Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sai Kung Country Park Walking Tour

 35° C

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong map
Map 1:  Airplane view of the area of interest relative to Hong Kong

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Map 2:  Zoom into the area of interest

Map, Walking Tour, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Map 3:  Showing walking tour's stops in more detail
(Click to enlarge)

I made many trips to HK, and I decide this time, I'm going to explore the more natural and unspoiled part of HK. I saw too little of this beautiful HK's earth porn. Most tourists associate HK with cityscape and shopping centre, what people don't realise is that HK is made up of 40% national park.

The 1st time I knew about Sai Kung Country Park was when I saw a photo of a group of tourists marveled at the the interesting rock formation of columnar volcanic tuff. They were looking up at the rock formation from a boat.

To the geologists, these columnar volcanic joints are quite common worldwide. But then it's their job to be totally unmoved by earth porn, which is simply a distraction. They need to get to the core of the matter. To the laymen and tourist like me, they're quite unusual structures. I've seen the Kilt Rock in Scotland, which I didn't know until I got there. So this is the only other place that I've seen with this columnar volcanic joints. Also, we were able to look much more close up here than in Scotland where we could only viewed from a distance. The best known one is probably in Northern Ireland.

Explanation board, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Some on-site explanation of what those rock formations are
(Click to enlarge)

While this rock formation is what drew me to Sai Kung Country Park, but it has a lot more to offer than just this interesting volcanic (s)tuff.

Ada did the organising for this tour with Walk Hong Kong, and I didn't find out much about it (perhaps, I wanted the mystery of surprises). In my memory of the tourists looking at the columnar tuff from a boat, I would therefore naturally assume we were going to see the whole thing on a boat trip. I thought the boat was the only way to see it. Imagine the surprise on the day when I found out there's no boat trip. Well, there was going to be a boat trip, but it's for a single returning trip.

Another assumption I made is that there was going to be a coach or some vehicle took us there directly from our hotel. Imagine my surprise when the whole group were going there by public transport. Yep, I wanted surprises, and there were plenty. Be careful what you wish for. It might come true!

I believe that this tour operator is Germany based. The only other time I had such a tour where tour members going to a destination using public transport was a day trip from Frankfurt to Salzburg. This leads me to conclude that a walking tour relying on public transport is common in Central Europe, particularly Germany. Walking tour involves walking to and from public transports.

Dunno why. Perhaps, German are outdoor athletic types who loves to walk, and embrace low carbon footprint lifestyle. Well, I'm too old and unfit to be idealistic. I need comfort. I want to travel in style. Give me carbon footprint the size of Big Foot.

Harry the Bigfoot
Harry Big Foot - the low carbon footprint living

Anyhow, to get there, we had a number of MTR changes, and finally got out of MTR system at
Hang Hou Station to catch minibus 101 to Sai Kung Public Pier. Anyone coming to HK should check out the unique tram and minibus experiences. So the use of various transports could be a good experiences for 1st time visitors to HK. It's just I'm an old hand, in both sense of the words.

Over the years, the HK's minibus drivers had received the hard-earned name of F1 race-car drivers. If you have never been on a F1 race-car before, this is the closest experience you'll ever get. So hop on, but hold on tight.

Locals who are spoilsport - the sport of F1 racing - complained about the minibus drivers, it results in a big speed indicators being installed in the minibuses.

Speed Indicator inside minibus, Hong Kong
Large speed indicator for passengers who like to speed read

To allay the passengers' fear, speed indicators were installed to tell the passengers that they aren't driving fast (under 80 km/h). Well, just because a car is driving under the limit of 80 km/h, the drivers can still causing quite a bit of car-sickness with their steer-happy habit.

One of the convenience of minibus used to be that there's no designated stops, and so the passengers can get off as close to their homes as possible. This convenience also means that the minibus would suddenly pull into the shoulder of the road, to the surprise of the vehicles behind it. Again, I think there're designated stops now to further reduce the thrill of the F1 race-car driving.

Despite all these restrictions, our minibus ride still managed to give me a little cheap thrill (it's very cheap. Less than $20 HKD for the ride. Of course, it included in the walking package). Ah, yes. There's an increasing number of women minibus drivers from Mainland China. Our ride was driven by a lady, and they could drive just as bad - meaning either good or bad - as men.

  Sai Kung Promenade

This is located next to the Sai Kung Public Pier. But we weren't here to catch any boat. We were here to use the toilets.

Sai Kung Public Pier, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
No idea where the OLD public Pier was

Not far from the Pier is Sai Kung Promenade where there were public toilets.

Sculpture, Sai Kun Promenade, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Sculptures in Sai Kung Promenade

Sculpture, Sai Kun Promenade, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The other missing duck from the above pond could be found in the little garden next to the pond

Sculpture, Sai Kun Promenade, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Don't forget to look up to spot the rooster

  Minibus Drop Off Point

This is where the minibus drop us off. The location  indicated on the map may not be exact. The important thing is that we had to take a taxi from here to get to .

