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Contour Trekking

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To round off a successful year’s hiking, Jason Pagliari invites you to explore one of the easiest and best trails on the island – the South Lantau Country Trail with a special route up from Pui O

The South Lantau Country Trail is a classic hike. It’s commonly known as the Contour Trail because, like a contour on a map, it follows the folds in the island’s steep mountain range profile at a more or less steady elevation of about 370 metres. Extending from Nam Shan campsite between Mui Wo and Pui O and crossing over Tung Chung Road at its crest (Pak Kung Au), it continues westwards, before heading sharply downhill to the catchwater road above Tong Fuk. You’ll see the coastal villages of Pui O, San Shek Wan and Cheung Sha below you, and pass by numerous boulder streams in the mountain clefts, with varied vegetation and steep mountain views above.

There are several ways to hike the Contour Trail; the easiest is to skip the section west of Tung Chung Road and hike from Pak Kung Au, for a leisurely jaunt above the South Lantau coast, east towards Nam Shan. This is a 7-kilometre stretch, mostly downhill, and it will likely take between two and three hours. If you think you’re up for only one Lantau hike, this should be it.

The route I’m about to introduce you to, however, is more challenging; it’s ideal for enthusiastic hikers with an afternoon to spare. Going in the other direction, you bypass the first 2.5 kilometres from the Nam Shan end and climb to the Contour Trail on a forested ridge starting just west of Pui O. You then head west towards the trail’s conclusion above Tong Fuk. Allow yourself between three and four hours (climbing and taking in the views) to cover a distance of about 9 kilometres.

Turn off from the Contour Trail to the forested ridge down to Pui O (Photos by Jason Pagliari)

Start: Pui O
Starting out from the west end of Pui O, you follow the main road out of the village towards San Shek Wan. Just after the first corner, there’s a fork to the right with a sign: Jardine Valley View. Take this and you’ll see, on the left, stone steps going up through trees with a yellow hiking trail signpost.

The hike begins here, up and to the left through forest. The trail levels out then climbs again, and after 15 to 20 minutes you find yourself at the top of a flight of stone steps where there’s a distance marker – L120. The main trail continues left to the catchwater road, but you go right. It’s a steep climb on a narrow, rocky, earth trail through ferns and trees, with a few ribbons for reference.

Soon, you arrive at a trig point with a great overlook of Pui O and Ham Tin where it’s time to rest up and enjoy the view.

Continuing up, there are some rocks to scramble over as you follow the trail through trees along a ridgeline. At points, the trail levels out and you can see the view to the right, at the edge of the forest. It’s breezy here and pleasant as you walk through long grass, listening to the insects chirping. The last stretch of this section takes you up through thick tree cover and you soon reach the top of the forest at the junction of the South Lantau Country Trail. Give yourself around an hour, which allows for 10 minutes of rest stops, to get this far.

View over Pui O and Ham Tin from the trig point (Photo by Jason Pagliari)

On the South Lantau Country Trail
The stretch from here to Pak Kung Au is probably the best part of the hike – you follow a winding trail with trees on the left, before the view opens out to provide a spectacular glimpse of the surrounding mountain tops and coast below. Boulder streams (I counted seven on this stretch in October) flow through the deep folds in the mountainside.

After passing over San Shek Wan at a rock pool, you soon spot a flat rock at the drop off over Cheung Sha. Be sure to break here to enjoy a panoramic view of the beach below. As you continue your hike, there’s an enormous split boulder, on a hilltop, also well worth checking out. Look out for paragliders overhead here, particularly in the summer months when the winds are favourable.

Pressing on, you continue into light forest. The trail is pristine, littered with big boulders, jungle vines and tree roots. After about an hour and a half on this trail, passing over stone steps and boulder streams, you arrive at a pagoda at Pak Kung Au. This has to be the ‘central station’ of Lantau hiking, since busloads of hikers disembark here for their weekend climbs to Sunset and Lantau peaks.

Forested section close to Pak Kung Au (Photo by Jason Pagliari)

Pak Kung Au to Tong Fuk
After a rest at the pagoda, you cross over Tung Chung Road and walk through the picnic area on the left. There’s a hiking trail sign at the end and you follow a forested trail that winds around the hillside. For the first 15 minutes, this stretch is unremarkable – compared to the previous section, there are just not so many features to observe – but things pick up as you start to descend through boulders. Even the stone steps look like natural rock formations. The rocks wind their way up and over for a few minutes and at one point a climb down takes you underneath a giant boulder – it’s like you’re in a tunnel.

After the boulder section, its uphill for a while until you reach a signposted fork at the top. The right trail connects to the Lantau Trail heading up Lantau Peak, so you go left. Walking on, you’re suddenly out of the forest looking out over an enormous valley on the right, with Lantau Peak towering above and the Dog’s Teeth ridges far away on the other side.

Coming into the homestretch, the hillside is grassy with plenty of shrubs and bushes. As you descend stone steps, curious conifer trees are silhouetted against the open skyline. It’s incredibly quiet in this large open space, and the views are terrific with Tong Fuk visible ahead. Continuing downhill, back in tree cover, you soon cross a bridge to join the catchwater road where there are a couple of benches and a distance marker – L108.

Heading left to Tong Fuk along the catchwater road, watch out for a series of crazy-paved steps with brown handrails after five minutes or so (there’s no signpost). Follow the steps downhill through trees and past a graveyard overlooking the Tong Fuk Beach shark net. From here, a concrete path takes you to a pagoda/ shelter on South Lantau Road at the east end of Tong Fuk. Typically, you are greeted by the feral cows that live along the road as you make your way past a few village shops to the bus stop in front of The Gallery restaurant.

Heading downhill towards Tong Fuk (Photo by Jason Pagliari)


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