Ecology of Hong Kong Trail

The Hong Kong Trail, ranked among the World's 10 Best City Hikes by Lonely Planet, stretches 50 kilometers across 5 country parks, and passes through 7 reservoirs. Indulge yourself in the panoply of beautiful landscapes and rich biodiversity in the highlands, valleys, streams and the lush woodlands! Open your attentive eyes, fascinating animals and plants are all along the trail!

Abundant in attractions, the eight-sectioned Hong Kong Trail yields CNN Travel recommended routes for rookie hikers. Closely connected to the urban area, the picture-perfect Victoria vista is just half an hour away from the hustle.

Enjoy the eco-rich excursion while competing the Green Power Hike! Get your sweat on the undulating Island ridge!



Routes of Hong Kong Trail
Start Point to Checkpoint 1 (The Peak > Peel Rise)

Setting off from the island’s pinnacle, feel free to luxuriate in the heart-stirring harbour view in the beginning of the hike. When you find yourself in a lush path with humming and tweeting birds, the first checkpoint is soon to reach!

Black-throated Laughingthrush

As you walk on Lugard Road, you may occasionally hear the "do-sol"s of Black-throated Laughingthrush (Garrulax chinensis). The interesting thing about the bird is that it is good at mimicking the calls of other birds, and even the sound of the human whistle or car alarms!



Changeable Lizard

When you come to the more open section of the trail, you may find Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor), a relative of the chameleon, sunbathing on the ground or on fences. The lizard changes colour relatively slowly, and can only opt for black, red, yellow, green or grey. However, it is agile like the chameleon, and will swiftly flee to bushes if alarmed.



Banyan Tree Portico

Not far into Lugard Road from the starting point at the Peak is the famous Banyan Tree Portico, which is formed by the aerial roots of the India-rubber tree (Ficus elastica). The Indian-rubber tree is approximately 70 years old. Standing tall with its long, dense aerial roots, it is like a kind old man, greeting everyone that passes by!



Camellia

Starting from the Peak, you will reach a picnic site along Harlech Road. High West Camellia Garden is by the High West hill. Many species of the family Theaceae are cultivated here, including the Grantham’s Camellia (Camellia granthamiana), which is an endangered species protected by Forestry Regulations.

The flower of Grantham’s Camellia is the largest among species of Camellia in Hong Kong. It is very eye catching with its large snow-white petals surrounding the golden ball of stamen cluster!



Pallas’s Squirrel

Walking through the dense woods, you may suddenly notice the swaying of tree branches or hear the sound of tree fruits falling on the ground. Look up into at the trees and you may find the Pallas’s Squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus) searching for food. With its round eyes, it certainly has an adorable face! It is a commonly found in Hong Kong, which is an omnivore that likes to eat flowers, fruits and also insects.



Checkpoint 1 to 2 (Peel Rise > Middle Gap Road)

You make your way to the path which has the most twists and turns. Meandering under the lavish canopies, hikers journey through the flowing streams and the branching roads. Pay particular attention to the flood after heavy rain!

Little Umbrellas

After Peel Rise, the trail with broad views turns into a shaded forest path. Among the trees, you may find dainty yellow flowers that point downwards. They are the Nodding Wikstroemia (Wikstroemia nutans), a native scrub commonly seen in the Hong Kong countryside. The special tiny flowers are tube-shaped, just like closed umbrellas!



Blue-spotted Crow

Blue-spotted Crow (Euploea midamus) is very common in winter, and has the habit of overwintering in groups in woodlands to resist the chilly winter. It has dark brown wings with purple blue scales on the forewings that shine elegantly under the sun! The caterpillars feed on the poisonous plant Goat Horns (Strophanthus divaricatus), and hence the adult contains toxins in its body-- the best weapon against its natural enemies.



Hong Kong Newt

You can also find Hong Kong's only tailed amphibian species, the Hong Kong Newt (Paramesotriton hongkongensis), in this area. Unlike amphibian species such as frogs and toads, the Hong Kong Newt does not have webbed feet, but instead uses its flat tail like an oar to swim in the water. During courtship, the males use their tails to point at potential mates, making slight and swift movements with their tails in the water to stimulate the female's desire for mating.



Serene Mountain Streams

In the valley between Mount Kellett and Tin Wan Shan foothill, you can find the famous stream – Keung Fa Kan. The ever-running water flows through rocks into the pool to create whitish splashes… Capture also its fluvial visage in the dry season – be amazed by the bumpy boulders that tower over the flowing streams!



