Yvonne wanted to do one really big hike while we were in Hong Kong, and our seventh full day proved to be the day for it. In the evening after our Lamma hike, we headed over to Lantau Island, where Yvonne had worked at an experiential education program, and met up with her old boss. It was a quick reunion, since it was so late, so we just went to sleep and figured we’d make plans in the morning.
|Beginning our climb to Sunset Peak.|
Lantau is the largest island in Hong Kong, but is the least densely populated area of the region, owing to its tall mountains and large parks. Most of Hong Kong’s tallest peaks are on this island (the tallest is on the mainland in the New Territories, but there are several big ones on Lantau), and much of the island is covered in forest. Most importantly for us, one of the major long-distance hiking trails is a 100 km loop that takes in much of the best scenery on the island. Yvonne’s plan was to hike the Lantau Trail over Sunset Peak (869 m), and Lantau Peak (934 m). She had only hiked one at a time when working on the island, and she assured me that doing both would be very difficult, despite being only ten or so kilometers.
|Going in and out of clouds all day was a nice change of pace.|
We awoke to cloudy skies and horrid humidity, but the temperature was not too bad. We only had this day and the next in Lantau, so we decided to go for it. A slightly cloudy day was better than a nasty, rainy day, so off we went. With only a banana and some crackers for breakfast (we were still stuffed silly from the previous few days of non-stop eating), we caught a bus to the park up the road where the Lantau Trail crossed. Without even having our own car, we were at the trailhead by 8:20, with only a fifteen minute ride. I love the transportation system here!
|A group of nasty huts near the top of Sunset Peak. You can rent these, but it doesn’t seem all that great to me.|
The trail climbed steadily from the park, and finally, finally it was a dirt trail– no more pavement. Despite being dirt like a normal hiking trail, though, the number of stone steps was simply astonishing. The trail was steep, just like New England, so the trail maintainers had pulled out all the stops and placed an amazing number of stone steps that must have taken an incredible amount of work. It was even crazier on the later sections of trail, too.
|Starting a steep descent, now.|
Despite the clouds, the climb was absolutely gorgeous. The mountains were lush with greenery, but it was mostly short so we could see far away down to the little village of Pui O, where we had spent the night. Clouds kept the views from going too far, but I was happy with everything. It was hot, humid, and pretty out. Within less than a kilometer of trail, I was sweating so hard that droplets were raining down from my fingertips, chin, and nose. I felt absolutely disgusting, but at least not overheated– the sun was mostly behind clouds, so it was just the humidity trying to kill us.
|Now on to Lantau Peak, and into more clouds.|
We reached Sunset Peak first, although it was in the clouds when we arrived. No problem, though. The views on the way up had been fine, and we had Lantau Peak coming up. Of course, from Sunset Peak down to Pak Kung Au (a mountain pass road with our only bail-out point) we dropped from 869 meters down to 340 meters in about two kilometers. Incredibly steep! Remember how I said there were some amazing stone steps? That was here. My knees were wobbly by the time we got to the bottom.
|Hey bug, you’re funny lookin.|
At Pak Kung Au, we sat and had a small snack with lots of water. The humidity had dropped a little, but we were still sweating pretty hard. We had the option of bailing out at this point, which we considered for a while. Finally, we decided since it was so early in the day (not even noon yet!) we couldn’t bail out with half of the day’s hike yet to go. We started out on another steep and long climb up Lantau Peak. We noticed that Sunset Peak was now out of the clouds, but they seemed to be shifting rapidly. Both peaks were in and out of the clouds repeatedly all day.
|Looking down at Ngong Ping, with its large monastery and giant Buddha statue.|
We reached the summit of Lantau Peak with a friendly group of fellow hikers (two of them brothers from New Mexico, one of whom had been living in Hong Kong for the past seven years and seemed to know the hiking trails quite well), and had ourselves a fine little time on the summit, though it was thoroughly in the clouds again with no views. There were a huge number of bugs flying around at the summit, some of which were quite interesting (including some colorful and odd-looking things, and a three inch long bee that tried to climb up Yvonne’s shorts). Eventually we decided to continue on down the mountain, hoping to do some more sightseeing at the bottom.
|We just came down from up there, and it was STEEP.|
The climb down was even steeper than the climb down Sunset Peak. A perpetual stairway led somewhere around 500 meters down in less than two kilometers, dropping us quickly out of the clouds for views to the village of Ngong Ping with its nearly 100 foot tall Buddha statue. The clouds receded after a short distance, exposing us to the full force of the sun, and bringing me near to heat exhaustion in a matter of minutes. We realized that the clouds and relatively dreary weather were all that had made the hike possible, since if the sun had been out for the entire hike we would have both been toasted and crispy by the time we reached Pak Kung Au. So I’m perfectly happy that we didn’t have views from the top of either peak. The views on the sides of the mountains were perfectly fine by me.
|Buddha is big. Note the full-sized trees nearby.|
At the bottom of Lantau Peak, we switched over from hikers to tourists, got some snacks, and joined the crowd at the giant Tian Tan Buddha statue. Ngong Ping is home to a large monastery, and I had thought the Buddha statue was mainly a religious artifact, but I learned that it had only been built about fifteen years ago as a major tourist attraction. The place was a zoo of people who had ridden a giant gondola up from the town of Tung Chung, along with the obligatory horde of trinket vendors and touristy shops. Still, for a tourist trap, the statue is pretty cool.
|Lantau Peak towers above Ngong Ping and the monastery.|
Yvonne and I were back in Pui O by 4 PM, once again wiped out by a long, humid day of walking. The humidity here has been murder to me, but I’m finally starting to get somewhat used to it. When we got back to the place where we were staying, Yvonne went into the bathroom to take a shower, and I was asleep before the water turned on.