The Maclehose Trail in Hong Kong was my first self-guided long distance hike. I’d wanted to do some long distance hiking, and it turns out that after accounting for the costs of flights and pre- and post-accommodations, the total cost of hiking the Maclehose by yourself was still cheaper than other options closer to Singapore such as Rinjani and Mt. Kinabalu’s mandatory tour packages.
It took a bit more research, planning, preparation, and some gear acquisition to keep my pack weight down, but when it was all done, I had become more confident about going on my own treks.
So here’s a guide with what I’ve learned about through-hiking the Maclehose Trail. There are companies that run guided hikes for it and organise a stay at a hotel every night. But with a bit of planning and your own camping gear, it’s easy enough to do it on your own from start to finish!
When to Go
As hiking is a physically strenuous activity, you’ll want to go when the weather is cool and rain is improbable, and also when the skies are more clear than foggy so you can enjoy the views.
That rules out the spring and summer months March to August, when it’s humid, hot, often rainy, and there are typhoons. September till November during autumn is when the skies are often clear and the temperature is cool. The coldest winter months of December till February can be sub-20°C even in the daytime, but overcast and cloudy skies make for less vivid scenery.
My brother and I hiked the trail from 15-20 November 2018. We experienced a temperature range of approximately 18-25°C (65-77°F), and even a day of grey fog amidst mostly sunny conditions.
The Maclehose is divided into ten sections passing through eight country parks, as summarised in the table below. I’ve linked to the reports of my experience on each section. Distance and difficulty information are provided by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department of Hong Kong (AFCD).
|Sai Kung East||1: Pak Tam Chung – Long Ke||10.6||||
|2: Long Ke – Pak Tam Au||13.5||| ||
|Sai Kung West||3: Pak Tam Au – Kei Ling Ha||10.2||| | ||
|Ma On Shan||4: Kei Ling Ha – Tate’s Cairn||12.7||| | ||
|Lion Rock||5: Tate’s Cairn – Tai Po Road||10.6||| ||
|Kam Shan||6: Tai Po Road – Shing Mun||4.6||||
|Shing Mun||7: Shing Mun – Lead Mine Pass||6.2||| ||
|Tai Mo Shan||8: Lead Mine Pass – Route Twisk||9.7||| ||
|9: Route Twisk – Tin Fu Tsai||6.3||||
|Tai Lam||10: Tin Fu Tsai – Tuen Mun||15.6||||
There is a variety of surfaces to walk on, such as sand, gravel, dirt, mud when it’s been wet, and road. Lots of it is road, actually. The trail is in decent enough condition to hike in a good pair of running shoes (which many runners do when they participate in the Oxfam Trailwalker, a running event that goes on this route over 48 hours). Trail runners are definitely more than sufficient, and the frequent roadwalking might actually wear out your lugs.
You’re going to find lots of steep up-and-down slopes. If the trail is being merciful, it will go up and down steps. You’ll definitely be grateful for a trekking pole or two. My brother and I brought one pole each and ended up scrounging for a long stick to use as a second pole.
The following information was cross-referenced with this AFCD webpage about AFCD campsites, as well as personal experience at some of these campsites. the markers are distance posts that occur every 500m, from M001 to M200.
|Marker||Campsite||Water||Toilet||Cumulative (km)||Between (km)|
|M047||Pak Tam Au||No||Outhouse||23.5||5.5|
|M069||Shui Long Wo||Tap*||Flushing||34.5||7|
|M137||Lead Mine Pass||Tap||Flushing*||68.5||21.5|
|M168||Tin Fu Tsai||Stream||Porta-Potty||84||6|
* Facility not immediately on site; few minutes’ walking distance away.
** Gilwell is not an AFCD campsite. Toilet can be accessed, but they do not allow free public camping.
Getting On and Off
To get to the trailhead at Sai Kung, just type ‘Pak Tam Chung’ into Google Maps, and it should give you reliable directions. In our case, it led us to take the train to Wong Tai Sin MTR station, then bus 1A to the Sai Kung Bus Terminus, then Bus 7.
Getting off the trail at the end is even easier. From the last trail marker M200, Tuen Mun MTR station is a short 5-10 minutes’ walk away, from which you can take the train to wherever you’ve booked accommodation for the night. Just ask a local for directions.
