Relocating to a city halfway around the world is hard. There is a lot to figure out in the first few months and settling in and meeting people can be a struggle. Some find playgroups, school activities, tennis teams or fitness classes to be a great way to make friends. For others, all it takes is pulling on their sneakers, grabbing a water bottle and heading for the hills.
Ask almost any Hong Konger – native or expat – what their favorite outdoor activity is here and they will respond “hiking.” This island, with its skyscrapers, winding roads, expressways and side streets, unparalleled shopping venues and massive housing blocks, also offers some of the most scenic and accessible urban hiking in the world. If you take to the trails on almost any day, you’ll find groups of hearty hikers tackling the Twins or Violet Hill, Dragon’s Back or Mt. Butler, along the way chatting, sharing, connecting.
For Hong Kong Mom contributor, Laura Thompson, hitting the trails in Hong Kong is about so much more than just exercise — it’s about friendship, community and getting to see and know this great city. Here, she offers her hiking story and offers tips on how to get started (if you haven’t already!)
In my early days here in Hong Kong, I was stretched between where we lived and where the kids went to school. I found it hard to find a groove with folks at school or where we lived. I was lucky to befriend a fellow American who invited me to join her weekly hiking group, the Hump Day Hikers. While I was overwhelmed by the late September heat and the vertical rise of Violet Hill, I was happy to join the climb with this energetic group of women. Meeting every Wednesday near South Bay close at 8am for the past seven years, the group has ebbed and flowed with the comings and goings of expats, but maintained its cohesiveness and sense of adventure.
“I started the group out of laziness,” said Hump Day Hiker founder Gwen Rehnborg. “I was tired of sending multiple emails to try to coordinate hiking with friends, so I decided that I would hike every Wednesday. I sent the list to a few friends and it just grew. I came up with the name “Hump Day Hikers” and expanded the group. A core group of about a dozen came every week, another dozen came once or twice a month, another dozen came a few times a year and I even had one woman who never came on a hike, but showed up for the end of the year party!”
One of the most valuable aspects of taking to the trails with a group, whether you’re heading off from the south side, the Peak, a trail on Lantau or in Sai Kung, is not only the safety in numbers, but taking on the adventure together. There is common ground in tackling these hikes together. There is solidarity to be found in the grind of a tough uphill climb, and ease of conversation as you enjoy the rare flat parts of a hike. There is a positive common denominator when everyone shows up to tackle the day’s hike, falls in step with an old friend or tags along at the back and meets someone new.
“The [Hump Day Hikers] group was a real game changer for me in HK. It was when I stopped trying to act a certain way and make friends with people who weren’t really a good fit,” remembers Rehnborg. “People in general, and women in particular, are different on the hiking trails. More introspective, calmer, no phones, no make-up, no pretense. There’s a natural pace in hiking that’s different from conversations over a white table cloth, and the natural lulls in conversation that happen in hiking aren’t awkward like they are over lunch, and don’t result in grabbing phones just to check in.”
Heather Liati took up the reins of the Hump Day Hikers when Rehnborg headed back to the US two years ago and has found being a part of this group incredibly rewarding.
“These weekday hikes were an immersion into Hong Kong culture that was less intimidating and this big city became more manageable for me,” said Liati. “Hiking took the worry out of the unknown, because I was with others and allowed my curiosity to grow about what else was here to explore. So every Wednesday I followed, observed, listened and shared with a healthy and strong group of women.”
The learning aspect of the endeavor is not to be underrated. Joining a hiking group means quickly becoming the resident expert in your own home on the intricacies of the island’s country park paths, trails, and catchments. Learning the difference between the Hong Kong and Wilson trails, becoming knowledgeable on the Lantau and Maclehose trails are invaluable. And then there are the tips and tricks of living in Hong Kong that one picks up along the way as well. Need a doctor, a dentist, a cobbler or handyman? Guaranteed you can find that out on a hike. Best beach resorts, best ski destinations, best places to buy bags in Shenzhen. Trail talk reveals all. There are also those moments when you have a chance to let let your guard down, to work through the struggles of this life. Many find a comfort in comparing notes and figuring out the best way to tackle homesickness, the fatigue of traveling spouses, school issues, the terrible twos or teenage angst.
