For those unaware, HK is full of cycle-tracks - although this environmentally safe form of transport has yet to be embraced by the Govt as a viable alternative to buses, trains and cars...sadly - and one of the most popular ones runs alongside Tolo Harbour from Tai Po into Sha Tin/Tai Wai/Ma On Shan. Often it is so popular that poor pedestrians such as myself get pushed to the side by bike nazis, a bit of a shame when all you want to do is take in some breathtaking scenery (and I mean that from an awesomeness point of view rather than a pollution point of view) it can prove to be a bit precarious.
Granted, we were there on a Sunday which is the busiest time of the week, but still nothing had prepared me for seeing so many bikes and for finding out how truly clueless some of the riders are. The path has been designed as a dual pedestrian/bicycle one but that doesn’t stop a significant proportion of riders claiming the whole route for themselves and only begrudgingly swerving out of the way at the last minute as if to make a point. Some, I’m sure, were doing it deliberately, but I think the majority responsible were just of clueless type who felt they had the right of way because they were on a bike…but anyway, on with the sites.
Regal Riverside Hotel, Shatin
One of our first landmarks (once we have passed the rather nicely formed Shatin Central Park) is the Riverside Hotel in Shatin. On the left is Yuen Chau Kok – now an urban hillside but at one time an island with a small village. The island has become part of the land thanks to reclamation and the sole remnant of the village has been turned into a small museum showcasing the history of the area. Incidentally, once one of only two hotels in the area (the other being the Royal Park Hotel attached to New Town Plaza), Shatin now boasts four hotels. The Shatin Hyatt and most recently a Marriot Courtyard.
Shatin's "Floating" Restaurant - best seen at night
Shatin’s ‘floating’ restaurant was built to replace the original floating restaurant moored a little further down the channel. The original was removed when the Shatin Sea (as it was then called) was reclaimed to form the current Shing Mun River channel and to provide land for all the Govt housing estates. I guess someone had the bright idea of creating a replacement that harked back to its former glory, but what they did was use pour concrete to form a sort of floating restaurant shape fixed to the riverbed. I guess the illusion is effective for those not in the know, but it's a big shame they couldn't have had a proper floating restaurant again. To me it just speaks volume about the level of thinking here - why have the real thing when you have a fake thing made of concrete. On an aside, the restaurant isn't too bad, it's currently run by a chain called Star Seafood who run a chain of large-but-cheap dim sum restaurants around the territory.
Moving on, and along this stretch of the track - between Shatin Central Park and the Water Treatment Works near to the end of the Shing Mun River - the pedestrian pavement is at its narrowest so you need to keep your eyes peeled for bike nazis. But don't worry, if the worst comes to the worst you can always take a giant movie-style leap to your right and dive into the dirty waters of the Shing Mun river...a fate only slightly more appealing than being impaled on the front of someone's bike as they furiously ding their bell to get you to move.
The first stretch of the walk (yellow line) and the narrowest pavement.
If you click on this picture you’ll see I’ve marked it with a yellow line. At the top end, next to the bridge, you have no choice but to turn left and walk inland for a while. It was here that the bikers were even getting annoyed at other bikers - largely thanks to the tendency for some people to weave all over the place - much like some people do when they walk and drive cars.
By this time we had been walking for an hour (although, I should point out that I originally did this back in 2011 when my youngest was still in a pushchair). I'm sure the distance could easily have been covered in less than half that time. Actually, we also had my septuagenarian mother-in-law with us, and she makes my kids look like Usain Bolt in comparison. Suffice to say that after an hour the oldest and youngest had all had enough and were accompanied over to University Station and back to Taipo whilst I carried on walking.
At this point you have arrived at Shui Chong Street alongside the treatment works, and this is where you can decide to call it all off and head for the East Rail. There is a flyover that leads over Tolo Highway and off to the station (or to the Hyatt Hotel if you fancy a beer and some aircon)
Shui Chong Street
Actually, as you can see by the snap above this road is quite picturesque, it’s just a shame that it’s not too long. The road was empty when we were there so there is no problem with you walking along it – in fact given the small amount of space still on the cycle track (see the right most lane in the cycle track above – that’s for walkers) it is preferable. Here's an interesting fact about jaywalking in HK: it's only illegal to jaywalk in HK if you do it within 15 metres of a pedestrian crossing! Also, walking along a road is not illegal - this is why the Govt tries its hardest to prevent you from doing so by installing heaps of unnecessary railings, it's because legally they have no way of stopping you. So, now you know.
Past the Treatment Works along Shui Chong StreetThis picturesque part of the walk ends at the crossing over Kiu Ha Road. Once on the other side you will start the part of the walk that follows the harbour all the way to Tai Po. Here is the nice open view once you get past the crossing.