Creeper plants

Leaving Keung Fa Kan, you will pass through a dense forest with entangling climbers. Creeper plants grow slowly but heavily around the tree canopy and make the woodland more impenetrable. There are over 300 creeper plants in Hong Kong. They cannot grow separately but have to attach onto other objects such as trees and walls or crawl on the ground.

Creeper plants direct their growth to better locations with more sunlight for photosynthesis and propagation of pollens and seeds. They strangle on tree trunks by structures such as rolling roots and hairs. They are the real climbers in the plant kingdom!

Chinese Fevervine (Paederia scandens)

Wood Gossip Caesalpinia (Caesalpinia crista)

Creeping Psychotria (Psychotria serpens)

Checkpoint 2 to 3 (Middle Gap Road > Hong Kong Parkview)

Where the Lady Clementi's Ride leads is a corner of quaintness. The deep valley houses British-styled stone bridges and the historic Aberdeen Reservoir. Climbing up the airy flat slope, the stretching ocean view of Southern District is resting straight ahead. The family-friendly trail definitely tops the holiday bucket list.

Cotton Red Bug

The small but brightly coloured, orange and black Cotton Red Bug (Dysdercus cingulatus) can be spotted along Lady Clementi’s Ride, in the dense forest. The small creature will release an unpleasant odour if threatened. Leave this little creature in peace if you do not want to have a taste of its weapon!



Blue Spotted Tiger Beetle

While looking for and appreciating flowers, take note near your feet as you might find the Blue Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela aurulenta). Its appearance is like a magnified version of an ant, which might be overlooked, if not for its shade of metallic blue or black that shines in sunlight. It is one of Hong Kong's most common Tiger Beetle species, with well-developed legs, compound eyes and strong jaws. Like a "tiger" among insects, the Blue Spotted Tiger Beetle likes to silently wait in a corner to prey on small insects passing by.



Fungus

Middle Gap Road is well-shaded and provides dark and humid habitats for fungus. They grow on dead wood, tree roots, fallen leaves pile and the soil. The saprophages obtain nutrition by decomposing animal remains, excretion and withered vegetation. They turn larger organic molecules into smaller ones or inorganic materials which can be absorbed by plants. Hence they are the “true recyclers in nature”.

There are different shapes, sizes and colours of fungus, such as the fat Amanita phalloides var. umbrina and the brightly-colored Chanterella Waxy Cap. Never try to touch or eat wild fungus as they may contain fatal toxin even if it has a cute appearance!

Amanita phalloides var. umbrina

Chanterella Waxy Cap

Dwarf Mountain Pine

Scattered along the trail from Jardine’s Lookout to Mount Butler are Dwarf Mountain Pines. This native shrub with twiggy branches has leaves that recall the scent of herbal ointment. Traditionally, the branches were tied in a bunch and used as broomstick. Even though its leaves resemble pine needles, it does not belong to the pine family (Pinaceae), but is a species of the Myrtaceae family with smaller leaves.



Hong Kong Camellia

From Black's Link to the hillside south of Mount Nicholson is a stretch of mature woodland which connects to Nam Fung Road Woodland, where a great number of plant species can be found. Even during the winter, flowers are still blossoming. Among these are the Hong Kong Camellia (Camellia hongkongensis), which is a great attraction. It is the only plant of the Genus Camellia found in the wild in Hong Kong that bears red flowers. Its big, brightly-coloured flowers blossom between December and March. Everyone should seize the chance to get a glimpse of its beauty.



Checkpoint 3 to 4 (Hong Kong Parkview > Quarry Gap)

Conquering the highs and lows of Jardine's Lookout and Mount Butler, persistence pays off by the majestic view of the Island’s north from the 433m height. Shortly, a downhill walk from the quarry marks another uphill workout to the 436m-tall Mount Butler, where another downward slope to the Quarry Gap awaits. Calf-aching, but challenging indeed!

Butterflies fluttering everywhere

Cutting by Hong Kong Parkview and walking towards Jardine's Lookout and the peak of Mount Butler, you can find butterflies flying around. It is not easy for butterflies to find a mate in dense woodland. For this reason, some butterfly species have hill-topping behaviour. Butterflies of the same species will fly to ridges or highlands at the same time, increasing the chances of finding a mate at the high reaches of the hills!

Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete)

Flowers bloom

The fifth section is challenging. The upslope is long and steep, but countless wild flowers are cheering for the hikers! Hong Kong Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica), or “spring flowers”, bloom in the spring season. The elegant white and pale red little flowers decorate the whole Jardine Lookout!

