East Dam to Sai Wan: the hike I didn’t want to do

When I suggested going on a hike last weekend what I actually meant was a walk, a stroll or wander, nothing too taxing but with the reward of a waterfall at the end. Ideal.

The route we originally planned offered just that; a breezy 1.5km ending at Sai Wan beach then another 5/10 minutes to the waterfall behind. However, owing to a landslide earlier in the week the road to our starting point was blocked off and we had to go the long ( 7km) way round. A far cry from the jaunty amble I had envisaged.

The area where we planned to walk  is part of the Hong Kong Geo Park, with our hike going along section 2 of the Macelhose trail which loops around the High Island Reservoir.

Getting to the starting point from Hong Kong Island involves an MTR ride to Hang Hau Station and then onto the 101 minibus to Sai Kung. From Sai Kung it is just a short taxi ride into the national park – make sure you join the queue for the green taxis as the red ones aren’t allowed into the park.

We began at East Dam climbing 100m before dropping down to Long Ke Wan beach. Aside from being stunning and almost untouched the beach also has the benefit of a drinking water tap. There isn’t another one until you reach Sai Wan and so if you are hiking the trail in the summer I would advise filling up as many bottles as you can carry.

Water station #probsnotthecleanest

A post shared by nellie matthews (@nellie0o) on

 

I didn’t, and an hour later when my friend generously halved what was left of her water with me I came to regret the decision.

The trail winds round along the peninsula and you are rewarded for your efforts with breathtaking views looking both north and south. Living and working on Hong Kong Island it’s easy to forget the country is made up of 263 islands and become consumed by the 78.59km namesake at its center.

 I can’t count the number of times along the hike we, or other walkers on the route, said: “you can’t believe this is Hong Kong”. One Singaporean commented his friends visit for shopping, never to hike. The country’s natural beauty is one of its best kept secrets and selfishly, as well as for environmental protection, I hope it stays that way.

The highest point of the route is only 314m at the top of Sai Wan Shan mountain but in 35 degrees it feels a lot higher. Also beware, the are a number of ‘fake peaks’ along the way where you celebrate prematurely. This is short lived as you turn another corner to be faced with innumerable steps which (when you’re already debating how long it would take park rangers to find your body) is somewhat crushing.

 

Once you have climbed as high as you can, the descent is blissful and the views on the way down no less spectacular.   

 The walk is busy with wildlife too; we saw a snake, a lizard and innumerable vibrant butterflies during the 2 hour walk.  More worryingly since I returned, some basic research has revealed a fairly substantive list of dangerous local creatures including cobras, bamboo snakes and venomous biting giant centipedes. Good to know for next time!

As you approach Sai Wan beach cafes, which undoubtedly make a significant amount of their money from the ill prepared and thirsty like me, begin to appear at the side of the path.

Considering it was as sunny Saturday the beach was fairly empty by Hong Kong standards -deserted by UK standards. We had a leisurely lunch at the Oriental restaurant and bar on the beachfront – choosing the Singapore noodles which came highly recommended by the diner next to us and which I would, in turn, recommend.  

Then on to the waterfall which, if I’m honest, was the only part of this day I had been really interested in at the start. From the beach the fall and rock pools are a short 5 minute walk. Clambering up the pools to the waterfall however is a different story and requires some fairly nimble maneuvering along the rocks. To call it scrambling may be a little grandiose but it was certainly close.

 

The Sai Kung rock falls are made up of three main pools coming down from one waterpool. The first and largest pool is deep enough to dive into from the top of the fall and the constant stream of swimwear-clad enthusiasts who line up to jump, dive or flop make for brilliant viewing.  

It’s like the Olympics but with the genuine concern (or added thrill depending on how you look at it) someone could come to serious harm.

I admit I didn’t jump – a lifetime of clumsiness and an ill fitting bikini significantly increased the likelihood of something going very wrong. Instead I assumed the role of animated spectator, cheering on a diverse group of thrill seekers ranging from a teenage boy (who clearly had done this before and made no secret of his triple somersault abilities), to a pair of hikers who closed their eyes and jumped in on a count of three; trainers and all.

After a hot hike the pool is exactly what is needed – the perfect end goal. We had booked a speed boat to take us back to Sai Kung so rapidly running out of time grabbed our things and headed for the beach.

In my haste, I made the mistake of throwing my trainers ahead of me thereby leaving both hands free to scramble across the rocks. I missed. So in front of a small but growing crowd complete with camera phones, I rather sheepishly climbed down into the third pool and splashed around after my soggy shoe.

File_000 (3)
Sai Wan beach, Sai Kung

Despite this mishap we made it and clamoured onto the speedboat first , heading to the front.  Half an hour of manic laughter later as we were hurled into the air and down again by the boat on the choppy waters we were back. I can’t recommend sitting at the front enough.

The speed boat cost HK$130 and you can get it to and from Sai Kung and Sai Wan beach; an option we agreed we would choose next time.

That said, the hike was worth the views and I have no doubt the Singapore noodles tasted, and the rock pool felt, all the better for it.

You can go on as many junk boat trips as you like but they don’t show beyond the Island, I won’t be making that mistake any longer.

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