After a very short visit to Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong, my next objective was Alto de Coloane, the highest peak in the gambling mecca Macau.
From Hong Kong to Macau
I took one of the frequent catamarans from Hong Kong (Sheung Wan Terminal) to Macau, a sea voyage of 60 km done in approx 1 hour. Since Hong Kong and Macau are two different "countries" one must go through immigration. Fortunately this is a fast and smooth process on both sides of the border (most nationals do not need any visa). There are probably buses and trains between HK and Macau as well, but then through mainland China, which means you need a visa. Therefore, catamarans/jet-foils are definitively the best option, even if the price is fairly steep (about 150 HKD). If you have plenty of time, there are probably also slow ferries at a fraction of this price. It is worth noting that there are different currencies in Hong Kong and Macau. As of December 2011 the currency rate was about the same for HKD and MOP. For 1 USD, one gets approx 8 HKD or MOP. Shops in Macau accept the HKD as if it was the local currency, so you really don't need to change your HKD into MOP.
Staying in a luxury hotel in Macau
I had no great hopes of finding a cheap backpacker hostel in Macau, thus I reserved a room at the Grandview Hotel before I arrived. This is a splurge in my world, but still the cheapest room I found at booking.com, which has an eminent application for iPhone. Fortunately the room was heavy discounted as it was midweek, so it was indeed a good value (575 MOP for a luxury room). I intentionally chose a hotel in Taipa, because this part of Macau is more conveniently located in the vicinity of Alto Coloane.
Gaining new heights in Macau
I got a great city map upon arrival at the ferry terminal in Macau. This map shows all bus stops in Macau and which bus # that serves the various stops. Thus, it was insanely easy to plan a route from A to B with cheap public transportation. So next morning I easily went from Taipa to the foot of Alto Coloane with one of the frequent buses (cost me only 5 MOP).
I jumped off the bus at SEAC Pai Van Park, and from there I continued on foot up a narrow and winding road to Alto Coloane. I was impressed with all the maps and signs posted around in the park, and this made it very easy to navigate. At the highest point of the road there is an intersection, where I turned right and continued a couple of hundred meters to the very top of Alto Coloane. A cylindrical concrete block marks the highest point (172.4 m) on Alto Coloane. According to the maps, there is an almost equally high peak in the south (170.3). I used the leveled surface on the concrete block to check the height of the nearby south summit. I found out that it had to be slightly lower, but it was somewhat difficult to judge because of the dense forest on top of the south summit. I had actually seen another map on the internet where the south summit is marked as the highest one, and therefore I decided to continue south and check it out. I descended easily to the Coloane Trail, which continues in a circuit around the south summit. But I found no tracks leading up to the summit. I was not tempted to fight my way through the dense forest, since I was already convinced that the south summit had to be lower anyway. If it really was higher, I'm quite sure there would at least have been a track. But it was not.
The A-ma statue is the false summit
The Coloane Trail is a nicely built trail with great views, thus I continued along this trail until I was just below the north summit. There, I left the main trail and arrived at the large Tin Hau Temple. After a fairly long visit in the Buddhist temple, I continued up a small hill to the A-ma Goddess Statue which towers on top of the north summit. On internet I have seen photos of tourists in front of this statue, and claiming to be at the highest point of Alto Coloane and Macau. But this is wrong. According to the map the north summit only reach an height of 163.8 meters, which is 8-9 meters lower than the main summit. I have no doubt that the northern peak is significantly lower. Interestingly, the A-ma statue is exactly 19.99 high, a symbolic height, given that Macau was "handed over" to China in 1999.
Leaving Macau without any addiction for gambling
From the A-Ma statue, I found a small track that goes down to the Coloane Trail, then I continued along this trail until I was back to the road and eventually down to the bus stop again. I could have visited the panda park next door (SEAC Pai Van Park), but I had seen pandas a few times before. So I rather took the bus straight back to Taipa, where I had a shower at the Grandview Hotel before I checked out at noon. Then I took the free shuttle bus from the hotel to the ferry terminal, where I easily purchased a ticket from Turbojet, which has frequent departures back to Hong Kong by catamaran/jet-foil. That was the end of my short stay in Macau. I had not visited one single casino, for what Macau is so famous, but the highest point I had at least been to.
1 USD = 7.8 HKD/MOP (Dec 2011)
Alto Coloane at EveryTrail