The flaming flowers of Red Azalea (Rhaphiolepis indica) also spread over the mountain with a taint of spring. As beautiful and numerous as the flowers are, do not be tempted to pick them. We have to protect our countryside!

Hong Kong Hawthorn

The flaming flowers of Red Azalea

Geometer Moth

Passing Hong Kong Parkview, you will be attracted by the leopard print Geometer Moth (Obeida tigrata) as you cross Jardine’s Lookout and Mount Butler. You are cheated if you think it is a butterfly! Many people distinguish butterflies and moths by whether the wings are folded or spread out at rest. The most accurate way, however, is to check the antennae. The antennae of a moth are like a pair of combs, while those of butterfly have stick-like endings. Also, a moth flaps its wings more rapidly in flight.



Sticky Trap

Carnivorous plants are not uncommon in Hong Kong. Yet some species are easily overlooked owing to their minute size. For example, Sundew (Drosera burmannii) has leaves less than 2cm long, and grows close to the ground or on walls. It traps insects with the body fluid and curls around the prey to digest it. There is no way out for any bugs that bump into the adhesive plant!



Black Kite

Standing on the highest point of Hong Kong Trail—the 436-m peak of Mount Butler, you will see the Black Kite (Milvus migrans) soaring high and low above you. The raptor, common in Hong Kong, is the scavenger in nature and feeds mainly on fish and small animal remains. It only preys on smaller size animals when there is no other food source. Black Kite likes to glide in sunny days when the air is heated and becomes light. It can save energy by taking on the upward air flow!



Checkpoint 4 to 5 (Quarry Gap > Tai Tam Road)

Follow the shady Mount Parker Road south from Quarry Gap ends in the sweeping view of Tai Tam Reservoir. After approaching to the fork road by Tai Tam Mound, pick the left path and track to the north of the mound. Welcome to our second-last checkpoint in Tai Tam Road!

Stick Insect

This section begins at the highest point on Mount Parker Road. By the asphalt road, the walking tree stick – Stick Insect (Order Phasmida) may be hiding. The insect looks much like a tree twig or dried leaf. It takes fine eyesight to locate the often still, well-camouflaged creature!



Shy snakes

Several streams in the Tai Tam Reservoir catchment area feed the reservoir continuously. Here by the shady and humid environment near the streams, you may see some snakes! Some may even live in the water. Often people are afraid of snakes and believe that they are aggressive and poisonous. In fact, out of the 52 snake species in Hong Kong, only 8 are poisonous. In general, snakes are shy and will evade from human instead of launching an attack. If you come into one, do not panic but slowly back out. Never try to attack them.

Red-necked Keelbac (Rhabdophis subminiatus)

Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)

A blue tail

If you suddenly find a "four-legged crawler" with a blue tail while walking across the hill paths, then you are in luck! This is a Blue-tailed Skink (Plestiodon quadrilineatus), which is not commonly seen. It likes to sunbathe and feed on insects. It is highly alert and will quickly run away at even the slightest movement in its surroundings.

© Photo from Pixabay

Masked Palm Civet

As you arrive at the wooded path in Mount Parker and Tai Tam Road, the sun may be setting. This is a good time to look for Masked Palm Civet (Paguma larvata). The cute animals have conspicuous white circles on their cheeks, eyes and ears, looking like a mask. They are very timid and when threatened, a musk gland under a civet's tail releases a strong smell to scare enemies.



Collared Scops Owl

As the sky turns dark, there is a high-pitched "hoot" coming from the woodland. After a while, you hear the same sound again. This isn't the call of a mammal, nor is it from an insect. This is the call of a Collared Scops Owl (Otus lettia). It can be heard quite often from dusk till night in spring. The Collared Scops Owl is precious, as it is listed as a Category II protected species in China.



Checkpoint 5 to 6 (Tai Tam Road > To Tei Wan)

Get recharged for the closing charge on the flat and easy catchwater walk. Bypassing the Obelisk Hill, participants will find themselves among the fisher folk of Lan Nai Wan and To Tei Wan. Without a doubt, the splendid panorama of the Tai Tam Bay is another picture-worthy hot spot no one should miss out!

Mangrove

On the 7th section of Hong Kong Trail, you walk around Tai Tam Harbour on the hillside from north to east. Inside Tai Tam Harbour is the only mangrove on Hong Kong Island. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and has important ecological value. Here you can find Kandelia (Kandelia obovata), the Milky Mangrove (Excoecaria agallocha) and the Lumnitzera (Lumnitzera racemosa) etc. The mudflat nurtures many animals - both Red Clawed CrabPerisesarma bidens and Splendid Fiddler CrabUca splendida are residents here. Don’t forget to visit them at low tide.

