Hitting the Hong Kong Trail: Dragon’s Back

Hong Kong has miles upon miles of hiking trails, but perhaps the most popular amongst visitors is Dragon’s Back. Whether you’re a Lonely Planet lover or a DK Top 10 devotee, you’ll almost certainly have stumbled upon a passage or two on this well-loved walk as you flicked through your guidebook (or a bookshop’s – I’m not judging) ahead of your trip. I’ve been there, hiked the trail and would happily do so again tomorrow if it weren’t for the fact I’m now 5,000+ miles away.

Dragon’s Back forms part of Section 8 of the Hong Kong Trail, one of four long distance trails in Hong Kong (the others being the Lantau Trail, MacLehose Trail and Wilson Trail). There are several ways to access the trail, and many hikers choose to round off their hike at either Big Wave Bay or Shek O Beach. We decided to hike Dragon’s Back in a southerly direction, and followed Hike Hong Kong’s directions to the trailhead.

We woke bright and early, bought buns from a local bakery for later and beetled off to the MTR. Coming from Sheung Shui, it took us around an hour and fifteen to reach Chai Wan; needless to say, it’ll be a much faster journey if you’re staying centrally.

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From Chai Wan MTR, the only way was up: up the busy, main thoroughfare, up a road skirting the edge of Shek O Country Park, up the seemingly endless steps which cut through Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. After taking a moment (or two) to catch our breath, we carried on up a short, shaded trail which led to the Hong Kong Trail.

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We followed signs to Tai Tam Gap, and soon picked up signs for Dragon’s Back (complete with a snazzy coloured dragon on them). Foliage fringes the path for the first few hundred metres or so, but, as the saying goes, good things (or in this case, views) come to those who wait.

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Big Wave Bay
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Shek O

Soon enough, the trail opens out, offering stellar views of Big Wave Bay, Shek O, Tai Tam, Stanley and the South China Sea. (You’ve probably seen the classic shot of the trail snaking over the ridge towards the sea; it’s in almost every guidebook.) Aquamarine waters lapped at the pristine, crescent-shaped beaches beneath us; vivid green shrubs and plants cloaked the hills.

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Dragon’s Back snaking towards the South China Sea
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Tai Tam Harbour
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Towards Stanley

Skyscrapers cling to the periphery of Shek O Country Park, peeking over the crests of the hills. To the south, there’s nothing but a smattering of islands rising out of the deep blue sea.

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As one of Hong Kong’s most popular hikes – if not its most popular – Dragon’s Back attracts a fair number of hikers, even on weekdays. Most of the other hikers we came across were hiking from Shek O towards Big Wave Bay; hiking in the opposite direction to them meant that we had parts of the trail to ourselves, which made for a much more enjoyable experience. I dread to think how busy Dragon’s Back must get at weekends! Following a short pit-stop at Shek O Peak, we rejoined the trail, which wiggled along the ridge and eventually descended towards Shek O Road.

Since we were doing well for time, we decided to make a detour to Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve, located at the very south-eastern tip of Hong Kong Island. We turned left onto Shek O Road, then right onto Cape D’Aguilar Road; from here, it was simply a case of following the road all the way down the hill to the coast. Beside the road, lounging in the shade, were a number of (what we presumed to be) stray dogs. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of dogs (sheepdogs and border collies excepted) so I scuttled past as quickly as possible. On our way back, Laurence attempted to take a photo of them and, well, let’s just say those doggies weren’t all that keen on the idea and almost cornered him.

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Cape D’Aguilar

Cape d’Aguilar Marine Reserve turned out to be a rather nice spot for a late lunch, as it had beautiful views and none of the crowds we’d come across on the trail. We scrambled up onto the rocks, and promptly tucked into our picnic (slightly melted chocolate wafers and tasty char siu buns, if you were interested).

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Cape D’Aguilar

We happened upon Cape D’Aguilar purely by chance when we were doing some pre-trip research, and while I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it, it’s worth a detour if you’re in the area, as it can be easily combined with Dragon’s Back.

Conscious that the clock was ticking, and that we wanted a little time to explore Shek O before calling it a day, we decided it was time to hit the road. We quickly discovered that whilst Cape D’Aguilar Road was almost devoid of traffic, the same couldn’t be said for Shek O Road: taxis whizzed round the bends and buses sped along at full pelt.

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The quaintest letterbox I ever did see

We had just enough time for a stroll around Shek O and along the beach (with a can of ice-cold Coke in hand), before catching the bus back to Shau Kei Wan and the MTR on to Sheung Shui. Fortunately, our legs weren’t feeling too weary – we’d clocked in just over 20km on this hike, and were planning to hit the trails again the very next day!

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Shek O Beach

Tips:

  • Dragon’s Back isn’t a particularly taxing hike – provided you’re not contending with the sky high humidity levels in the height of summer – but you should still come prepared. Wear suitable shoes, and pack sufficient food and water supplies.
  • Bus #9 runs from Shau Kei Wan to Shek O, via the trailhead for Dragon’s Back. In March 2018, a single journey cost HKD$6.9 (c. 70p) with an Octopus card.
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