With a small landmass and a population of seven million, Hong Kong’s busy streets and modern skyscrapers coexist side by side with its mountains, country parks and hiking trails. This proximity to nature has bred a unique culture – call it ‘Hong Kong-style hiking’ – in which friends meet up on a sunny weekend morning, spend a few hours hauling themselves across one of the city’s many mountains, and then head back down to the city for a late lunch or afternoon tea.
There’s a history to Hong Kong’s love of hiking. A century ago, a large part of the city’s population lived on the steep hillsides of the city. Popular paths we know today, such as the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail and the Tung Mui Ancient Path, were used to transport goods to market, not for recreation.
But as more and more Hongkongers moved from rural to urban areas in the 1970s, hiking became one of the city’s favourite outdoor activities. The introduction of long-distance footpaths like the MacLehose, Lantau and Wilson Trails granted residents unlimited, and convenient, access to nature. When I was young, I went hiking with my family on a weekly basis. By the time I was eight, I’d already conquered some of the city’s most famous trails, and built a reputation as a sporty kid. And my love of hiking continues to this day. Like many of my peers, I see hiking as a way to hang out with friends and family – while getting some fresh air and exercise in as well.
One thing I’ve noticed while attending hiking events across Asia and Europe is that overseas climbers are always surprised by how light we pack. Compared to their hiking equipment – which usually includes several days’ worth of clothing, food and other essentials, all stuffed into an oversized rucksack – Hongkongers seem totally underprepared for the occasion, with just a smartphone, a water bottle and a few light snacks. We’re spoiled by the clear signage – and easy access to convenience stores.
The popularity of hiking is showing no signs of stopping in the social media age, thanks to Japanese yama (‘mountain’) style, a subculture that encompasses everything from outdoor activity to functional clothing to a minimalist approach to living. These days we’re all sharing images of ‘mountain life’ online, showing off that contrast between Hong Kong’s concrete jungle – and its natural one.