If you like… monasteries and veggie feasts
Hike to a mountaintop monastery for a vegetarian lunch created by Buddhist monks, hop on a ferry for the short ride to Lantau Island. I opted to let the new cable car swish me 7.5 kilometres to the summit retreat. Once on top, I elbowed my way through a hive of gaudy commerce (like Ebeneezer's Kebabs and the Monkey's Tale Souvenir shop) toward the base of a giant, 25-metre-high bronze Buddha. It's tranquil within the traditional, ornate Po Lin Monastery and its dining hall where I could smell incense wafting as I tucked my chopsticks into a communal veggie feast (tofu and seitan stood in for chicken and pork). After-lunch options include walking off the calories on the three- to- four-hour trek back downhill - a pleasantly scenic though steep route - back to the ferry at Tung Chung, or hooking into part of the 75-kilometre-long Lantau Island Trail at the summit and to visit Tai O (a 15-km hike), a traditional fishing village built on stilts.
If you like… boardwalks and birds
Sign up in advance for a weekend-only trip to the World Wildlife Fund-managed Mai Po Nature Reserve for a stroll across boardwalks over lily ponds to spy on 300 species of exotic migratory birdlife (www.wwf.org.hk). On a three-hour walking tour of these far-flung wetlands in the New Territories, biologist guide Andy introduced us to a warren of trails to shrimp ponds, mudflats and mangrove forests. Then, alone in a hide with binoculars, I scoped out rare black-faced Spoonbills, Amur falcons and native Chinese leopard cats - all while keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants sneaking through the border fence on an unauthorized water route into Hong Kong's Special Administrative Region (SAR) from the mainland city of Shenzhen. www.wwf.org.hk
If you like… real urban jungles
Tarzan-calibre vines, banyan trees, psychedelic butterflies - all await uphill from central downtown. Hike (or catch the Peak Tram funicular railway) to the top of Victoria Peak, the lush green crown of Hong Kong Island. Ignore the summit shopping mall and head for the narrow colonial-era lanes like
Lugard and Old Peak Roads that wind around the Peak through a tropical thicket that buzzes with life. It's shocking to break out of the banyan trees and confront a dizzying view across endless skyscraper rooftops - at one point I realized I was level with the top floor of the new, 118-storey International Commerce Centre, at 484-metres Hong Kong's tallest building. For hard-core hikers, the Peak route links in with the popular 50-km Hong Kong Trail, a scenic and tortuous route toward the coast.
If you like… eating seafood on the shoreline
Catch the 30-minute ferry to the fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island. Pick one of the string of open-air seafood restaurants along the single main street then head around the beach on the trail that takes you past the Kamikaze Grottos that were allegedly dug by Japanese to hide in during the Second World War. The 2-hour, 6-km route zigzags up and down past pagodas and alongside beaches to the seaside Yung She Wan, an artsy Bohemian town with narrow streets lined with quirky boutiques and cafés that make it a favourite getaway for ex-pats. I settled into the waterfront Lambombe Seafood Restaurant for one of the best meals of my trip: Squid with chili and spicy salt, and a plate of steamed fish with ginger and spring onions.
If you like… white-sand beaches
End a trek on a white sand beach by following the Dragon's Back Trail along the spine of a narrow headland that winds its way 4.5 km along a peninsula to the ocean. I caught Catch a bus from Central to the trailhead in the low forest on the backside of Hong Kong Island. From there, follow the Dragon's Back Trail along the spine of a narrow headland and wind your way 4.5 km along a peninsula to the ocean. Crossing a few streams that were dry in winter, I reached the wide-open ridge with its panoramic views of the dark blue ocean, white-capped surfing beaches, distant seaside villages like Tai Tam and the very British outpost of Stanley. A short walk down the road from the end of the hike leads to the fishing village of Shek O where I chose the small, family-run Happy Garden Thai Restaurant from a string of open-air eateries, then curled my trail-sore toes into Shek O's deserted white-sand beach for the rest of the afternoon.
If you like… Asian wilderness
If you dream of a multi-day hike, consider even a short stretch of the 100-km MacLehose Trail, which traverses the New Territory along coastline and up and over the region's highest peaks. You can camp along the way, and it is conveniently divided into 10 hiking sections graded from easy to difficult. I did Section #4 - rated difficult. All I could think while slogging up gruelling Sino-Stairmaster stretches (with steps literally etched into the steep) was that every November Oxfam runs a Trailwalker fundraiser that brings thousands to try their luck at finishing all 100 km in just 48 hours! Named after avid hiker Sir Murray MacLehose, the longest-serving governor of Hong Kong, the diverse and winding route has strange hexagonal rock formations, a grove where macaques hang out, and a Second World War trench called the Gin Drinker's Line - appropriately, in a section marked "easy."
Special to The Globe and Mail
Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this story and the original newspaper version of this story provided incorrect information about Sir Murray MacLehose. This online version has been corrected.