Kandelia

Dichotomy Forked Fern

Passing Tai Tam Road, you come to Section 7 of Hong Kong Trail, also the easiest part of the walk. You will cross numerous deep stream valleys where Dichotomy Forked Fern (Dicranopteris pedata), a kind of Pteridophytes, thrives. The plant grows rapidly and usually is among the first to appear after a hill fire. So it is also known as a “pioneer plant”. It is and ideal species for protecting and improving soil on steep slopes.



Large Green Mantid

The forearms of Large Green Mantid (Hierodula patellifera) are powerful, like a pair of sickles that are used to attack its prey. Its wide range of movement of the head, sensitive antennae and the large pairs of compound eyes allow it to track small insects. It will patiently wait for prey, and launch its attack when the target is within range!



Hong Kong Freshwater Crab

There is a small crab species that is red and eye-catching, which does not appear in water, but walks on land. It is one of four types of freshwater crabs in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Freshwater Crab (Nanhaipotamon hongkongense). They can be found on dry surfaces along stream banks, like tree roots, rock cracks, or may even dig holes to hide. On very hot or dry days they rest in holes, while on rainy days they come out to find food.



Do not pick poisonous fruits!

Are you feeling hot and thirsty after such a long walk? Look, there are wild fruits on the trees. But quench your thirst by imagination instead of eating the real fruits. Because these fruits may be fatally toxic!

Cerbera (Cerbera manghas) looks like the edible mango. But the whole plant is in fact poisonous. Even its tree sap may cause allergic reaction. Narrow Flower Poison Nut (Strychnos angustiflora) resembles the tasty citrus fruit but it is highly toxic. Upon ingestion, people will have difficulty breathing, become stiff in body and eventually stop breathing and die. The plant is one of the four most poisonous species in Hong Kong.

Cerbera

Narrow Flower Poison Nut

Checkpoint 6 to End Point (To Tei Wan > Big Wave Bay)

Hailed by the globe, the last leg of the Hong Kong Trail, which stretches from To Tei Wan, passes through the Dragon’s Back and comes to a full stop at Big Wave Bay, is best known for its awe-inspiring surroundings. Balmy bamboo forest and tranquil towering trees shape the pleasant routes with a verdant touch, while the spectacular sweeping shorelines bring the exciting excursion to the next level. Congratulations, finale is ahead!

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Climbing towards Dragon’s Back from To Tei Wan, the woods on both sides are home to many forest birds. Along this section, you are accompanied by intermittent birdsongs along the trail - how enchanting! The lively Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus ruficollis) has snow white eye brows that extend from the back the beak all the way to the back of the neck, making them look so handsome and knightly!



Beware of the Spikes

Along this section, you will see Shiny-leaved Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum nitidum), which has dark purple-red spikes on both sides of its leaves. The plant is of medicinal value. Its extract can be used to make toothpaste that can soothe red and swollen gums. A toothpaste brand even uses the plant as its brand name. While you are enjoying the walk, be careful not to be hurt by the spikes!



Mountain-pepper

The last section of Hong Kong Trail is surrounded by magnificent scenery. The grand hills and sea of flowers will certainly take away your fatigue. January and February are the flowering period of Mountain-pepper (Litsea cubeba), also named Fragrant Litsea. The elegant yellow flowers have a sweet fragrance, and it's an ideal natural spice.



Screw Pine

Coming to the end of Hong Kong Trail, you can enjoy the beauty and sea breeze at Big Wave Bay. Screw Pine, nicknamed fake pineapple as it bears pineapple-like fruits, is common coastal vegetation in Hong Kong. The leaves have thick cuticle so as to prevent water loss through transpiration under strong sunlight. Their long aerial roots allow them to grab tightly and grow on loose sand. Screw Pine grows well in the poor coastal environment. It is as sturdy as our Green Power Hikers!



Pacific Reef Egret

Arriving at the endpoint of the Hong Kong Trail, why not take a trip to Big Wave Bay. Here, you can easily find birds. Among them is the Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra) that is darkish grey and likes to move around on the rocky shore, or often flying just above the surface of the sea, weaving between the rocky shore and waves. The Pacific Reef Egret is not commonly seen, as it is listed as a rare species in the China Red Data Book. It would be a perfect way for everyone to end their journey at the Hong Kong Trail by catching a glimpse of the bird!