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Nature Trail: looping around the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula

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Hiking from Pui O through the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula, Beverly Au reports on the natural wonders she encounters.

This weekend, my friends and I have decided to hike from Pui O across the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula on trails that are known to only the more adventurous of Lantau’s hikers. Armed with mobile phones, a bunch of snacks and plenty of water, we’ll set out in the early morning and aim to be back in Pui O in time for lunch and a swim.

We’ve chosen this particular hike for a couple of reasons. It will be challenging thanks to some seriously steep ascents; we’ll get some amazing views of the South Lantau coastline; and we’ll be deep in the ‘jungle’ for much of the time. Far-flung Chi Ma Wan Reservoir promises to be a highlight of this hike, and we are interested to see the two prisons on its shores, both now defunct. What’s more, many of the areas that we are heading into are seriously remote and, in untouched places like these, we are hoping to see some of Lantau’s rarer species of wildlife up close.

Pui O to Mong Tung Wan

We meet in Pui O, right by Tap Tap restaurant, and take the path marked for Mong Tung Wan. The path meanders pleasantly across a couple of buffalo fields before reaching the tiny hamlet of Ham Tin. Turning left on to a concrete road that runs alongside a riverbank, we are lucky enough to spot egrets, heron and a very rare Brown Fish Owl.

Soon enough, the road bends sharply to the left, followed 100 metres later by a sharp right. We pass a small grotto to our right, dating back several hundred years, before emerging to an amazing reveal of the estuary and beach. On our left, a Tin Hau temple dates back to 1798. Taking the coastline path marked for Mong Tung Wan, we enjoy the wonderful views afforded from its vantage point 100 metres above the sea. Here we see both Lantau and Sunset peaks; it’s as if they are guarding the South Lantau coastline. The Soko Islands in the foreground give way to Wai Lingding Island in the mists beyond.

Continuing on, the path hugs the coast for about a kilometre and a half, and is an access way for several gravesites and small columbaria. Many ornamental trees have been planted, including unusual varieties of pine, whose needles scent the air.

We soon find ourselves in Mong Tung Wan, a curio from the 1970s, when it was developed to provide holiday apartments for wealthy Hong Kongers. A small stretch of beach fronts three large apartment blocks, now lying empty bar a couple of caretakers, who have the place to themselves.

Mong Tung Wan to Chi Ma Wan

Following the path through Mong Tung Wan, we are treated to a steep ascent up 100 metres of hillside. At the top, we take a right and continue along the coast.

On this section of the trail, the path cuts through dense jungle and because it is not widely used, we know we have a good chance of spotting some of Hong Kong’s most retiring wildlife. We hear the distinctive cry, like that of a jackal or dingo, of a barking deer but he eludes us, most likely he’s foraging on the upper slopes. Snakes are said to be prevalent on this trail too, often basking on the open path or on the rocky outcrops that skirt its flanks. We watch out (nervously) for a Burmese Python, Chinese Cobra, or White-Lipped Pit Viper, but again no sightings.

What we do see though are spiders – hundreds of them – busily spinning and casting their sticky secretions across the path. This is South Lantau not Middle-earth but I think of Frodo Baggins.

As the path turns west along the coast, there is an option to descend to the right to Tai Long Wan (which translates as Big Wave Bay, one of five in Hong Kong) and the near-deserted Sea Ranch development. But we keep straight on, enjoying views across the sea to Cheung Chau, with its pretty harbour, teaming with fishing boats. In the distance, we glimpse Lamma Island and Central.

Here, the thick jungle foliage is interspersed with outcrops of natural bamboo and the occasional grove of planted pine. We continue for another 3 kilometres or so, before arriving at a four-way junction marked with a yellow concrete lotus leaf. We take the path leading to Chi Ma Wan Country Park Management Centre.

As the path starts to descend into a lush and shady valley, streams flow on either side and rows of Camphor trees line our way.

Clambering down, we find ourselves in a swampy, misty, humid place, and on our left, we get our first glimpse of deep and mesmeric Chi Ma Wan Reservoir. As we continue on, its expanse opens up – a small yet gracefully formed body of water, built to service the two prisons that sit nearby. Emerging, at the reservoir wall, we linger fora while, soaking in the glorious view.

The homeward stretch

After a short rest, we follow a jungle track, part-concrete, to the entrance of inmate-free Chi Ma Wan Correctional Institution. Dating from 1956, the original prison was the first ‘open’ facility in Hong Kong, later upgraded to house more serious offenders, with high double fences added to the original exterior. We take the road past the now defunct guards’ club and, walking alongside the prison’s outer fence, we continue along the coast.

Soon enough, we spot the second of Chi Ma Wan’s prisons just ahead of us, this one a former Vietnamese refugee camp, later converted to a youth offenders’ institution. The path rises above it, affording views of the cell blocks and workshops now gathering moss and dust.

We follow the road to Shap Long, a charming series of three hamlets, astride an estuarial inlet and flood plain, home to water buffalo and migratory birds. We know enough about the area to watch out for fiddler crabs, who, with large claws to the fore, gather food at low tide. Such is their number that if you stand still and allow them to emerge from their mud burrows, they create a blanket of moving oranges and reds – a kaleidoscopic natural wonder.

From Shap Long you can head north, taking the well-marked coastal path to Mui Wo (another two hours of hiking), but we head east on the road back up the hill to Ham Tin and Pui O.

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