Known for its dizzying skyscrapers and big-city buzz, Hong Kong is an intoxicating place to visit by any account. Just beyond the bright lights, however, a less hyped – and equally captivating – experience awaits intrepid families and travellers.
Hong Kong is famous for its shopping, dining and nightlife. But most travellers are often surprised to discover that the dense and bustling city is also a popular destination for nature-lovers. Almost 70% of the territory is unspoilt natural terrain. Plus, 40% of it officially protected by the government. Rugged mountains rise from sandy beaches and sleepy villages to heights of almost 1,000 metres. The hills are criss-crossed by a network of hiking trails and country parks. Yet the entire region covers an area only one-quarter the size of Sydney, making its natural wonders uniquely accessible to both locals and visitors.
The very first of these wonders can sometimes be seen before you even set foot on the ground. On a clear day, flying into Hong Kong International Airport from the west, a keen eye might spot one of the famed pink dolphins that inhabit the surrounding waters. The endangered dolphins can be viewed up close via regular boat tours. Just be sure to go with a reputable operator such as conservation-minded Hong Kong Dolphinwatch. They offer educational talks on every trip.
The dolphin trips run in the morning, so on the way back, consider a detour to sleepy Tai O. This is one of the most unique traditional fishing villages in Hong Kong. The village is a maze of canals and stilt houses, with plenty to discover along its winding boardwalks and waterways. Find your way back to Central by bus and ferry for unbeatable views of the coastline and city.
Back on dry land, a visit to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden is perfect for families with young children. On the steep northern slope of Tai Mo Shan, 148 hectares of organic farming terraces, landscaped gardens and natural forest is waiting to be explored. The Farm encourages visitors to explore their relationship with nature. Join seasonal events from cherry-blossom viewing in spring to wild animal encounters and mindfulness workshops, or just have a wander and a picnic.
Meanwhile, older kids will find plenty to discover at Mai Po Nature Reserve. This wetland park on the China border sees tens of thousands of migratory birds each winter, and is home to a plethora of local wildlife year-round. Well-managed walking paths and bird hides allow visitors to explore at their leisure. Be sure to call ahead as the WWF-run conservation area has a daily visitor quota.
If you visit during the warmer months, your what-to-do-first is a no brainer. Head straight for one of Hong Kong’s many stunning beaches and soak up the subtropical climate. For the adventurous, Tai Long Wan beach in Sai Kung sets the gold standard. The beach is accessible only by hike or boat, but worth the effort. It’s surrounded by lush green hills and completely secluded from civilisation. The white sands and warm clear waters are unparalleled.
With younger children or shorter itineraries, Repulse Bay beach on Hong Kong Island is a great option. It’s just 20 minutes by bus or taxi from the chaos of Central, and has plenty of play areas and facilities to ensure a stress-free beach day for all.
With such diverse terrain, it’s no surprise that Hong Kong offers some mighty fine hiking, including plenty of family-friendly trails. One of the best known – and for good reason – is the Dragon’s Back, named for the undulating mountain ridge that it follows. Do it for the unbeatable views across Hong Kong Island, and reward your efforts with cold drinks and local snacks at Big Wave Bay beach, where the path finishes.
Start early to avoid crowds on the popular trail, but feel free to linger over lunch. Like so many of Hong Kong’s green experiences, your trip back to the city is only a short bus or taxi ride, leaving plenty of time to plan out the next day’s adventures.
Best activities by season
Hop on a ferry to one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands for a chilled-out day trip that leaves the urban bustle behind. One great pick is Cheung Chau, a quiet, barbell-shaped pedestrian island with winding trails and a charming village where you can try traditional local snacks.
For the ultimate Hong Kong summer experience, hire a junk boat. Pile on some drinks and snacks, and spend the afternoon cruising and splashing in the warm waters of the South China Sea. For extra credit with the kids, ask for the inflatable slide or banana boat option to enhance the experience.
Rent bicycles near the Sha Tin MTR station and take in the coastline on two wheels. Take advantage of the well-paved, easy bike paths along Tolo Harbour, and stop for food at one of the local eateries along the route.
Visit one of the many organic farms that dot Hong Kong’s New Territories, and pick your own strawberries to bring back. Many of the farms are family-run businesses, and other activities on offer range from baking bread to petting baby goats.
What you need to know
Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Virgin and Hong Kong Airlines offer direct flights from Australia.
Best for kids aged
Families of all sizes will find plenty to do with kids of any age.
Best time to go
Subtropical Hong Kong is a year-round destination, however June to August can get very humid.
This story was first published in the Autumn 2019 issue of Family Travel magazine, written by Nissa Marion