Some say Tai Mo Shan (957m) is a country high point while some say not. It's all about how one classify Hong Kong and its level of independence from mainland China.
A night at the airport in Hong Kong
I arrived at Hong Kong International Airport around midnight and decided, for practical reasons, to spend the night at the lovely airport. Fortunately there were free Wifi at the airport, so I could start some detailed planning with regard to public transportation to Tai Mo Shan in the morning. I didn't get much sleep and at 6:00 in the morning, while it was still dark and chilly outside, I was already on board the first airport bus to Tsuen Wan (route A31). Tsuen Wan is a northern district of Hong Kong, situated at the foot of Tai Mo Shan. The bus journey lasted about 1 hour and the fare was surprisingly cheap (19 HKD). There were almost no other passengers on board the double-decker bus, so how the private bus companies in Hong Kong manage to run with profit, that remains a big mystery to me. Maybe they are subsidized by the government? The bus companies at least earn some extra money from tourists who do not have the exact amount (no change policy).
Tsuen Wan, half asleep
Upon arrival at the train station in Tsuen Wan (West Railway Station), my plan was to take Route Twisk (bus #51) in order to make the uphills to Tai Mo Shan somewhat easier. This route departs from Nina Tower, conveniently located just a stone's throw from the West Railway Station. But I messed around for almost a full hour in Tsuen Wan, after I got some misleading directional information from a couple of tired commuters. It must be emphasized that I was not fully conscious myself, after a sleepless night at the airport. When I eventually found my way to the well-hidden bus terminal at Nina Tower, it was however quite painless to find the departure platform for bus #51. Fortunately, Route Twisk #51 departs quite frequently, so there was not much waiting time. I paid the bus driver 8 HKD and asked him to drop me off at the bus stop "Country Park", so I didn't need to worry about this. But I was not sure whether he had understood me or not, because of his complete lack of English skills. To be on the safe side, I therefore turned on my Garmin eTrex, where I had plotted a starting position for the trail. But I received no signal whatsoever on my GPS unit. Trying to find a good satellite signal, I moved from side to side in the bus. But it didn't help.
Tai Mo Shan in a horseshoe traverse (15 km)
I managed to get off the bus at the correct stop (Country Park). I had to backtrack hundred meters along the road, where I found a good trail and a sign to Tai Mo Shan. The start of the trail is about 320 m.a.s.l. and it went really easy in the gentle uphills. I carried on a lot of unnecessary weight, because I had no hotel room to leave my luggage. I realized pretty soon that this would not be a particular good day for grand views, because there was a thick layer of haze (pollution?) over Hong Kong. After 30 minutes of walking, the trail joined Tai Mo Shan Road, a narrow road that winds its way to the top.
I reached the summit of Tai Mo Shan after 1 hour and 10 minutes in a leisurely pace. I could just forget about standing on the highest point (957 meters), because the entire summit plateau is blocked off by a tall fence to prevent public access to the military installations within (radars etc). I guess I was standing 10-20 vertical meters shy of the summit, still good enough to consider this a successful ascent given the circumstances. I had at least a good overview of the remaining portion of the ridge that I was planning to complete. The road continues almost all the way to the eastern peak. I measured the eastern summit to have a prominence of approximately 60 meters.
I noticed that the grass on each side of the trail has been neatly trimmed, so it looks like a 10 meters wide "highway" in the mountains. Most unusual I have to say. Otherwise, there were just a few people on the the trail, even though Hong Kong is considered to be a mecca for hikers. Longer trails and treks can even be found in Hong Kong, and some of them can take more than a week to complete. One of the hikers I met, seemed in fact to be well equipped for a week in the "wilderness". From the eastern summit I descended for a while, before the trail reached a road. There, I continued along the road and a large water reservoir.
Into Hong Kong to find a boat to Macau
Back in Tsuen Wan, I easily found a bus stop. There I also met an Aussie waiting for a bus. He was an English teacher in Hong Kong and had stayed there for almost 10 years, thus he knew the city very well. Thanks to him I got on the right bus to the nearest metro station, so that I could take the hyper-modern and cheap metro all the way to the Sheung Wan station. From here there are frequent catamarans to Macau, where another "country high point" was waiting for me.
Otherwise, I spent a few hours extra in downtown Hong Kong after I returned from Macau. More time in Hong Kong, I didn't need, as I visited 6 years ago and had seen it all. Yet, it was a nice experience to revisit the shores of Kowloon and enjoy the amazing skyline of Hong Kong by night.
1 USD = 7.8 HKD (Dec 2011)
Tai Mo Shan at EveryTrail