The MacLehose Trail: Stages 1 and 2

Happy Chinese New Year! Wishing you all prosperity, happiness and health for the coming year. Speaking of which, I am currently bedridden after attempting to hike the MacLehose Trail over the Chinese New Year holiday.

When I try to walk I look like I’ve had an accident in my pants and the po pos with their bent backs and walking sticks tut as they overtake me.

Oh, the MacLehose Trail, you say? You can do it in three days! Hiking only 10 hours a day! MacLehose was the Bear Grylls of his time! (Ok, no one really said that.) Contrary to what we heard, it turned out that the trail was not what we expected as old Mac had a few tricks up his sleeve…

MacLehose Trail beach view

Who was MacLehose and why does he have a trail?

The MacLehose Trail is a 100-kilometre walk, divided into 10 stages, which stretches across the New Territories from the east coast to the west of Hong Kong. It starts in Sai Kung and ends in Tuen Mun. It’s one of the toughest, but also one of the best hikes in Hong Kong.

Sir Murray MacLehose was the longest-serving British governor of Hong Kong (1971-1882), who established the country parks and was supposedly an enthusiastic hiker himself.

Funnily enough, there is no evidence that he actually ever attempted the MacLehose Trail either in stages or in its entirety, though there are some references to him enjoying visits to Sai Kung in his private helicopter. How lovely.

The MacLehose Trail is also famous for the Oxfam Trailwalker, a fundraising event that takes place every November, where crazies endurance runners run and hike the whole thing in one go. It takes between 24 to 48 hours

(How do they eat? How do they sleep? And How do they see in the dark? Who are these ridiculous people?).

MacLehose Trail Sign

Getting to the start of the MacLehose Trail

We aimed to set off early, so we left North Point by taxi for Sai Kung around 5am, then took a second taxi to the entrance of Pak Tam Chung Country Park, arriving about 6am. If you would like to try Stages 1 & 2, but don’t fancy a pre-dawn start, there are buses that go there at a godlier hour.

MacLehose Trail Start
6am start in Pak Tam Country Park

MacLehose Trail Stage 1 – 10.6 kilometres – Pak Tam Chung to Long Ke

Stage 1 starts near the entrance of Pak Tam Chung Country Park and is less of a trail and more of a flat and pleasant walk along country roads.

It traverses through the Geopark with its impressive dams and cutesy information boards about hexagonal columns formed by volcanic activity (the cartoon rock introducing himself with “Hello, my name is Dike,” certainly made us titter), eventually turning into more of a trail with steps down to the scenic Long Ke beach.

MacLehose Trail Sunrise

Highlights: Watching the sun rise from behind the mountains, across the reservoir.

Long Ke Beach
Have you ever seen a Long Ke beach than this?

Lowlights: Next to the stunning Long Ke beach there is a super-creepy drug rehabilitation centre. Think faded and peeling pastel paints, rusted white gates and pictures of smiling animals whose eyes seem to follow you as you walk away… pretty sure they shot the opening credits to True Detective there.

MacLehose Trailing

MacLehose Trail Stage 2 – 13.5 kilometres – Long Ke to Pak Tam Au

Stage 2 is a little harder and longer than Stage 1, with lots of ups and downs. However, the views were amazing and totally worth it. We saw the gorgeous Tai Long Wan coastline from angles that we had never seen before.

The trail then winds into familiar territory as we came into Sai Wan village (where the excellent Surf Hong Kong Surf School is) and passed the beautiful natural rock pools made by the spring that feeds into the ocean (no time for cliff diving today though).

Then, it’s up and over a final hill to Ham Tin beach, where we stopped for a double helping of Yang Zhou fried rice, Singapore noodles and beef udon to keep us going before heading back up the hill to the end of Stage 2.

MacLehose Trail Stage 2
Squint and you can just about see us…

Highlights: incredible views across to the aptly named Sharp Peak as well as Tai Long Wan; Singapore noodles, get in my belly.

Ham Rim Beach Bridge
What’s a trip to Tai Long Wan without testing your core strength on this wonder of engineering?

Lowlights: couldn’t MacLeHose have built a bridge from one mountain to the other to save our hamstrings?

Tai Long Wan Coastline

MacLehose Trail Stage 3, camping and (sob) turning back

Our good friend MacLehose certainly had a sense of humour, as his trail from the east to west of Hong Kong involves doing a full circle up and down mountains and around the reservoir before actually going inland. So, with two stages out of three down, we were nearly back where we started.

We started Stage 3 around 4.30pm, knowing there was probably no way we would get to our intended campsite before we lost the sun (10.2 kilometres away up a very steep hill on the most difficult leg of the whole trail).

Sure enough, we lost the light with six kilometres still to go, but found a smaller campsite to stay at rather than attempting the last two to three hours of walking in the dark.

MacLehose Trail Marker
Stop taunting us, Mac…

We had originally planned to make up the time the following day by rising early, setting off before sunrise and trying to walk at a faster pace. However, the night proved to be incredibly cold, with none of us sleeping a wink and one of our party spraining an ankle when trying to run about to keep warm.

In the morning, seeing the frost on our tents (frost in Hong Kong!), Sabrina’s swollen ankle and knowing we wouldn’t be able to camp another night in those conditions, we decided to turn back and get a bus home.

On the plus side, we saw a monkey! On the first day of the Year of the Monkey – that’s a good omen and cancels out our bad luck, right?

Camping
Yep, that is FROST on that tent.

Lowlights: walking about a thousand steps up a mountain, being the coldest I have ever been in my life, having to turn back the next day and walk the thousand steps back down the same mountain, blisters, swollen knees, sprained ankles, sunburn and very sore legs.

Highlights: it turns out that 7-Eleven’s finest King Robert whiskey does have some use – swigging it around a campfire and looking up at the rarely-seen stars is the best way to keep warm.

Chinese New Year Monkey
Cheeky Chinese New Year Monkey!

MacLehose Trail Stages 1 & 2 Review

So, even though we didn’t manage the full trail, we were still very proud of hiking a very hilly 20-something kilometres in 13 hours and I take my hat off to those that manage to walk the whole trail, especially those that somehow do the whole thing in one go!

We may have been overly ambitious, but we’ll definitely return to do the following stages (but maybe just as day hikes next time). Perhaps the MacLehose Trail really is best enjoyed as it is marked out – in shorter stages.

Or, even better, as MacLehose himself enjoyed it – from the passenger side of his private helicopter…

To be continued…

MacLehose Trail Stage 1

MacLehose Trailer Trash

For more about hiking in Hong Kong, read my post on the best hikes in HK. For more technical info about the trail, visit the Discover Hong Kong website.

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