You also often cross roads or paths that lead off the trail to bus or train access. These are options for departing the trail if you don’t intend to camp the whole way. My brother and I left the trail on Day 3 at Sha Tin Pass because we couldn’t find a suitable spot to free camp along the long 21.5km stretch between Ngong Ping and Lead Mine Pass campsites.
Depending on how much you want to walk every day, you could do this between 4 to 8 days; other than the 21.5km stretch between Ngong Ping and Lead Mine Pass campsites, the campsites occur frequently enough to allow you to take it slow. For longer periods, you’ll want to make sure you book accommodations ahead of time (the cheap and good hostels fill up early) for the night you stay off the trail between Ngong Ping and Lead Mine Pass if you don’t intend to free camp — I’ve heard that there are suitable spots, but they aren’t obvious to find.
The Hong Kong 3G/4G network is mostly available along the trail, with the noted exception at Tin Fu Tsai campsite. Prepaid SIMs are available at 7-eleven convenience stores (including the one at the airport) at standard prices by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The 8-day option at HKD$118 is ideal for this hike.
Navigation & Maps
It’s a bit hard to obtain detailed paper maps of the trail, but there’s really no need with the resources available online and on the trail itself.
A freely available map of the Maclehose Trail is available from the AFCD website. It’s not very detailed, but it provides an overview of the trail, with distances and estimated difficulty of each section, as well as campsites along the way.
Even without a paper map, the trail is easily navigable; it is usually prominent and well-signed in English. Trail markers every 500 metres let you know you are on the right track, and you’ll pass by boards with detailed maps regularly. If you’re there across the period of the Oxfam Trailwalker, bright pink signs further direct you on the right path. Signages could get confusing at times when I was hiking, as a place name (e.g. Shing Mun, Sai Wan) could be referring to a reservoir, town, or road in the area.
You can also follow and locate yourself on the trail using your phone with the ViewRanger app, where it has already been mapped out with lots of contextual information.
If you want to navigate solely with a paper map, this document of distance post markers with grid references would be useful for you.
You can bring your own food into Hong Kong without any problems, so most of you would probably prepare your rations before flying in. But it’s also easy enough to buy additional food such as dried meats and nuts at the ubiquitous local supermarket chain called Wellcome, as well as at other convenience stores. I also recommend getting some dried barbecued pork at Bee Cheng Hiang outlets in town; it’s a great high-calorie, shelf-stable trail food.
Camping gear and equipment can be purchased in Mongkok at the many outdoor stores along and near Argyle Street. I bought a cheap and perfectly functional Taiwan-made stove (Taurus brand) for HKD99 (on HKD66 discount) at RC Outfitters, as well as 450g of gas (HKD 90), Clif bars (HKD20 each), and Body Glide (HKD19). You could even buy stakes, clothing, and other gear as well.
What to Bring
The following general packing list is a good base for backpacking on the Maclehose and assumes a hike during autumn. If you’re an experienced hiker with the knowledge of what you’ll need or want on the trail, you can disregard this. Here’s my full packing list for this trip on Lighterpack.
Clothing (worn and carried)
- 2 x T-Shirts (quick-drying, ideally synthetic)
- 2 x Underwear (quick-drying)
- 2 x Running shorts
- 2 x Socks (synthetic)
- Wind or rain jacket
- Trekking pole(s) — you’ll need it!
- Running shoes or trail runners (non-GTX)
- First Aid Kit (e.g. leukotape, scissors)
- 2L of water
- Shelter (tent or tarp with mesh bivy/net tent) with stakes
- Summer quilt
- Sleeping pad
- Inflatable pillow
- Toothpaste (for 6 days)
- 10ml all-purpose soap (Dr. Bronner’s or equivalent)
- Towel or buff
- Hand sanitiser
- Insect repellent
- Water purification (Aquatabs or water filter)
- Scrubber (cut)
- Gas Canister (230g should suffice for 1-2 people)
That’s the end of my guide! For more resources, I’ll also recommend checking out this guide by Thru Hiking HK for the Maclehose Trail. Feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll try my best to answer them.