Dragon’s Back

During a research trip to Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive, I managed to find some time to make a visit to the oft-mentioned Dragon’s Back at the Shek O Country Park. The Dragon’s Back route is the last leg of the 100 km Hong Kong Trail, but I specifically chose this last section of the Hong Kong Trail route because I wanted to see a different side of Hong Kong – where its dense urban centre is a stereotypical image of the city itself.

Route Log – 2018, December 19

Taking the Exit A3 from MTR Shau Kei Wan station, a short walk brought me to the bus terminus where the boarding of bus service number 9 (labelled heading towards Shek O) was just minutes away. The bus service timetable is helpfully posted next to the queue, and it would be wise to take a photograph or make a note of the schedule.

As the bus traversed the hilly locality towards the Dragon’s Back, I observed a good number of elderly passengers who were headed in the same direction as well. The trailhead starts directly at the To Tei Wan bus stop with a map of the region as well as toilet facilities for the public. The aforementioned elderly passengers were, as I found out later, from an old folks’ home and were being led on a hiking tour to Dragon’s Back by volunteers.

Given their steady pace at the early stages of the route, I admit that they seemed to be in healthier shape than I was. However I began to lost sight of them after a steeper section, perhaps they were taking it much slower given their age and possibly the difficulty in this early stage of the route. Then again, why should I worry about elderly strangers (I should) when I am here enjoying the tranquil rural trail that Dragon’s Back is offering?

The views towards Tai Tam Bay were beautiful and yet poignant at the same time. The encroachment of human development has made its way into the beautiful greenery of Hong Kong Island itself – symbolising the significant issues of housing within Hong Kong where its population is faced with escalating costs of purchasing or renting a home for themselves.

I understand that a majority of the residential development are private (as opposed to Singapore’s situation where it is mostly comprised of public housing) and that there is little political or commercial impetus to develop more public housing for its residents. Examining the terrain of Hong Kong itself does speak of the difficulties of constructing buildings on its hilly terrain, the costs of which would seem astronomical; and yet it should be for the public good to spend the resources to house its residents and lower their costs of living through public housing programmes.

The skyrocketing standard of living in Hong Kong, heavily influenced by its housing issues, definitely cast a pall on the outlook of many young Hong Kongers that I have met. At a meet-up the day after the hike, a Hong Kong friend lamented that at his current salary (which is slightly higher than that of the average salary in Singapore for a Degree holder) would take him more than ten years of diligent saving to buy a small flat in Hong Kong’s suburban areas – the size of the flat would equate to a 2-room public housing apartment in Singapore.

As a hiker, I can only shake my head in disbelief and hope that there are ways to alleviate the problems of the housing crisis in Hong Kong without having to decimate its natural and beautiful landscape.

The Dragon’s Back trail is well-marked and maintained for the majority of the route. The initial stages of the route is quite steep until the Shek O Peak – based on observations, the steepness of this stage of the route is actually more of how unnecessarily high the roughly hewn stone steps were embedded into the trail (maybe because I am of a shorter stature, I often have to fully lift my thighs to stomach height for each step).

Along the ascent towards Dragon’s Back peak, the small town called Shek O village can be seen located next to a golf course.

The same Hong Kong friend who lamented his inability to buy his own home, shared yet another interesting perspective of the social divide between the rich and the middle-class. He described the resistance of redeveloping golf courses within Hong Kong into residential developments. The rich, according to him, protested loudly on the need to preserve the cultural heritage of golf courses in Hong Kong. “What heritage does golfing belong to?” he exclaimed exasperatedly. I don’t know either.

From my vantage point, I look down onto the constrained Shek O Village bordering the edges of the expansive golf course – the bludgeoning boundaries of the small town itself seemed to suggest the urgency in the expansion of the town’s residential needs. I am not sure what to think of the developmental priorities of the government in this area – the rich do need their golf courses, and the middle-class can move out to other frontier towns or residential areas… but is that the right perspective to shape and cast Hong Kong society?

By the time I reached the peak, my thighs were screaming in protest (I mean, I think I am more of a flatland distance hiker… but out of shape is out of shape).

At Shek O peak, the literal Big Wave Bay village (Tai Long Wan) is quite a sight. Even from my vantage point, I could see tiny figures paddling in the bay and trying to ride the waves. The beach resort feel does really hit home from the activities seen from the peak.

Continuing past the Shek O Peak of the Dragon’s Back route, it took me past and around Mt Collinson (347 m) and diverged from the Pottinger Peak (312 m) towards Big Wave Bay village.

This last section of the Dragon’s Back route is mainly plateau-hiking on a combination of dirt tracks, paved pathways (from around Pottinger Peak onwards) and with more civilised amenities such as public toilets and rest huts.

The conclusion of the Dragon’s Back route took me to Big Wave Bay village (Tai Long Wan). A sleepy and quaint village that caters to the surfing crowd with its 1980s beach resort feel. While I would have liked to linger longer at Big Wave Bay itself, my flaming (in pain) thighs and slightly twisted left ankle (from a misplaced step on a loose rock) made me decide to chance the legendary mini shuttle buses back to Shau Kei Wan MTR station (the fact that I am able to pen my thoughts here is proof that I have survived the harrowing high-speed runs of these mini shuttle buses).

The route, specifically picked to see the greenery of Hong Kong, remains poignant to me – a city bustling with life, energy, and dreams of its people… could become a destructive force to the environment itself. The balancing act between green and open spaces to cultivate the mind and liberate the soul seems to be, in my short stay in Hong Kong, second place to societal and economical development. The availability of Hong Kong’s wild and vibrant natural splendour definitely surpasses Singapore’s manicured but dull green landscape, and yet it remains fence-edge close to the economic machinations of human society – as if the concrete jungle binds and slowly constricts what green spaces that are left in Hong Kong.

Have a care not to lose what is important to the spirit, hearts and mind of people – nature herself.

Route Information

Route made on 2018, December 19
Distance: 8.4 kmElapsed Time: 3:30:30
Moving Time: 2:35:15
Stopped Time: 0:58:09
Min: 8 m
Max: 290 m
Grade: -1.2%
Ascent: 251 m
Descent: 355 m

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All map and information images are generated by Garmin Basecamp and Google Earth based on the author's GPS data. It may not represent your own personal experience.

Related Information/Links

Hong Kong Tourism Board – Dragon’s Back (Information Page)
Hong Kong Tourism Board – Dragon’s Back (Map Link)