Time Magazine listed the Dragon’s Back as the best urban hike in the world. How could a hike ever live up to that kind of over-the-top expectation? Dragon’s Back is truly a phenomenal way to experience the legendary beauty of the islands of Hong Kong, but it’s not exactly the hike Magalie and I were expecting. Now, if you’re thinking you’re going to stop reading here because you’re not interested in “the outdoors” or hiking: don’t! To call Dragon’s Back a hike is an over-exaggeration. Dragon’s Back is a total cakewalk. Seriously! This walk would be comfortable for a toddler, your great grandma and everyone in between. The iconic photos you see when you do a google image search are a mere 20-minute walk from the bus stop. Twenty minutes! Twenty minutes and you can be atop The Dragon’s Back, overlooking a multidue of islands floating in the South China Sea.
There are a few more things to clear up about this so-called Dragon’s Back walk. Blogs, online guides and even the tourist pamphlets picked up at the airport list the Dragon’s Back as a “moderately difficult 6-hour hike.” Whooee! I don’t even know where to begin critiquing this assessment. At the trailhead, there is an ominous sign warning you of the challenges ahead, recommending that only experienced hikers proceed. This warming is false, even by the most conservative of standards. The trail map lists Shek O Peak, at a mere 284 meters, as a 1-2 hour hike from the trailhead. Magalie and I were casually strolling along the path, stopping to take tons of photos. It took us less than 45 minutes. To complete the entire course at a moderately slow pace from Dragon’s Back to Shek O took us about 3 hours.
If you want to relax at the beach, Big Wave Bay is the perfect spot to lay down post-hike. Not only was the beach beautiful, but the throngs of surfers provide endless entertainment. Shek O Village and Headway are worth a trip in and of themselves. Not only does the village have the charm of a small, country beach town out in the boonies, the Headway provides amazing views of Dragon’s Back, Shek O, Big Wave Bay and Hong Kong proper. We wound our way through the small village streets intending to head straight for the beach. Instead, we found ourselves passing through a suddenly affluent neighborhood and following signs for the “Headway” without any idea where we were going. When we reached the sea, we descended onto a path that had us climbing up and over huge boulders jutting out in the ocean. On the Headway, there are ample sweet spots to sprawl out on rocks and enjoy the truly unbelievable 360 views. Another bonus to this day trip: transportation is neither time consuming nor painful in any way. Door to door from Kowloon to the trailhead was under 1 hour. The close proximity of diverse locations in Hong Kong are one of the things that made it such an enjoyable vacation.
Calling this hike “Dragon’s Back” is a total misnomer. It gives you the impression you will be walking along a ridge with breathtaking views flanking either side of the trail for the majority of the hike. This is not the case. Shortly after reaching Shek O Peak, you descend down a flight of stair and into the forest. It continues to be a nice trail, but not nearly as stunning. You do not remerge for a view. In fact, you remain in the forest until you descend into Big Wave Bay. From Big Wave Bay, your hike is pretty much over. You can follow the paved road for about 20 minutes until you reach Shek O Village.
Night Hike at Victoria Peak
Every single guide you will read inevitably guides you to The Peak. While we had originally planned on visiting the aforementioned Victoria Peak during the day, along with the hoards of tourists, we decided to trade our plans for going out on the town for a night hike. We originally planned to hike up to the peak, but when we arrived, it was already pitch black and we were unable to guide ourselves in the appropriate direction. We took a bus to the top, essentially bypassing the route the gondolas would take during the day. Since it was already quite late, the loop that goes around the peak was deserted and could enjoy the light show below in total solidarity. It was a super fun, relaxing alternative to forking out major moolah for shots of tequila- or alternatively paying to take the Gondola and paying to go to the top of Peak Tower. An awesome way to spend our first night in Hong Kong.
Claire, Shek O is one of my favourite spots on Hong Kong Island – to me it has the best beach on the South Side. And it’s barely 35 minutes by bus from the closest MTR station (Shau Kei Wan). I recently had my best friend visiting over Chinese New Year and this is where I took him on that first day; we also went to the top of that headland past the big houses and blue bridge.
And you’re totally right about Dragon’s Back, it is one of the easier hikes we have. Definitely only a serious undertaking for those used to a sedentary lifestyle. Next time you come, try the ones across Lantau and the New Territories… some of those are big with the ultrarunning community here.
My absolute favourite though is the hike to/from Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung. It has four gorgeous beaches, each one more beautiful than the last, and there’s a fantastic beachside restaurant too. If you plan it well the walk-in is just 1 hour 30 minutes of easy hiking, and the walk out is about 2 hours with some switchbacks; nothing too difficult although it can get sweaty. I published a post on it just now so feel free to have a look. 🙂
Thanks for the comment, James! I’ll check out your post. I can’t wait to go back and do more hikes around Hong Kong!