  The Roundabout (with the Pavilion)

This is the end of the road for taxi. This is also the start of MacLehose Trail sec 1. There's a pavilion here.

Sign, Marker, Sai Kun Promenade, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
This fake rock locates at the intersection of MacLehose Trail sec 1 and Sai Kun Man Yee Road

The Sai Kung Country Park is also part of the network of Global Geopark (香港世界地質公園) as indicated by the fake rock.

Cow in the middle of the road, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
This is probably the only place in HK where you see a cow crosses the road

High Island Reservoir as viewed from this location

This reservoir has a lot to do with why this place becomes a Global Geopark. When Mainland China decided to cut off the water supply to HK in 1967 when HK was still a British Colony. The government had to find a way to solve the water shortage problem. They then decided to create a reservoir. As they did so, they discovered these hexagonal columnar rock joints. which led it to qualify for the status of a Global Geopark. Hey, the Chinese word for "Crisis" (危機) comes from combining the 2 words: "Danger" (危險) and "Opportunity" (機會). So in English, "Crisis" should be "Dangop".

MacLehose trail Sec 1, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The start of Maclehose Trail sec 1 from this location. There were only 7 of lucky us on this walking tour.
The 4 of us (eenie meenie miney moe) , an Aussie from Perth, and a Malay from KL. Not the best time for this tour.
Yes, I'm always the last person in the walk. How else can I take photos of their backs?

hexagonal volcanic tuff, columnar joints, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
A sample of the hexagonal volcanic tuff. Very close to location 3.
My very 1st close encounter of the columnar kind.
BTW, the Devils Tower appears in Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind is an even more well known
example of these hexagonal columns BEFORE its appearance in Spielberg's sci-fi flick.

hexagonal volcanic tuff, columnar joints, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
These columns aren't as well formed

  Lonesome Mountain (孤獨山)

I don't know the English name for this mountain. In google map, there's only Chinese name, and I just do a literal translation of it.

This isn't the end of the trail, but it was for us. This is as far north as we headed. For the rest of the walking trip, we walked southwards.

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The trail that leads to Lonesome Mountain. More columnar tuff on the left.

High Island Reservoir, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Nice elevated view of the reservoir. Columnar joints on the right. Lots of it could be seen in this nick of the wood

hexagonal volcanic tuff, columnar joints, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The whole mountainside is consists of what look very much like French fries.

Caves, hexagonal volcanic tuff, columnar joints, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Because they're  like French fries stack together. They easily fall apart to form caves,
especially near water, being loosening up by the pounding of waves
(my theory anyway. I stick to it firmly, unlike the French fries)

High Island Reservoir, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Lots of caves being formed at the water's edges. Some are quite big.

Long Ke Beach, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Long Ke Wan Beach as viewed from Lonesome Mountain

Coming back from our northward climb to location 3. From here you can see the East Dam of High Island Reservoir. I didn't go down all the way, I wanted to conserve energy. I could see fine half way. There's a memorial at the bottom. Since I didn't go down all the way, I didn't know about it. My brother told me about it after he returned from the bottom.

East Dam, High Island Reservoir, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
East Dam

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Does it look like a turtle? Use your imagination

hexagonal volcanic tuff, columnar joints, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Near the East Dam are probably some of the straightest hexagonal joints

A walking tour might not be such a good idea on a hottest day of the year. Ada and me decided to take the taxi to our next location, which is simply backtracked some of the the stretch of road when our taxi ride while were were on our way here. The rest of them walked. We had nothing to prove.

taxi, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Our taxi ride

High Island Reservoir, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
A farewell look at the reservoir before we got on to the taxi.
We would see the water again when we got back to the hotel and turned on the tap / faucet.
This basin is better looking than my hotel's basin. Perhaps. I could be wrong.

  Entrance to Pak Lap Village (村)

This is the entrance to the village, which situates at the bottom of the hill. I waited for the rest of them here.

Pak Lap Village, hexagonal volcanic tuff, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
When did HK locals started to use simplified Chinese?

ow, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Either it tried to cool its nostril or it liked the taste of it

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Pavilion at the entrance to Pak Lap Village

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
One of the view from the pavilion

Locust, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Grasshopper nicely camouflaged to the local rock colours.

Speaking of grasshopper and things unseen (or unheard), here's Kung Fu (1972 - 1975).

Yes, I hear the sound of water, the wind, my heavy breath, the clicking of my camera shutter, and the incessant whining about the heat. Yep, I heard.

 Soon - or seemed much longer - we got to the feet of the hill, and arrived at Pak Lap Village.

Cow, Pak Lap Village, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Feast your eyes for the very few remaining pockets of rustic life in HK. Soon, there will be no mooooo...

