There are hikes, and then there are hikes – those that push you beyond your limits; those that demand more from you; those that stay with you long after you’ve washed off the grime from the trail. Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak, when done together as one thru hike, fall decidedly into the latter category. We’d ummed and ahhed over whether or not to conquer the two of them in one fell swoop, and ultimately decided it was the best option for our itinerary, as it freed up a day later in our trip for adventures elsewhere.
We woke to the faint but all too familiar buzz of our alarms, dressed quickly, pulled on our boots and set off for Sheung Shui MTR. Upon arrival at Central MTR, we sped off towards the piers as fast as our vertically-challenged legs could carry us (read: just fast enough to make the next crossing).
Save for a quick trip to 7-Eleven for some last-minute supplies, we didn’t spend any time exploring Mui Wo before hitting the trail. Our guidebook recommended catching a bus to the trailhead, but some pre-trip Googling reassured us that we could just as easily head over on foot, so that’s just what we did.
At the trailhead, we picked up signposts to Pak Kung Au via Sunset Peak. For the first kilometre or so, the trail passes through woodland. The Nam Shan Tree Walk features lots of plaques with information on the trees and plants found in the area, and we found ourselves pausing every now and again to read those which had piqued our interest. The first chunk of the trail was steep but shaded, and involved lots and lots of steps (a hallmark of Hong Kong’s trails, and something my knees really disliked).
Eventually, the trees gave way to open grassland and we caught our first glimpse of the peaks which lay ahead. Looking back, we could see Pui O Beach tucked between the headlands, and Cheung Chau in the distance. Having put the many, many steps behind us (for the time being, at least), we took advantage of the fact that the path had flattened out and picked up the pace.
Scattered along the path leading to the summit were two dozen or so boarded-up bungalows from the colonial days. Information on the history of these concrete cabins is fairly scant, with some sources saying they were holiday homes for the wealthy and others suggesting they were rural retreats built by missionaries. If staying in unusual auberges is your sort of thing then you’re in luck, for a couple of the cabins can be rented out for the night through the Sunset Peak Volunteer Unit; see this (slightly dated) article from The Independent for more information.
Conscious that time was marching on and we had a fair distance ahead of us, we pushed on towards the summit of Sunset Peak. The Lantau Trail loops around the summit, instead of crossing it, and we inadvertently missed the turn-off (if indeed there was one). Scanning the hillside, we picked out a well-trodden, dirt path that would take us over the little hillock to our right and onto the summit. We can’t have been the only ones to have missed the turning, for people seemed to be approaching the summit from all directions.
At 869m, Sunset Peak is Hong Kong’s third-highest mountain. As you would expect, it commands spectacular views not only of Lantau Island but also of Kowloon, the Outlying Islands and, on the clearest of days, Macau. We lunched at the summit – another tasty raisin bun for me, and more of those trusty chocolate wafers – and then began our descent to Pak Kung Au.
Pak Kung Au is a pass which runs through the valley between Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak, connecting the northern and southern sides of Lantau Island. If you’re ending your hike here, you’ll find bus stops on either side of the road, with services running to both Mui Wo and Tung Chung. If, like us, you’re intent on bagging the two peaks in one day, another steep ascent lies ahead . . .
Undeterred by the insane number of stone steps leading up the hillside in front of us, we ploughed on, stopping every so often for a water-and-wafer break. Before long, we were clear of the trees and the path to the summit stretched out in front of us, a sandy ribbon of exposed earth and stone.
As we approached the peak, we caught sight of West Dog’s Teeth, a hike which had been on our radar but which we didn’t get round to on this occasion. Beyond it, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge disappeared into the haze.
Atop Lantau Peak, we could roughly trace our entire route, from the hills above Mui Wo in the east to the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery a little further west. Lantau Peak is only a smidge higher than Sunset Peak at 934m, but the sheer number of steps climbed to reach the summit make it feel much higher!
With both peaks under our proverbial belts, we set off for Ngong Ping. After spending the best part of six hours on an exposed trail, it was a relief to find the path leading to Ngong Ping was mostly shaded. By the time we reached Ngong Ping, it was close to 17:00, and the sun was edging its way towards the horizon.
Having hiked some eighteen-odd kilometres, our first port of call was not the Tian Tan Buddha, but rather an unassuming café’s fridge filled with cold drinks. Cans of (full fat) Coke in hand, we hauled our weary legs up the steps (all 200-odd of them) to the Tian Tan Buddha (also known simply as the Big Buddha, and for good reason as it’s absolutely humungous). Unveiled in 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha still holds its title as the tallest seated bronze Buddha statue in the world.
We hadn’t had the foresight to check the bus timetable to Tung Chung, and therefore found ourselves joining a hideously long queue for Ngong Ping 360. We were both dead on our feet after a full day of hiking, and when we finally boarded a cable car an hour later, we promptly collapsed in our seats.
- Ferries to Mui Wo run every half an hour or so from Central Piers, Pier 6. Check the timetable on the official New World First Ferry website by clicking here. A one-way journey on the ordinary (aka slow) ferry takes about an hour and costs HKD$15.9 with an Octopus card (as of March 2018).
- From Mui Wo Ferry Pier, it’s a 2km (approx. 25-30 minute) walk to the trailhead. Turn right immediately upon exiting the pier. At the roundabout turn left onto S Lantau Road, and follow this road up the hill towards Nam Shan. The entrance to the Lantau Trail will be on your right.