Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩)
The northeast New Territories encompasses some of Hong Kong's wildest landscapes, with hills cut by a myriad valleys, and inlets and headlands facing towards Double Haven (印洲塘), Mirs Bay.
I hiked there with Charlie Frew - restraining himself to well below adventure racing pace. As it was a hot day, initially aimed to keep to the lowlands, making for Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩) on the east coast, then walking back westwards. But, after a wild rush of blood to the head, also added ascent of the area's highest peak, Tiu Tang Lung.
We atarted at Wu Kau Tang (烏蛟騰), following an easy trail southeast through Kau Tam Tso, then swinging east towards Sam A Chung. Here the trail was pleasant, often in shade, running by a stream that leads towards Wu Kau Tang, and later another stream bound for Sam A Chung.
"Chung" can mean the tidal stretch of a creek; and sure enough at Sam A Chung there's a tidal creek, with some mangroves (left). North from here is the inlet by Sam A Tsuen.
There were two hamlets at Sam A Tsuen. One built just above a marsh (left); and another a little inland, just before the path climbed a little, to cross a small pass - Shan Mei Au - before dropping to the coast again.
There are rocky outcrops on the coast; but unlike the sedimentary rocks of Sam A Tsuen, these are mainly volcanic.
This is the location of the main village in this far-flung corner of Hong Kong, Lai Chi Wo. Here, too, is the best sea-grass bed remaining in Hong Kong: at low tide, the flattened "grass" looks like a mat of algae. These aren't really grass, but flowering plants that are adapted to living in submerged places.
On towards the village, the path passes a belt of mangroves, which grow higher up the silty beach.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has established a nature trail at Lai Chi Wo, with walkways, and information boards including this one (on - yes - mangroves).
Just inland, across an area that can be marshy, Lai Chi Wo lies at the foot of hills - and just below one of the best fung shui woods in Hong Kong.
Lying far from roads, so reached only by hiking or by boat (there's a small pier), Lai Chi Wo retains its traditional character. Tourism now brings some revenue, though mainly at weekends on public holidays, as the main "ecotourists" are Hongkongers. Following plans drafted during a long and perhaps expensive process overseen by the Tourism Commission, the Hong Kong Tourism Board is launching northeast New Territories boat tours which could boost local incomes - if successful.
There's a small information centre for the Hong Kong National Geopark just inside the village's main entrance.
As the name suggests, this area was once known for its lychee trees. But in the 1960s and 1970s villagers found it more profitable to plant Mandarins, which could fetch good prices towards Chinese New Year (as they are seen as auspicious), and lychee trees became scarcer.
Much of the fung shui wood is now a Special Area, affording greater protection than would extension of the country park. Over 100 plant species have been recorded here; and the wood is notable for some big old trees - four are included in the government's Register of Rare and Valuable Trees.
In this photo, there's a large - over 20 metres high, 2.5-metre diameter - autumn maple, which has become a climbing frame for an impressive banyan tree, growing as a strangler fig. Someday, perhaps, the banyan will win out, and the maple will rot away in the middle.
Two other notable trees are the Hollow Tree, at left here. This too is an autumn maple, the middle of which has rotted away, leaving a space big enough for a person to fit in; the outer trunk is still alive.
On the right here - and at the top of the boardwalk up along the edge of the fung shui wood - is the Five-finger Camphor, a camphor tree known for having five major stems (after coppicing v early in its life??). During the Japanese occupation, soldiers threatened to chop it down - to better see any guerillas hiding nearby and/or for making furniture, but villagers protested, and the Japanese chopped down just one stem (leaving four "fingers", though I managed to take photo from an angle at which one is hidden). The diameter of the combined trunks at the base is around three metres.
The two maples and the camphor tree are in the trees register; along with a grand Chinese banyan just below the village.
Facing towards Double Haven, Lai Chi Wo is in a beautiful setting.
- hard to believe looking at this that eastern Shenzhen, including a burgeoning container port - is little more than a stone's throw away!
Between the village and a small creek are more impressive trees. These are looking glass mangroves Heritiera littoralis - a species that, at least in Australia (I learn via googling) tends to grow at the landward edge of mangrove belts, especially in areas with a substantial freshwater influence.
While Hong Kong mangroves are otherwise small, often no more than shrubby trees, these are grand trees, with pronounced buttress roots. A boardwalk loops through the small wood, which seems wonderfully primeval - the more so as the trees are hung with a creeper with stems up to a foot (a third of a metre) thick.
Leaving Lai Chi Wo, headed back to Sam A Chung, then - after checking the map - took a path heading a little inland of our previous route, towards eastern spur of Tiu Tang Lung (吊燈龍; Lantern Hill). Then, decided to go for it, and climb up and over Tiu Tang Lung - on this fine afternoon, the views should be good.
Indeed great views - here's shot from part-way up the spur, with Sam A Tsuen below, Double Haven beyond. Much of the area visible beyond the shore here is in Yan Chau Tong Marine Park.
Charlie fairly scurried on up the hill. Weighed down by camera gear (err, well, a bag with camera and couple of lenses), I went more slowly. My main concern was that it was hot, and I had little water left, so taking care not to dehydrate.
A fairly tough climb, but well worthwhile; had the peak - as most of the area all day - to ourselves. (Met hardly anyone outside the villages.)
Here's the trail we took down Tiu Tang Lung, leading south from the summit. Yes, v rough, and steep; care needed.