  Pak Lap Beach

We stopped at the restaurant at the beach for re-hydration

Pak Lap Beach, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Pak Lap Beach

Statue, Buiddhism, Confucianism
Statue at the restaurant
Is this a "buddha" with 3 "faces" or "faiths"? The statue sits on a lotus and has the Buddha's hairdo. He's wearing a Confucian costume and the his hands folded in Confucian gesture. He has 3 heads of an Asura (阿修羅), or an allusion to any number of Buddhist deities with 3 faces. What isn't showing here is Taoism. Otherwise, it would complete the Chinese religion.

  Yau Ley Fishing Village and Sha Kiu Public Pier

After a short break, we headed for the next village. I felt like an American GI during Vietnam War, moving from village to village, combing through trees in the heat. To go to Yau Ley Fishing Village (有利於漁村), we needed to scale some height before descending back to sea level.

Pak Lap Beach, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Elevated view of Pak Lap Beach

Butterfly, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Pretty broken up local wildlife

Pak Lap Beach from above. Does the mountain in the back look like an eagle?

Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Going back down to the sea, to the sea. To the open arm of the sea, yeah.
Lonely rivers sigh. Wait for me, wait for me. I'll coming home. Wait for me.
Isn't it right, brothers?

Finally, we reached the sea (level).

Sha Kiu sign, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Sign points to Sha Kiu (Sandy Bridge), the public pier

Dog swimming, Yau Ley Fishing Village, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The pooch got the right idea. It was so hot, I wished I could join him.

Yau Ley Fishing Village, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The fishing village is actually on the water

Yau Ley Fishing Village, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Like the Tanka in Aberdeen, these fishermen also live on houseboat.

This Yau Ley fishing village is a poorer and more rural cousin of the Tanka fishing village on water in Aberdeen.

Yau Ley Fishing Village, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Back of Yau Ley Seafood restaurant, and also Sha Kiu Pier.

We stopped here for lunch at Yau Ley Seafood restaurant. Several other tables were occupied by local celebs. Except for Alan Tam (譚詠麟), I didn't recognise most of them. But one of our tour member - a lady from Malaysia - knows them all. I was told that the one I didn't know was lead member of Tai Chi (太極), a Cantonese rock band. She wanted to get their autographs, but hesitated. After our urging, and eventually with the company of our tour guide, she went over and took selfies with them.

There were several other tables who were until now, also kept a shy distance from them, had now joined in. Suddenly, the place turned into a stars meet-and-greet session.

As I said before that I didn't go to HK's outlaying island often. The last time we went to Lamma Island, we saw Tony Leung Ka-fai having lunch next table just like today. This leads me to think that because HK is so small, if you want to meet local celebs, just come to eat in such a restaurant. They're trying to get away from the city, and enjoying outdoors. You have a very good chance of meeting them. Either that or I'm a celebs magnet. As if.

After lunch, instead of doing a crazy backtracking all the exhausting walks, we returned by boat that took us from Sha Kiu Pier back to Sai Kung Public Pier where we were this morning.

Boat for hire, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Our thrilled speedy ride. The rubber tyre in the bow should absorb the shock of any impact

The boat ride was extremely bumpy, and thrilling. The skipper may have been a former minibus driver. Skippers and drivers are all dare-devils. In HK, the pace of life is very fast because time's money. Those who work for themselves would want to cramp more trips in a day. The boat ride only took a jiffy to cover the large distance between the Sha Kiu and Sai Kung piers (try to say those 2 names really rapidly).

High Island Reservoir wall, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
A wall on the west side of the reservoir

Island with cave, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
More cave than you can poke a stick at...

Island with tombs, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
The white stones on the island are tombstones.
Look at the cloud formation. Does it look like a (female) human head blowing some smoke/steam ?

Island with tombs, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Closeup of the tombstones. These isles have good feng shui with nice water frontages.
They're always facing out of the hill and into the sea (like the giant heads on Easter Island).

Water ski, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong

Janitors, Sau Kung Pier, Sai Kun Country Park, Hong Kong
Keeping the waterway clean...excuse me, you miss the bottle at the bottom left of the photo...

All in all, it was about 3 hours walk (excluding public transportation) that covered about 5km. It was quite exhausting for me. So much so that I had to cancel some of my plan for the following days because my body hadn't recovered.

When Ada emailed the tour guide about the difficulty level of the walk, the reply was "easy level". Well, easy for her, the typical outdoor, sporty German. Not so easy for pencil-pusher office type like me. Actually, instead of asking her about the level of difficulty of the walk, we should be telling her about my level of fitness (which is that of a 65 year old. My real age is considerably younger. I use the word "considerably" loosely. The actual age is a highly classified data). The walk is certainly not easy for a 65 year old. It would be easy if you're under 50 with average fitness.

What made the walk even more challenging was that it was a sunny 38°C day. I was surprise I didn't get a heatstroke. That time.

We only explored a small section of the Geopark. There're much more to see. I like to see more of it, and perhaps take a boat trip one day. A boat trip and a walking trip would give you very different perspectives and experiences.

Despite the thumbs down surprises, the heat, the physical exhaustion, I'm glad I did it. It could've been better. My only regret is that I didn't take photos of their taking selfies. Better luck next time.

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