A full three quarters of Hong Kong is countryside, something that often surprises visitors expecting nothing but concrete jungle. Beyond the high-rise buildings of Kowloon lie pristine beaches, beautiful hiking trails and manicured green spaces, as well as a treasure trove of the region’s most surprising sights. Pink dolphins, secret gardens and the remnants of notorious shanty towns can all be found outdoors in Hong Kong – if you know where to look.
Converted slums and makeshift shrines
None of Hong Kong’s gardens have a history quite like that of Kowloon Walled City Park. The park was once the site of one of the the city’s most notorious neighbourhoods, a residential estate overrun by vice and crime. In the 1990s the government tore the shanty town down and replaced it with this park, which still retains crumbling city walls dating back to the 16th century (and a small historical exhibit on the Walled City).
Meanwhile at Waterfall Bay Park, you can find a makeshift shrine populated by thousands of statues of Buddha and various gods. It’s reportedly the work of an elderly man who collects discarded Buddhist and Taoist deity statues, restores them and places them at the bottom of the park’s stairs, creating a “sea” of small gods that face towards the ocean.
Secret gardens and monster buildings
With neon lights and nonstop action, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong is a photographer’s dream. But one of the city’s best photo ops is away from the hustle and bustle, in a tranquil – but temporary – oasis. Each spring, a 30-metre-long arched tunnel trellis inside the Un Chau Estate housing complex blooms into a living tunnel of bright pink bougainvillea, drawing photographers and other urbanites who come to stroll through the hidden garden.
Across the harbour on Hong Kong Island, you’ll find an attraction of a different kind: Quarry Bay’s “Monster Building”, a giant apartment complex that captures the city’s unique urban density. Films like Transformers: Age of Extinction and Ghost in the Shell have filmed scenes at these E-shaped towers, which are so interconnected and packed in tight that, as you stand at the base and peer up, you see only a tiny U-shape of sky. You’ll have to settle for getting an eyeful of the apartment building from its courtyard – photography at the site has recently been banned.
Pirate caves and pink dolphins
There’s more to do on Hong Kong’s harbour than just ride a junk boat (but we highly recommend doing that as well). Explore the region’s outlying islands, including a trip to Cheung Chau, where 19th century pirate Cheung Po Tsai is said to have left treasure in a cave that visitors can inspect for hidden spoils.
If you’re lucky, a trip out on the water might even grant you a look at one of Hong Kong’s rare pink dolphins, which became an official mascot for the city during the 1997 handover to China. It’s estimated that just over 100 of the mammals live in the city’s waters but they can be seen on the eco-friendly dolphin-watching cruises that are scheduled year round.