Hong Kong Hotel Reservation Service
Gardens, Parks and Nature reserves
To the surprise of many visitors, Hong Kong has a wealth of urban grandeur and natural beauty. Nearly 70 per cent of Hong Kong's land is countryside and 30 per cent of the territory has been officially conserved country parkland since the 1960s.
Hong Kong has 21 scenic country parks, whose management are under the direction of the Country Parks Authority. Other rural and marine stretches have been declared Areas of Special Scientific Interest. These include the woodland of Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve and the Luk Keng Egretry.
Country Parks closest to Urban centres contain many recreational features, such as signposted jogging and hiking trails, barbecue and picnic sites, pavilions and "Family Walks". The educational aspect of the Country Parks programme includes short "Nature Trails" whose markers refer to specific items of natural interest. Visitors Centres have been built at the entrance to several popular parks. These contain information counters, and attractively displayed exhibits explaining the area's flora and fauna, geology and human history. Hong Kong's parks have an extensive programme of reforestation projects; an arboretum has been established in Shing Mun.
The country parks extend across much of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Hills and the New Territories, and Lantau Island. Signposted walking trails with panoramic views wind through all three areas of country parkland the Hong Kong Trail, Trail and Lantau Trail - divided into stages of varying length and difficulty. Most stages can be reached or exited via public transport. Trail maps are on sale at the Government Publications Centre, and some are available at HKTA Information and Gift Centres.
Agriculture: Despite its shortage of arable land (only 7.5 per cent of the territory is farmland), Hong Kong produces about 24 per cent of its annual vegetable consumption. Visitors can see patches of intense cultivation during the HKTA's The Land Between Tour, and will note the ingenuity of local farmers (mainly Hakka families) during visits to outlying islands such as Lamma.
The Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association has sponsored much research, in association with the University of Hong Kong, since the 1950s. Experiments in livestock breeding and the development of high-yield produce, together with infrastructural improvements, helped thousands of farmers to become self-supporting. The Kadoorie Experimental Farm, on a hillside near Tai Po, is a New Territories sightseeing attraction. To avoid disruption of its work, and to ensure the safety of visitors on its steep stepways, the Farm limits the number of visitors admitted each day. Local travel agents can arrange group visits with advance notice. Admission is free. The Farm has an information centre and interested groups are welcome. Individuals (minimum of two persons) can only visit on Monday-Thursday and Saturday (except public holidays). Call the Farm on 2488 1317 at least two days in advance.
Bird Watching: Hong Kong is a stopping point on the migratory routes of many species, as well as the permanent home of many others nearly 430 species have been recorded. Of special interest is the nesting site of the Luk Keng Egretry, and the major transit site of migratory birds in the Mai Po Marshes. Access to the egretry is strictly controlled during the nesting season, and visitors always need a permit to visit the protected area of Mai Po.
Bird-watchers and ornithologists can make advance arrangements to visit by calling the World Wide Fund for Nature on 2526 1011. Bookings for overseas clients can be arranged by writing to: World Wide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong, GPO Box 12721, Hong Kong. The Hong Kong branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature manages the marshes, which contain a new breeding ground. Its annual Big Bird Race, the first of its kind in the world, attracts international enthusiasts who race to spot the greatest number of bird species.
Endangered species have been bred very successfully in Hong Kong Island's Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens (whose main entrance is on Upper Albert Road in Central), which has aviaries and spacious pens housing many species. The aviaries in Ocean Park and Hong Kong Park are also major attractions, and there is a small aviary in Kowloon Park.
Flora and Fauna: Some 2,700 different species of flora make Hong Kong their home. Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve is a truly living museum of trees (path side examples have nameplates) as well as some rare species' special-interest groups may wish to visit the Country Parks Authority's and other departments' tree nurseries and reforestation projects, and learn how natural disasters such as hill fires, tree diseases and erosion are handled. Animal wildlife is rarely encountered in Hong Kong (other than rather tame packs of monkeys); the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is a well-managed, city-centre parkland.
Hong Kong Herbarium: Established in 1878, the herbarium contains an important collection of some 33,300 plant specimens. The collection includes 2,510 species and varieties of herbs recorded in Hong Kong and more than 2,500 species from adjacent regions of East and Southeast Asia. Visits can be arranged for professionals, with six months' advance notice required. Contact the HKTA, or the Agricultural and Fisheries Department, Canton Road Government Offices, 393 Canton Road, Kowloon.
Marine Life: Ocean Park is one of the largest marine parks in the world, and its management is pleased to host groups interested in the entertainment complex's behind-the-scenes scientific studies. Elsewhere, official plans are underway for at least one special marine-studies centre. At present, interested parties can visit government-supervised mariculture farms. The work of the official Fish Marketing Organisation, and its efforts to enhance the efficiency of Hong Kong's fishing fleets, may be of interest to visitors as well.
The Government Information Service, the Urban Council and the University of Hong Kong have published many specialist volumes studying various aspects of Hong Kong's natural history.