Trail of the unexpected: Hong Kong's rural refuges

A set of mysterious cabins on Lantau Island forms a puzzle for Joyce Man as she heads for the hills

After a heart-pounding struggle up a rock-laden path on Lantau, Hong Kong's largest island, I am greeted by a group of silent, mossy stone cabins. With padlocked doors and shutters, they seem impenetrable. After a moment, a dense mist obscures them. It is really, really foggy here.

Many a hiker has asked what the cabins – there are about 20 – are doing sitting along this trail. Lantau is a half-hour ferry ride away from the city centre, and the cabins perch near the 869m-high Sunset Peak. It takes about two hours to walk here from the ferry pier, which means the cabins provide a quick break for locals and an offbeat side trip for travellers. But tourist books are silent on them and hiking guides have only brief mentions. After some digging I find you can book one of a pair of cabins maintained by the Sunset Peak Volunteer Unit, which charges the equivalent of £16 per night per cabin to cover repairs.

So, I find myself knee-deep in undergrowth, opening a metal cabin door. Most of the cabins, located about 50m apart, are spartan. They have stone walls, concrete roofs, no electricity, but some have water and toilet plumbing.

Cracks run along the inside of Cabin No 5, where I'm due to stay the night. At first, my friend Jason Yu and I hesitate at the threshold. There's a musty odour, the floors are wet, and there's a rusty bunk bed that looks like it has been there for decades.

Then our sense of adventure kicks in. We wipe the floor dry and unfurl our sleeping bags. It is unexpectedly noisier inside than out on the knoll, as the wind blows around the cabin, but I am soon asleep, tired out from the our day's hiking.

What No 5 lacks in comfort it makes up for in character, from the geckos that hide behind the door to the trinkets from a bygone era which sit next to modern camping knick-knacks. In the rare moments when the mist dissipates, the view opens out on to Cheung Sha beach and the southern horizon.

The cabins were built in the 1920s by Christian missionaries from the US and Europe. Hans Lutz, a retired Swiss missionary, arrived in 1968. He later tells me that the cabins were intended as an escape from the heat of the city's summers. Some people might not know the cabins' history, he says. They are privately owned. Visitors need to be invited.

Oddly, the volunteer unit claims that "its" two cabins have been lent out for years, though not systematically. The story of how the unit acquired them is hazy. It appears that unspecified foreigners had left them the keys – and the duty of maintenance – and given the Volunteer Unit permission for them to be lent out.

Hans remembers life at the cabins, which he often visited, with campers eating in a larger cabin used as a mess hall where amahs – domestic helpers – would cook. Missionaries of different backgrounds would mix there, he says.

My journey was a welcome respite from the cityscape. It's not just the trek up, which offers striking panoramas of the South China Sea, or the route down, which opens on to a verdant valley. It's the morsel of history tucked in the haze at the top of a city bent on erasing its past to make way for skyscrapers.

Looking back, Hans says: "I loved it. You really could get away. There was the sea, the mountains ... The only problem is the fog."

Ah, the fog.

In the end, my hopes of seeing the sunset from Sunset Peak are dashed when the mist rolls in. Sunrise is no better. It is not until after we climb down that the haze lifts to reveal resplendent rays as they disappear into the Pearl River Delta. But by then, I've got used to the fog.

Travel essentials: Hong Kong

Getting there

* Hong Kong is served from Heathrow by Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8888; cathaypacific.co.uk), BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; airnz.co.uk) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com).

Staying there

* Campers can apply to stay at cabin 5 or 16 by registering with the Lantau Camp Volunteer Unit (£8-£24 per night per cabin). Email ltvuforall@yahoo.com.hk.

Hiking there

* From Central Pier 6 take a ferry to Mui Wo on Lantau (nwff.com.hk). Stay on South Lantau Trail Road to Nam Shan for two hours, you'll see cabins on ridge.

More information

* hkwalkers.net

* discoverhongkong.com/uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
i100
Life and Style
gaming
Arts and Entertainment
Carl Barat and Pete Dohrety in an image from the forthcoming Libertines short film
filmsPete Doherty and Carl Barat are busy working on songs for a third album
Arts and Entertainment
films
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible