attraction of the island is the “eye” of the duck at the northern tip of the island. It is a huge cave formed by sea erosion.

Through the "Eye" of the duck, you can see the bustling Yantian Container Port across the Bay
An abandoned shed on Ap Chau