Having now lived in Hong Kong for just over 18 months hiking should be an important part of my life. Friends constantly exchange favourite trails or photos of scenic summit views over whatsapp groups. I don’t. I have been on a grand total of four hikes during my time in Hong Kong; one was a night hike with a group on social site Meetup (I hated it, it was dark and steep), one was to Tai Long Wan – you can read my account here, Dragons Back which really is a must do (and surprisingly enjoyable) and this one, Monkey Mountain.
If there is anything which is going to get me out of bed and into fitness gear on a Sunday morning it’s the promise of monkeys.
The wild animals live in Kam Shan County Park in New Territories, halfway between Hong Kong Island the northern border with Shenzhen.
To describe the climb as ascending Monkey Mountain is probably pushing it a bit. The hike appears frequently on the ‘Easiest hikes in Hong Kong ‘ lists which now make up a decent percentage of my internet history.
The climb is little more than 300ft which gives you lovely views south across New Territories and on a clear day you can see ICC in Kowloon. Although much of the trail has little by the way of views it is peaceful and the quiet is a welcome break from the city. As with the best out of city escapes the air tastes a little fresher and you forget you live in a rock with 7 million others. The walk down you lose the sights but you have the jungle which takes you out of the sun, something I imagine will be a relief once you are in the full swing of a Hong Kong summer.
The easiest way to the start of the road is the MTR to Jordan, exit D. Cross over and walk for about 10 minutes down Nathan road until you reach the bus stop outside Kowloon Government Buildings. From there take the KMB 81 bus and get off at Kowloon reservoir. Walk straight along the road (do not be tempted to cross the bridge at the bus shelter) until you reach Golden Hill road about 100m down on the left. Start walking down along the reservoir – the beginning of the road is across the bridge.
The walk along the reservoir is far and away the most beautiful part of the hike.The road winds along the shore, passing a waterfall before rising slowly above the waterline.
That said you really have to be a fan of monkeys; even with the scenery they are the main show. In total there are around 2,000 macaques monkeys in the county park down from 2,400 in 2009 and you see them all along the route.
It is thought the monkeys were released into the wild during the First World War around 1910. The release is thought to be related to the construction of Kowloon reservoir which completed in 1913. Strychnos plants surrounding the reservoir were thought to be poisonous to humans but form part of the macaques’ diet. They were introduced to the environment to eat the plants before they contaminated the water supply.
Directly opposite Golden Hill road, on the other side of the main road, is a steep climb upwards which leads to a water tank at the top of the hill – we know because we walked up lamenting the accounts of the hike labelling it as a ‘slow climb’.
The water tank does offer great views across the reservoir but is ultimately a dead end and you have to pass bemused locals as you walk back down the hill as they are well aware it leads to nowhere.
Once you are on the right path you will come across signs for the Eagle’s Nest nature trail – that’s a different hike which we chose not to investigate. The road you take forms part of the Maclehose trail, stage 6, and as such has helpful markers along the way.
Be warned, there are monkeys at the bus stop all ready and waiting to be fed by eager reservoir walkers as soon as you get off. Do not feed them. Although it is a guaranteed way to attract their attention they will follow you for more or, as we foolishly discovered, if you tease them with rustling paper and then hide the snacks they will bare their teeth and hiss to show their displeasure at your false advertising.
However, aside from the snack-accident they are totally relaxed with humans, happy to pose for photos and generally unperturbed by your presence. Hiding in the trees there are often younger monkeys who are adorable and well worth looking out for.
They’re not afraid to come close and investigate you, casually sitting along the path waiting for a foolhardy walker to offer a treat. Along the route there are numerous picnic locations which although well intended seemed a little precariously placed when you consider the appetites of the mountain’s namesake.
The hike is an easy, meandering road up to the top before a fairly rapid descent down onto Shing Mun Road where you can get a number of buses going to Tsim Sha Tsui, or a taxi to Tai Wo Hau MTR station.
Overall the hike is an enjoyable amble. I would certainly recommend it as an introduction to hiking in Hong Kong and the views are enough to leave you wanting to climb higher, something I hope to do before the weather becomes too hot again. However, it is the monkeys who really make the trail and it is worth the journey to see them even if they are only interested in you for your food.