HONG KONG - PEARL OF THE ORIENT
HONG KONG - VICTORIA HARBOR AND ITS CITY
Most cities have parks but very few have wild hillsides right beside their urban heart. Yet Hong Kong has both. Despite the extreme shortage of land, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have substantial parks which, with their flora, fauna and bird life, make ideal escapes from the urban bustle. And on the Island, just minutes from Central and Wan Chai, trails wind up into forested hills.
On one side a curtain of green overhangs the trail, on the other dark rocks make a wall against the slope. The only sounds are birdcalls. But, less than a kilometer away from the Bowen Road walk, another reality occasionally intrudes. Sudden breaks in the trees frame massive steel-and-glass towers Central and Wan Chai.
Hong Kong's unique proximity of modern city and raw nature is superbly revealed along Bowen Road. Its pedestrian road winds for four kilometer along the wooded hills behind Central, Wan Chai and Happy Valley but the nearest buildings are never more than a few hundred meters away. Similar contrasts are repeated across much of Hong Kong Island, and along the northern edges of Kowloon.
Very close to "the city" there are many other "green" escapes. Two parks worth visiting are Victoria Park, in Causeway Bay, and the Kowloon Walled City Park, in Kowloon City (near the old airport). Victoria Park, with its established trees, is a haven for birds. Three other city parks owe their existence to military areas, where development did not occur and trees were nurtured: Hong Kong Park, described on a following page, Lei Yue Mun Park, and Kowloon Park.
Kowloon Park has numerous pleasant attractions and gardens, and its trees attract a wide range of birds some 90 species have been recorded there. Most memorable are the trees found across the park. Superb specimens stand at the southern end along Haiphong Road. The enormous sweet-smelling camphor trees protrude from the original granite retaining wall, overhanging the street and blessing it with deep shade.
These magnificent trees, about 130 years old, endure despite the pressures that challenge urban trees. Around the city Hong Kong has over 360 such "champion trees" belonging to 77 species. Excluding those found in parks, these venerable trees are mostly found in old neighborhoods. Redevelopment often leads to their removal or destruction, as Hong Kong lacks any tree protection ordinance.
Kowloon was once a hilly peninsula, with paddy fields in its valleys. Today, with the land largely leveled and almost entirely developed, the nearest wild places are some distance away, below the Kowloon peaks. Hong Kong Island, by contrast, is so steep that in places it is virtually unusable and so it still has wild areas immediately behind the city.
From Central and Wan Chai, two "green trails" with explanatory markers lead into the hills. Each trail can be followed in an hour but allow longer if you can. Just minutes up either trail, one is drawn into a world of earth and rocks, ferns and mosses, shrubs and trees. Stone walls crowded with plants show their colonizing power. Camphor trees, trunks entwined together, hint at the species' Chinese name "Romantic Tree" There are interpretative booklets on each trail; Wan Chai Green Trail is by C Y Jim.
Unlike Central Green Trail and Wan Chai Green Trail, the Bowen Road walk is almost entirely level, following an old viaduct around the contours. It makes a memorable excursion. Take a taxi from Central up to where Bowen Road starts, near the beginning of Magazine Gap Road. Then stroll eastwards for four kilometer to Stubbs Road, where buses run down to Wan Chai and Central.
In the morning and evening Bowen Road has joggers and tai chi exponents. But, except at weekends, during the day you hardly see a soul. Almost always butterflies flit nearby, often black-eared kites wheel overhead. Reptiles sometimes show themselves, basking on the rocks and, if you are lucky, squirrels will appear scampering through the trees.