Looking north towards Pat Sin Leng
On the right of the above picture you can see the tip of Ma On Shan town, centre frame in the far distance is Pat Sin Leng. This is pretty much the view you get all the way to Tai Po. Luckily it was very hot and sunny, the harbour water was really clear and there was a nice breeze blowing inshore. Almost perfect weather. The picture below shows the view back towards the south, although actually at this point I had walked a bit further north because you can see the Shatin Treatment works centre right.
This part of the walk is easy – lots of wide open space and, for once, the pavement seems to have taken priority over the cycle track. There are toilets along here as well as some snack/drink concessions. Lots of people relaxing under the purpose built shades that seem to be ineffective after 3 o’clock.
Once you leave this seaside part of the walk you have to go a different route to the bikes (good news as far as I’m concerned) and you end up walking along the road that approaches the Science Park – appropriately called Science Park Road. Once into the bottom end of the Science Park you are now walking along what is now known as Pak Sek Kok Promenade.
In case you are wondering why it’s called Pak Sek Kok, it's the long serving name of this area of coastline. Its name literally means “white rock point”, but of course the white rock point has long gone and been replaced by ever increasing reclamation - first to create the highway, and then to create the Science Park (or as most people should call it: Subsidised rent district for companies with tenuous links to various branches of science and technology).
The park's intended purpose seems to have been to provide subsidised leasing for science and tech companies to come and be creative, but hat actually happened was it just provided them with cheap office space to run their various unscientific departments from. Just another example of dumb white-elephant spending by a Govt unable to use its land revenues for anything other than 'infrastructure'. Anyway, I guess from our pedestrian point of view, the resulting promenade provides us with a nice wide open space where chances of collision is drastically reduced. There are also plenty of benches to sit down on and admire the quite impressive view (see below).
Pat Sin Leng and Plover Cove Dam Wall (on the right)
Here is a Google Aerial view of the Science Park, it’s a fair size and took me the best part of 15 minutes to walk the length of the yellow line. I believe the Science Park didn't really start to appear until around '01, so when I first cycled this back in 1996(ish) I suspect the path followed the highway. Of course, I should also mention that since I first did this blog post (over on Wordpress), a new development called Providence Bay has sprung up, Science Park phases 2 & 3 have commenced construction (more cheap rents for canny companies with spurious links to technology) and another residential development called Mayfair by the Sea is under construction (due to open late next year - 2015). It's all happening down at Pak Shek Kok.
Once you’ve cleared the Science Park you are in the home stretch towards the southern part of Tai Po and Yuen Chau Tsai. However, before you get there you have to pass a few places of interest including the part of Tai Po Kau that now houses the Kerry Lake Egret Nature Park (accessible via a pathway that cuts under the highway) as well as a small islet that has a nice viewing platform on top of it. I don’t know the name of the islet but it was from here that I saw some nutter swimming in the harbour!!
I had a dig around and discovered that there is in fact a cross-harbour swim here in Tai Po, so perhaps the guy was training for that? Either way, he’s braver than me. Click on the picture below for proof if you find it too hard to believe.
Here is a small shot taken on what was the small islet – obviously these days it is joined onto the mainland, but it provides some nice cool breezy respite from the sun if you need it.
A little further along is a pier. This pier has actually been around for a long time and used to mark one of the ways to get to and from the old Tai Po station in Tai Po Kau. This pier has a significant history and when the station was first constructed it helped form, what was essentially, one of the busiest transport hubs in the NT. The pier allowed for easy access to the railway from all parts of the harbour and beyond. The pier, or at least a modern version of it, remains today despite the station closing in 1983 and it’s a nice place to take in some of the scenery. I say 'modern' version because reclamation has meant the original position of the pier is now buried under several thousand tonnes of aggregate, used to create land for the Tolo Highway.
Anyway, moving along and it’s not far to Tai Po proper. The Tai Wong Yeh temple (a shrine set up by the local fisherfolk) is one of our last landmarks as we head inland. It sits on Yuen Chau Tsai, a once isolated island subsequently incorporated into the mainland by reclamation. Back in 2011, it looked as it does below. However, I have noticed a significant amount of building around here recently and the temple has gained some sort of adjacent building whose purpose is unclear to me at the moment. Also the shrine is undergoing a major renovation and has been stripped clean at the time of writing.
Tai Wong seems to be the same deity that is also called Hung Shing and HK has a load of temples scattered all over, but I have no idea why there is a difference in name. What I will say is that the Tai Wong name seems to be one used by the seafaring elements of HK and there are Tai Wong temples in Aberdeen, Wanchai and Stanley. This one in Taipo started off as a humble stone tablet, but someone had a whip-round and funded the building of this larger shrine.
The other, unreachable, site along here is Island House - a colonial mansion that once housed the New Territories District Officer but these days is leased out to the WWF. It sits smack in the middle of Yuen Chau Tsai and you can't really go in without an appointment (so I have been told) or when they are running one of their open days.
From here it is a short walk into town or over to the East Rail station.