When Monday rolled round, it was time for us to venture across Victoria Harbour and explore Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong’s second biggest island is a densely populated mass of skyscrapers, colonial relics and legendary landmarks, with a few peaceful green spaces thrown in for good measure.
After a hearty breakfast of dim sum at Dragon Feast Restaurant – involving an inadvertent run in with “deep fried spring rolls with shrimp and cheese” – Laurence and I set off for the MTR. Destination: the Central to Mid-Levels Escalator. I know what you’re thinking – she went all the way to Hong Kong to go up an escalator? Now, I’m not an escalator enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination – but becoming part of this 800m-long moving walkway’s daily transportation statistics (50,000 people/day, if you were wondering) was a detour worth taking, if only for the novelty of viewing Hong Kong Island’s bustling thoroughfares from above. It’s also the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system, if you needed another reason to visit.
Our next stop was Man Mo Temple (124-6 Hollywood Road). Its unassuming façade hid a space filled with ornate lanterns emitting a soft golden glow, hanging incense coils and alters bedecked with figurines, flowers and incense sticks.
Following a brief stop-off at Pacific Coffee for a Mango Mania Frappuccino, we made our way to Duddell Street Gas Lamps. After WW2, gas lamps throughout the SAR were slowly replaced by electric lamps. These four gas lamps, declared a statutory monument in 1979, are the last remaining gas lamps and serve as a beacon of Hong Kong’s past.
A short walk and a few wrong turns later, we caught a glimpse of Government House, as featured in His Excellency, Governor Wallace by Alexander Wilson – a book I proofread at an internship last summer, and would highly recommend. Originally constructed in a colonial-renaissance style, the white-washed residence was remodelled during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WW2; it’s now the official residence of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
Wandering uphill, we came to the entrance of Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens; naturally, a stroll through the aforementioned gardens then ensued, complete with deafening croaks from the resident amphibians. Besides the bamboo grove, centrepiece fountain and flowerpot-scarecrow, the gardens also housed gibbons, tortoises and the largest orangutans I’ve ever seen.
Our next stop was Hong Kong Park, a shady garden and mosquito haven. As viewpoint devotees, we first climbed the hundred-odd steps to the top of the aptly-named Vantage Point. From there, we had a spectacular view of the rest of the park and the surrounding skyscrapers.
We then ventured down to the artificial lake, the surface of which was covered by enormous lily pads. Terrapins lazed on the rocks, soaking up the afternoon sun, and enormous koi carp clustered together just below the lake’s surface.
Back at the Peak Tram Lower Terminus, the queue had doubled in size since we passed it en route to Hong Kong Park. There was nothing to do but grin and bear it, in the company of a woman who was – somewhat disgustingly, to put it mildly – spewing shreds of pear all over the place as she ate. Since its inauguration in 1888, the Peak Tram has carried millions of passengers to the top of Victoria Peak, all whilst maintaining a spotless safety record. Due to its extreme popularity, we had to stand on the way up which meant that we weren’t able to fully appreciate the “Peak Tram Illusion”, whereby buildings appear to tilt towards The Peak.
Once at the top, we did a recce of the Tourist Information (housed, appropriately, within a former tram) and bought ice cream at Gino’s Gelato before setting off on a circular walk around Victoria Peak. Though on the pricey side, the gelato was super-tasty; I had lychee and apricot, while Laurence opted for mango and Hong Kong milk tea.
The crowds thinned as soon as we joined the trail and before we knew it the trees cleared to reveal spectacular panoramas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
As we rounded the western tip of Victoria Peak, the sun was setting over the outlying islands.
All too soon, we rejoined the hordes of tourists and made our way up to Sky Terrace 428. Though the view was undoubtedly stunning, we both concluded that the severe overcrowding was thoroughly unpleasant and best left to more tolerant people. Next time, we’ll be sticking to the trail for those illuminated night shots of Hong Kong’s skyline!
- From 10.30am to midnight, the Central to Mid-Levels escalator transports people uphill; first thing in the morning it takes commuters down the hillside into Central. As it’s a series of escalators and walkways, you can hop off at any point to explore the alleyways, cafés and food stalls which line the route.
- If you can bear forgoing the souvenir ticket, paying for the Peak Tram by Octopus card can save you some queuing time; the return fare is HK$40 (£4).
- Sky Terrace 428 is, in my honest opinion, an attraction best left to the selfie-wielding, over-excited verging on pushy tourist-types. Being none the wiser we paid the HK$48 (£4.80) to go up, but it felt like being in a zoo exhibit, albeit with a stunning view. My advice? Skip Sky Terrace 428 and take a leisurely stroll around The Peak instead – you’ll get equally spectacular views, without the crowds.