“I realized in my second year here how important the weekly hikes were to me. It became a way for me to meet ladies that were trying to find their place, group, and activity in Hong Kong. Some have stayed hiking with the group and others have just passed through, either way I have made a connection with someone new,” said Liati. “Whether someone comes out for one hike or every hike it allows me the opportunity to meet a new friend and hopefully share that this place isn’t as big and overwhelming as it sometimes seems. I am deeply happy when I see the excitement light up in the eyes of the ladies as we spy a stunning backdrop of oceans, distant peaks, islands, and cityscapes, or just the sheer joy of hiking something that they didn’t think they could do!”
Hiking groups can be found across Hong Kong Island and the New Territories – groups of hikers affiliated with schools, apartment blocks, neighbors and collections of friends. Most importantly all have carved out the time, something which is never easy, for this active pursuit and found a great satisfaction in sharing the climb with others.
“For me, my [Nord Anglia] Monday morning hiking group became my connection to a social group of like minded, down to earth and supportive women, despite their diversity of race, religion and life stories. It was a way to keep fit, explore HK and build a network of friends where the simplicity of chatting and walking was something we all had in common,” recalls Emma Wienker. “It also broadened my view of HK life, which until that point really centered around a frenetic, colorful, urban city pulsing with neon lights and more often than not assaulting the senses until you could get back to the relative sanctuary of your apartment. Hiking opened up a whole new side to HK, one of steep, luscious mountain paths, gently flowing rivers and waterfalls tumbling over rocks, breathtaking views and a feeling of being somewhere more remote and peaceful than a bustling international city. It was an activity that felt real, grounded and contrasted the often overwhelming crowds of the city sidewalks.”
For some, hiking not only introduces them to new friends and new sights, but a whole new passion for fitness. Puja Karnavat had never hiked and had never entered a race. But after discovering her love for hiking in Hong Kong, she entered her first ever race, the Green Power.
“I began hiking two and a half years ago and it has been a journey. I moved to Hong Kong in the summer of 2014 not knowing anyone. Slowly, I made friends with the mothers at my girls’ school. At one point, one mother mentioned that she hikes literally from her back door. I wondered really? Hong Kong? Backdoor? How?” remembers Karnavat. “My first hike was Mount Parker, and I barely made it. But with encouragement, I went for a second hike and found a love for this.”
For me, connecting with the Hump Day Hikers has been one of the best things I have been a part of here in Hong Kong. The hiking group introduced me to a group of tremendous women and has taken me on adventures all over this island and beyond. For whichever reason may inspire you – making new friends, finding a new trail, conquering new height – get out there. There is so much, and so many, of Hong Kong to explore and discover.
Take To The Hills – Tips for Getting Out There:
- Favorite hikes to inspire you:
- Most challenging hike: Lantau Peak hike to the Big Buddha
- Most spectacular hike: Section 3 – Maclehose Trail
- Best end point: Lantau Trail – Section 12 – Mui Wo to Pui Wo
- Best hike for the hot Fall season: Aberdeen Country Park
- Best “I can’t believe I did this hike”: The Twins
- Best family hike: Dragon’s Back
- Best urban hike: Bowen Road
- Best “I can’t believe I am still in Hong Kong” hike: Tai Long Wan
- Flattest hike: Tai Tam Reservoir
- Best hike with visitors: Lugard Road
- Best destination hike: Lamma Island Family Trail
- Best “downhill” hike: Snake Alley from Headland Road to Repulse Bay
- Join a hiking group!
- For more ideas check out this list of hikes that is sortable by difficulty ratings, distance, steps, and time: Hong Kong Hikes