Hong Kong Night Hiking is Far More Than a Walk in the Dark

Last month, Andrew Li and three friends went on their first night hike, crossing the “Twin Peaks” above Stanley, southern Hong Kong Island. “We set off about 9pm,” he says. “It was much more exhilarating than hiking in daytime. There was only a narrow focal point, in our torch beams, and it was a lot cooler. During the day, there are usually others, and noise. But at night, you’re in touch with nature; it’s just you and your friends.”

            Though tough, the hike was well worthwhile. “We got to the top of peaks, and looked over Repulse Bay, which was a pretty amazing backdrop,” Li says. “Hiking at night was more private and serene, more magical.”

            As Li and increasing numbers of people are discovering, night hiking may seem a little spooky, but there are rewards a-plenty, including tranquillity, scintillating scenes, respite from daytime heat, fitting in with busy work schedules, and – for some – encounters with snakes.

Embracing the Dark

At least partly, the upsurge of interest in night hiking arose through the advent of Barclays MoonTrekker, a fund raising trail walk on Lantau that began in 2009.  Founder and director William Sargent is a long-time night hiker.

            “ I grew up here, and hiked Sunset Peak at four years old, though with help from my parents,” says Sargent. “I’ve been night hiking since I was 13 or 14, looking for snakes. I love wildlife, and you can see a lot more at night – like porcupines, owls, and sleeping birds.”

            For the first MoonTrekker, Sargent was surprised at 400 people joining, and capped the number at this for safety reasons; this year, 1500 people will run and walk the route. “MoonTrekker has become a ‘gateway’ event for many people,” he says.

            This year, those people include Andrew Li, who started hiking about a year and a half ago to offset the calorie intake during his career with Privé Group, in the food and beverage industry. He and his friends made their first nocturnal foray in training for MoonTrekker.

From Freaking Out to Fun and Fireflies

Kim Swenson is now something of a veteran night hiker, and this year set for her second MoonTrekker. Yet her first nocturnal foray didn’t go too well. She joined friends who were training for Trailwalker, and set off from Parkview, aiming for the Twin Peaks. “I got freaked out at the top Violet Hill,” she recalls. “It was eerily quiet, and I ran down, back to Parkview.”

            Last year, Swenson retried night hiking as her company, CBRE, is a key MoonTrekker sponsor. Rather than freaking out, she embraced it. “I’m open to trying something new, and we do quite regular night hikes,” she says. “It’s a good personal challenge, with good camaraderie. You get different views at night. When it’s clear, it can be breathtaking, stunning, with views most people in Hong Kong will not see.”

            Partly as she hikes in small groups, Swenson has never come across a snake, though was once startled by a porcupine she came across while walking up towards Victoria Peak.

            Tony Basoglu does see snakes when out night hiking. The largest mammal he’s encountered here is a porcupine, though he hears a lot of loud rustling, and believes it’s made by wild boar, running away as humans approach.

            “I’ve been hiking in Hong Kong since I got here, about 20 years ago,” says Basoglu. Along with supporting events like MoonTrekker, he leads outings including night hikes for Hong Kong Hiking Meetup Group. “I thought we should try night hiking some time, as I’ve got three kids and a full time job, so not lot of free time to go hiking. I follow easy routes that are under 10km and relatively flat, taking around two and a half hours.”

            Now, Hong Kong Hiking Meetup Group regularly organises three to five hikes every night. “It’s a bit of exercise, and there’s a large social element,” says Basoglu. “Night hiking is very different to daytime. You get fireflies – Hong Kong is full of fireflies, and see large vistas, with twinkling city lights. If walking the south side of Hong Kong Island, there are the lights of shrimp fishermen. You see things in a completely different perspective.”

            First timers might be nervous, especially of snakes. But Basoglu observes, “Snakes don’t come up to you; they want to get out of your way. When people come with a group, they soon get used to it, chatting as we walk the trails.”

Nocturnal Rambling Routes

  • Circuit the Peak, from the upper Peak Tram station, along Harlech Road and Lugard Road.
  • Sir Cecil’s Ride above Quarry Bay, from Mount Butler Road on Jardine’s Lookout.
  • Dragon’s Back, southeast Hong Kong Island, perhaps from near the start of Shek O Road and returning to Shek O Road above To Tei Wan.
  • Stage 2 of the Wilson Trail, from Parkview to Quarry Bay.
  • Stage 5 of the Maclehose Trail, from Tai Po Road to Sha Tin Pass; with care, also take the side trail to Lion Rock for fantastic views over Kowloon.
  • Shek Pik Country Trail, Lantau: from Ngong Ping to near Shek Pik Reservoir dam.

Advice for Night Hikes

  • Start small, and build your skills and confidence.
  • The key thing to take is a trusted torch or headlamp, and backups.
  • A Countryside Map, from a government publications centre, will help ensure you stay on course.
  • Also carry water and snacks, plus a mobile phone.
  • Don’t hike alone.
Martin Williams
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