Hong Kong hiking: Nam Sang Wai

An easy walk north of Yuen Long, there’s an area of wetlands which has become well known in recent years due to a campaign against a proposed housing development. For now, the watery beauty of Nam Sang Wai is safe from the developers, and it’s popular with bird watchers, cyclists and photographers.

This walk is completely flat so it is suitable for all. Time required: two hours.

Take the West Rail to Yuen Long station, and make for Exit A. North of the station, all the land you can see is occupied by half a dozen sprawling villages with many old-style houses. It’s a bit of a maze. Bear left to find Yuen Long Kau Hui Road, and follow it more or less straight ahead to Shan Pui village. A few signs, some painted and some hand-made, point you to Nam Sang Wai. If you don’t see them, just follow anyone who looks like a hiker or biker.

Here at Shan Pui village there’s a ramshackle wooden jetty. Pay HK$5 and a boatman will ferry you across to the wetland.

The name Shan Pui may ring a bell – it was in this river that “Pui Pui” the saltwater crocodile was found living in 2003. An Australian reptile hunter was flown in to catch the croc, and mainland experts also tried, but all failed. Finally she was caught by government staff. Pui Pui is now living in the Wetland Park at nearby Tin Shui Wai.

On the other side of the river, a gangplank leads you to a cafe where you can buy drinks. Here you’re at the edge of the wetland. Nam Sang Wai was originally a collection of farmed shrimp ponds and fish ponds which fell out of use and have become overgrown with tall reeds. Now it’s an important habitat for various types of birds including egrets, pintails, cormorants, ducks and rare spoonbills. Some of these birds stop off in Hong Kong as part of their annual migrations across East Asia. Otters have also been seen in the ponds.

Turn left and follow the track shaded by large paper-bark trees. You can make any kind of criss-crossing route through the wetland, since it is a network of narrow linking bunds between ponds. If the path you are following gets too narrow and seems to disappear, simply go back and make another turning. Eucalyptus and other trees have grown tall in the wetland, and as you walk through, sun shining through the waving reeds, you can almost believe you’re walking in the English countryside.

Two ruined houses in the wetland have been used as sets in Hong Kong movies, and you may see people doing their own fashion or wedding photo shoots there. One of them has a large kitchen with space for three woks – it may have been built as a police post in the 1960s to look out for immigrants swimming from across the river. It’s best to keep to the southern half of the wetland, and aim to make a circle back to the jetty.

Walking the single-track Nam Sang Wai Road is not really recommended as it is too long and a bit featureless, apart from the mangrove beds on its seaward side. However, if you are on a bike, it’s ideal because it sees little traffic. At its northern limit, there is a surprise view: the faraway towers of Shenzhen, seen across the shallow tidal waters of the bay. In the evening, flocks of birds are flying home to roost in the dark mangrove bushes.

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