From Michael Kelly:
I am advised by Sai Kung resident Guy Shirra that a survey is currently being undertaken to identify historical boulder paths in Hong Kong, with a view to maintaining and preserving them for future generations.
I lived in Hong Kong for five years until 2010 and, with Guy’s encouragement, developed a great interest in Hong Kong’s boulder paths.
I am writing to you as I feel these pathways are a unique part of the city’s history that have been undervalued for too long and that this work is well overdue. Further, I feel the Hong Kong Government has failed to understand what a wonderful resource they literally have under their feet.
What other international city of Hong Kong’s standing has such a wonderful network of hiking trails and historical boulder paths on its doorstep?
I believe Hong Kong’s hiking trails are greatly under-promoted and have the potential to become a major tourist attraction for the city, making it a trail walking mecca with global appeal.
I regularly took visitors to Hong Kong on walks through the hills of Sai Kung and always received a very positive response. Visitors almost always only see and experience neon-lit, high-rise city, with its endless bars, restaurants and nightspots. However, they are usually amazed to discover a side to the city they never imagined and loved walking through hilly, jungle terrain through abandoned villages, and ancient paddy fields.
As mentioned, I feel the HK Government has failed to grasp the universal appeal of this side of the city and, most notably, the old boulder pathways.
I believe the historical, cultural and recreational potential of Hong Kong’s boulder pathways cannot by overestimated. They are a fantastic resource that could have broad appeal to the local Chinese and expatriate communities, as well as mainland Chinese and international tourists.
You just have to go out hiking on weekends to see how many people thoroughly enjoy getting out of the city environment into the hills where they can enjoy Hong Kong’s bush, wilderness, natural wildlife and fantastic views.
In an era when people are paying greater attention to their physical fitness, health and well-being than ever before, Hong Kong’s unique network of trails and boulder paths are ideal for trail walking, running and organised endurance events such as those run by the Action Asia group.
I sincerely hope the Hong Kong Government can recognise the significance of these natural assets, and devote sufficient money and resources to maximise the potential benefits that can be gained by rehabilitating and maintaining the old boulder trails on HK Island and in outlying territories and islands.
I suggest that you get Guy Shirra to show you the old boulder pathway running down toward Sai Kung town from Wong Chuk Yeung Village. Hacking away with machetes, we reclaimed most of it from the jungle a couple of years ago. It perfectly illustrates the wonderful old pathways that still exist and are waiting to be uncovered so everyone can enjoy them.
Work still needs to be done to fully repatriate this particular pathway but it includes some fascinating sections over creek beds and up hills that would have required a great deal of work when first built.
Guy and I also uncovered an old paddy field access pathway behind Nam A Village that runs up to the MacLehose Trail, and Guy previously opened up a boulder pathway that runs from Wo Liu Village up to the Maclehose trail.
Other pathways around Sai Kung also warrant further investigation.
The local Chinese community, history buffs and tourists would be fascinated to learn the history and background of Hong Kong’s boulder pathways.
It would be great if the history of specific trails could be established so that people can place into context what they’re walking over. For example, the old boulder pathway from Sai Kung to Sha Tin is wonderfully preserved and we do know that trips were often hazardous with roaming tigers and bandits preying on Sai Kung fishermen wheeling their catch over the hills. They would offer prayers in the town’s temple in an effort to safeguard their journey.
This kind of historical background would be greatly enjoyed by locals and tourist groups walking in the steps of the ancients on the self-same trails.
I believe there is great potential for tourism operators to establish trail walking tours that would include any old boulder trails as part of an historical network.
If maintained and operated well, I believe much of the city’s heritage trails and associated infrastructure could be financed by local and international tourism.
However, given the uniqueness of the city’s boulder pathways, there is also the potential to create a Trailwalker type of event to help finance their upkeep and even build a boulder trail visitors centre. It could include different runs/walks to suit elite athletes through to family groups.
The event could be run largely over historical boulder trails and/or linking trails where necessary.
Given the historical/cultural nature of such an event, I would suggest that it be based on a journey that local Chinese traditionally made taking produce to market, or perhaps even an event or religious festival run by locals in the past that involved trips along the old trails.
Thus, I would suggest that the relevant departments of the HK Government –
• Dig out any old maps or documents that address the pathways, markers and any other relevant infrastructure throughout HK and the islands. I would imagine there are maps dating back to the surveys conducted by the English in the early 1800’s.
• Document all existing trails
• Try to locate all overgrown trails no longer in use
• Clear and open up all trails still largely intact, and re-establish the trail networks as they were originally used
• Maintain the trails
• Develop maps in various languages that will allow locals and visitors to explore the trails
• Dig up any and all documented and oral history on the trails for inclusion in maps and documentation, and as a public record
• Include suggested walks of various degrees of length and difficulty using the boulder trails
• Develop a budget to undertake all of the above
SHING MUN REDOUBT & THE GIN DRINKERS LINE
While discussing the city’s tourism appeal, I believe that the Shing Mun Redoubt is the most glaringly ignored tourist attraction in the city. In my view it is criminal that this incredible and very well preserved reminder of the Second World War and the Japanese invasion has been ignored by the city.
Tourists would be fascinated to visit this facility and participate in guided tours of the tunnels, learning of the events that allowed the Japanese to over-run it in a day.
Further, there are parts of the Gin Drinkers Line that are still very well preserved and would also be of interest. For example, when climbing the MacLehose Trail up toward Ma On Shan there are sections of the old trench that run parallel to the trail and should at least be sign posted as many people have no idea what it is.
I would suggest that efforts be made to maintain parts of the trench system for inclusion in the city’s tourism infrastructure.
The Shing Mun Redoubt should also be full restored to rightfully become one of the city’s main tourist attractions.
I cannot stress enough the potential commercial, cultural and recreational appeal of the city’s boulder trails and hope that current efforts will lead to them achieving their proper significance.
However, this won’t be possible without a great deal of planning, effort, money and determination. I urge you to initiate the program needed to establish Hong Kong as a trail walking and running mecca, with the city’s ancient boulder trails the jewel in the hiking crown.
Please feel free to contact me should you wish to discuss any aspect of the points I have raised.