When you're thinking of Hong Kong, activities like hiking, biking and lazy days on the beach don't usually spring to mind.
But step off the bustling city streets and the great outdoors are closer than you think.
While the glittering skyline suggests otherwise, Hong Kong has a lot to offer when it comes to the outdoors and nature, and here's how to access it.
Beaches of Hong Kong
You'd be hard-pressed to find white sandy beaches near other major financial centres but on Hong Kong Island, a whole new world awaits just beyond the mountains.
A dip in the clean ocean waters off Hong Kong Island's scenic eastern end offers a welcome and unexpected respite from the city’s humidity.
Despite its name, Big Wave Bay Beach offers calm water swimming in a lovely bay. A popular spot for windsurfing, the beach is now a national monument and features protected prehistoric rock carvings. Discovered in 1970, the rock carvings depict geometric designs and animal shapes.
Light refreshments can be found at surrounding eateries.
How to get there: Take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan Station, Exit A3. Take bus 9 to Big Wave Bay Beach.
Parks and Gardens
You don’t have to travel far for a change of pace in the city with lovely parks and gardens surrounding the metropolis where locals go to play chess or practice tai chi.
Hong Kong Park, for example (19 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong Island) is an oasis of green between the skyscrapers.
Water has been used as a thematic motif to link various features of the park with waterfalls, streams, ponds and cliffs also attracting plenty of wildlife.
Inside the park there’s an aviary, a greenhouse, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre.
Join one of the early morning bird-watching tours held every Wednesday, and hosted by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society.
Victoria Park, (1 Hing Fat Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island) is located next to Causeway Bay. This beautiful green space makes for a welcome break from shopping.
During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the park is filled with colourful glowing lanterns hanging from the trees. During Chinese New Year, the park also features a pop-up flower market.
You will be surprised at how close you are to downtown on one of the many cycling routes.
Pedal your way along the winding river pathways that provide scenic ocean and mountain views. Voted one of Hong Kong’s top 10 bicycle routes, the popular Sha Tin to Tai Mei Tuk track is approximately 22-kilometres long and takes around three hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
The clearly marked route takes you around the edges of Tolo Harbour, past Shing Mun River, ending on the dam wall at Tai Mei Tuk. At the end of the route, continue another 8-kilometres to the foot of Pat Sin Leng, where you can relax at one of the many cafés in the idyllic seaside village or on the huge dam of Plover Cove Reservoir.
There are bike rental shops in Tai Wai, Sha Tin Park, Tai Po Waterfront Park and Tai Mei Tuk.
Admire the natural landforms at the New Territories and the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock Region and at Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark.
For the best geological views, make your way to High Island for the hexagonal volcanic columns along the coast. The rock column wall is located near the East Dam of High Island Reservoir.
The volcanic-rock coast of Tai Long Wan was voted by locals as one of ‘Hong Kong’s Top 10 Natural Attractions’.
Sharp Island is the relic of an ancient super-volcano that erupted more than 140 million years ago. To the west of the island, there is a natural bridge that forms a 250-metre- long sand bar which connects Sharp Island to the nearby Kiu Tau Island.
At Double Haven, the 500-metres of thick red sedimentary rock was formed over 160-million years ago. Natural rivers washed sand and stone to coastal lowlands, producing a colourful landscape.
For bird-lovers, don’t miss the Mai Po Nature Reserve, where the wetlands see around 90,000 migratory birds take refuge in the marshes and mudflats. Over 380 species of birds flock here annually, including the rare and endangered Saunders Gull and black-face Spoonbill. Be on the lookout for otters, crabs, mudskippers, shrimp and fish during spring and autumn when the birds arrive to feed.
Lantau Island is home to The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, an impressive structure that houses the giant 34-metre high bronze Buddha statue.
Sitting on top of the hill, Po Lin Monastery is one of Hong Kong’s most important sanctums. Home to devout monks who practice their faith among beautiful gardens, be sure to stop by their kitchen for a traditional vegetarian lunch.
The small island of Cheung Chau has plenty of attractions, including caves, lookouts, temples and beaches, but the quirky Cheung Chau Bun Festival is the major attraction on the calendar.
Each year thousands flock to the island to celebrate and watch the annual Bun Scrambling Competition. What started as a Taoist ritual over a century ago, is still a popular local event.
The week-long program includes Taoist ceremonies and music, a parade, lion dances, drum beating and the exciting Bun Scrambling Competition, where competitors scramble up a towering bamboo tower, collecting as many buns as they can. The higher they go, the more points each bun is worth.