Tai Mo Shan is the tallest mountain in Hong Kong, and this is the time to tackle it.
It’s the time of year when we can spread the maps out, find the unexplored bits and head for the hills. With the lower temperatures and – with a bit of luck – clearer skies of winter it’s a perfect chance to really stretch our legs. This was my intention a few Sundays ago, accompanied by hubby and hound. Our aim: Tai Mo Shan – Old Big Head or, literally, Big Hat Mountain.
A quick trip north up Sai Sha Road, and we were soon at the Tai Po Kau Forest car park, easily accessible by taxi from Tai Po Market MTR. If you haven’t been there, you must. It’s a treasure trove of mature trees, shady glades and rushing streams, with butterflies, birds and larger fauna in abundance. (We know this from experience: Fergus – hound, not hubby – barking furiously, once sandwiched us between a family of ill-disposed wild boar and some large, well-toothed macaques.) Less antagonistic visitors can interact with the wildlife more peaceably, such as the camouflage-attired twitchers often seen here on the lookout for scarlet minivets and velvet-fronted nuthatches.
All the Tai Po Kau trails are well signposted in a clockwise direction. But for this walk you need to follow the brown trail anti-clockwise, or going backwards, so you need to start at the end of the trail. Climb up the short section of road from the car park and, at the warden’s post, take the lower unmarked road rather than the higher signposted one. That bit is important; it’s not hard if you start in the right place.
There’s a section of road for a kilometre or so, but then you have the joy of entering real forest. Follow the brown markers around the northern side of Grassy Hill, until the Forest Walk signpost, where you deviate off the trail to connect with the road to Lead Mine Pass. At the fork in the road, go right.
Stage 8 of the MacLehose Trail starts at the pass, and from there it’s a straightforward climb up Tai Mo Shan. It’s steep at first, but soon levels off. This section seems popular with local hikers, both muscle-bound, Lycra-clad Trailwalker types and the more cautious, swathed in scarves and teatowels, and equipped with hats, sunshades, knobbly sticks and Cantonese opera. The day we went, most groups were in raucous good humour. I prefer solitude outdoors, but the friendliness was salutary – such a contrast to impersonal malls.
Big Head didn’t have his cloudy hat on, offering a clear view of his strange headgear: an accumulation of radio, satellite and military installations. I guess he’s not so beautiful in that respect. But it’s worth making the summit trip on a clear day for the magnificent panorama that throws Hong Kong’s bumps and wrinkles into clear relief. From up here, you can see nearly all parts of the territory, and Shenzhen to boot, except for our own fair peninsula, which is blocked by Ma On Shan.
There are many options for the return trip, depending on how much gas is left in your tank. If you left a car at Tai Po Kau, try taking another route back down through the forest, perhaps even climbing Grassy Hill on the way. Or you can go over Needle Hill and past the Shing Mun reservoir (see the November issue). Or simply stroll sedately down Route Twisk to catch Bus 51 to Tsuen Wan MTR.
Pack some sarnies and get out there. The world’s our pearl-popping mollusk at this time of year.