Hong Kong…naturally

by Veronica on January 4, 2010

This past summer I spent 5 days in Hong Kong. I didn’t go for the shopping like most tourists do. Though, if I had been able to stay longer I’d certainly have been eager to immerse myself in some retail therapy. But, with a limited amount of time I wanted to see if there was anything green amidst all that concrete.

Before I went I asked for guidance from Karisa Lui at the Hong Kong Tourism Board in Toronto  http://www.discoverhongkong.com/canada

She wisely guided me to the best of Hong Kong’s natural world. Here are my faves:

Hong Kong Park

Hong Kong Park is 8 gorgeous acres perched over the skyscrapers in the Central District and it is not a park in the usual sense of the word. You won’t find turf to walk or picnic on. A man-made stream meanders through the park linking gardens overflowing with flowers, trees and shrubs. The focus of the park is a small artificial lake where waterfalls tumble from man-made (but very real looking) cliffs into the rock pools below.

Hong Park - an oasis in a chaotic city

Hong Park - an oasis in a chaotic city

Hong Park - the stunning man-made waterfall

Hong Park - the stunning man-made waterfall

Nan Lian Garden

Chinese gardens are like works of art. They appeal to both the visual and spiritual essence of those looking at them and Nan Lian is truly living art. Located in Kowloon in the heart of the city, Nan Lian showcases Hong Kong’s rich Chinese heritage. Built in the classical style of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), this garden is achingly beautiful. It is perfection, like an exquisite jewel.

The garden features outstanding examples of Buddhist pines, bonsai trees, bamboo, beautiful ornamental plants and flowers, all strategically set off by a variety of rocks and boulders and petrified wood formations. As you stroll along the winding paths you soon realize that the view ahead is obscured by trees and rocks. What lies beyond is only revealed a bit at a time as you move through the garden. This technique (an element typical of classical Chinese gardens) compels you to notice every plant and detail before moving on.

Nan Lian - perfection!

Nan Lian - perfection!

Water features prominently in this garden and is often set next to a main garden structure. The highlight of the garden is the magnificent ‘Pavilion of Absolute Perfection’ an ornate, golden tower set in the middle of a bright orange bridge that spans the main Lotus Pond.

The Golden Pavillion

The Golden Pavillion

I think that one of the reasons that this garden is perfection is that there are no shortage of gardeners caring for the plants. It seemed each tree had its own nanny!

Nan Lian Gardener

Nan Lian Gardener

Nan Lian Pruner

Nan Lian Pruner

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Hong Kong Wetland Park is located in the north western part of the New Territories on the outskirts of the city in the new town of Tin Shui Wai. Before the development of the town the low-lying lands were fish ponds that had most area residents involved in the aquaculture industry. When aquaculture declined most of the fish ponds were abandoned. Through a land reclamation program the Hong Kong Government developed the area and created a new town (population over 200, 000!). The Hong Kong Wetland Park was constructed in the late 1980s to compensate for the wetlands lost during the building of the town.

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Hong Kong Wetland Park

What an amazing place this turned out to be. Today the wetland is home to a stunning array of wildlife including birds, dragonflies, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and fish. In the 10,000 square meter visitor centre there are excellent themed exhibitions about wetlands, marshes and swamps from all over the world, a theatre, a souvenir shop, and an indoor swamp adventure play area for kids. The state-of-the-art interactive exhibits make learning about wetlands great fun for young and old alike.

Superb Signage

Superb Signage

Outside, a board walk takes you through different wetland environments. There are all kinds of unique fauna and flora to observe, including a mangrove swamp where you can get up close to the wildlife. There are three “bird blinds”, special buildings outfitted with binoculars and telescopes, so that you can watch unnoticed the birds in the marshes. At migration time avid birders must be in heaven.

Mai Po Marsh

The day in late August that we visited the Mai Po Marshit was hotter than Hades.  I would have opted out and waited for a more comfortable day, but getting in to visit Mai Po involves more than just showing up. To enter the Mai Po Nature Reserve you need a permit issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and then to enter the Frontier Closed Area to access the floating boardwalk and bird blinds to lock at the Deep Bay mudflats you need a permit issued by the Hong Kong Police Force. Only a certain number of people at a time are allowed within Mai Po’s boundaries. Given that the Hong Kong Tourism Association had already arranged the permits for us and that my husband Walter is a fanatical birder, the stifling heat was not a factor. So, off we went and I was glad we did. I almost (but not quite)  forgot about the intense heat and humidity.

Mai Po Marsh

Mai Po Marsh

Mai Po is  a birdwatcher’s paradise. Thousands of migratory birds come to Mai Po in the fall and winter.  Here you might see the Saunders’ Gull or a quarter of the world’s population of Black-faced Spoonbill that hang out here.

On our tour a moonlighting teacher guided us past shrimp ponds, along a floating boardwalk through a magnificent mangrove forest that ended with a view of the Inner Deep Bay area. Though we didn’t see any of the endangered species and it was way too hot for many self-respecting birds to be out and about, Mai Po still bustled with life. Butterflies and dragonflies were everywhere. A close look at the mud flats revealed hundreds of fiddler crabs scurrying around. In the ponds hot pink water lilies stole the show.

Mai Po Marsh Boardwalk

Mai Po Marsh Boardwalk

A Mai Po Water Lily -

A Mai Po Water Lily -

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