How to hike the “Dragon’s Back” in Hong Kong
The Dragons Back hike is one of the most popular in Hong Kong. It’s easy to get to, not too far or too tough and, above all, promises heart pumping views of the sea and the lace like edges of the island curving out into the sea. We set out early by MTR then bus (for details see below) and the double decker careers round the corners of the bendy hilltop road. The stop we want is clear because of the others alighting here, at this turn in the road that is seemingly close to nothing but a faded signpost and a mountain track. Even from the starting point we can see golden sandy beaches in the distance trimmed with tall, cream coloured towers – a legacy of the lucrative tourist trade. Soon the few other hikers disappear ahead of us and we have the dusty track to ourselves. It is steep at first, made of crumbling brown soil dotted with sharp rocks and intersected with tree roots. The dark green vegetation lies heavy all around us, barely parting to let the track through. A huge boulder half way up makes a good view point out over the azure sea below. Following signs, we soon come to the “Dragon’s Back” ridge itself. Formed like the spine of a slumbering monster, it is an exposed ridge that contours the very top of the mountain. It weaves within the landscape as the culmination of this steep, sloping hillside. To either side of us the landscape tumbles away. From this elevated vantage point you can see the scaly coastline thrusting its jagged trajectories out into the ocean. Small rocky islands crowded with greenery stand alone and proud, floating un-anchored in a sea of foam. To the east you can see the Clearwater bay peninsula, to the west Stanley peninsula and the South China sea.
There is no shade on the dragon’s back. It is vulnerable to the whims of the weather, exposed to the heat and the wind. Plenty of water is a necessity. The air whips me around, thrusting dust and hair into my eyes. But it is worth it to stand up there on the top of the world, looking out at the irregular seascape below. Once down from the ridge, you leave the views behind. Now the path is easier, a well-maintained track through forests and over trickling streams. The heat makes the idea of immersing your feet in these pools delicious. The water is cool and flows with subtle determination, rushing down the hillside in numerous small waterfalls and bubbling streams. The canopy of trees overhead guards off the more oppressive rays of the sun and creates a wonderland dappled with light and haunted by the sound of the wind whispering through the leaves. The beach where the trail comes out, Tai Long Wan or “Big wave bay” is as sandy and white as a postcard, but it is filled to the brim with day trippers making the most of the sunshine. We walk back along the road to Shek O, a popular seaside village with colourfully painted pastel houses where everyone seems to know their neighbours and leave their back doors unlocked. Dogs play in the street and people stand around chatting. It has the feel of a typical beach town. At the tip of the trajectory we find a wooden bridge that leads out onto one of the rocky islands we saw earlier from above. There is a solitary dog walker on the stony shore where the waves are crashing in over red tinged rocks, but we take the path up, through the trees and the loudly chirping insects. At the top we look out over an undisturbed ocean in one direction and the peaceful seaside tranquillity of the town behind us in the other. High up above, the pearly moon is almost full as it shines brighter and brighter on an ever darkening sky.
We walk back through the village as dusk gathers, but it never feels unsafe. Before we reach the bus stop we turn off the road and onto the main beach. It’s completely dark now and all the tourists have gone. A few locals sit around a fire laughing and drinking and a lone guy in swimming shorts stands at the water’s edge, contemplating the dark waves. The sand is a thousand soft grains and the water is warm and black. The waves are strong and the white crests are picked out by the reflections of the distant village lights. It is quiet and peaceful and the other few people on the beach are really no more than shadows. We walk up and down in the surf, mesmerised by the glimmering light and the constant comings and goings of the all-powerful tides. Just for now the sea is ours, in all its velvety, warm, wet glory.
Tips: Take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station and get bus 9 from Shau Kei Wan bus terminus. Get off at the Tei Wan stop on Shek O road – there will be a display on the bus telling you the names of the stops. The trek starts here, by a big wooden sign with a map of the route. Its about 5km long and is easily achievable in a single morning or afternoon depending on how long you want to take in the views. Its best to avoid the midday heat as there is no shade on the ridge itself, although a lot of the hike is under canopy. There are plenty of places to eat at Tai Long Wan beach or, if you walk straight along the tarmac road, at Shek O town itself. You can get the same bus (9) back to the MTR from the main road on the corner just up from Tai Long Wan beach or, if you’ve walked to Shek O, from the bus station there. The bus station is on the left of the road as you approach and just before the main beach. Red minibuses also run back to the MTR station – if you see one, hail it and if there’s space left they’ll stop for you. Enjoy!
Words copyright of Bonnie Radcliffe.
Photographs copyright of Liam McCarthy.