Sometimes the best experiences are right under your nose. Diana Streak discovers the Hong Kong Wetland Park, a world away from the hustle and bustle.
My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1997 just as the territory was shrugging off 156 years of British colonial rule. From the dramatic landing at Kai Tak airport crowded by skyscrapers and hemmed in by mountains plus a white-knuckle short strip to the sea it was a heady, exciting few days.
I was fascinated by the hectic street life, foreign food and sheer energy of the city and my journalist friend living downtown made sure I experienced the best.
During subsequent visits I stayed with friends in expat exclaves such as Mid-Levels or comfortable hotels, all within striking distance of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the areas that tourists associate with Hong Kong.
This time it was different. The notorious Kai Tak was long gone, closed in 1998 and replaced with the vast, modern Chek Lap Kok airport 30km from the city. For family reasons we stayed in a hotel complex in Tin Shui Wai in the distant New Territories nudging the Chinese border, known for a while (rather unfairly I thought) as the City of Misery. Originally a gai wei or fishpond area, the town was built in the 1980s from reclaimed land.
I thought optimistically it would be a chance to see the “real” Hong Kong. And it was. It was well served by public transport and we took advantage of that to amuse ourselves. But after two days of exploring the shopping malls and food halls (the best yum cha I have ever had!) we dutifully caught the excellent public transport to the usual tourist destinations such as Victoria Peak, Stanley, Kowloon and the magnificent Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
One day we decided to take a break from the hour-long commute for our tourist fix and thought we would explore locally, but a bit further afield. A quick online search revealed we were just a few stops away on the Tin Shui Wai light rail and an easy walk over a bridge from the 61-acre Hong Kong Wetland Park.
We discovered a beautiful wetland park with a charming mix of scatological humour which appealed to my inner schoolboy and sophisticated environmental messaging. Among all the selfie sticks I was the only one gleefully photographing plastic poos of the secretive leopard cat, placed there for educational purposes of course.
The Wetland makes for a pleasant day of walking with a number of trails that lead to destinations such as the Butterfly Garden and Fishpond Hide. Along the Mangrove Boardwalk beautifully illustrated signs exhorted us to look out for a Yellow-bellied Prinia or a Pheasant-tailed Jacana. A personal favourite was this message board: “Dragonflies and damselflies feed on pests, such as mosquitoes. They have gorgeous colours and thus being named ‘winged jewels’.”
The sprawling visitor centre offers an in-depth examination of environmental issues, both local and international. Despite the somewhat preachy tone it is incredibly well researched and one could spend a whole day taking in the interactive displays.
Before we leave, we visit Pui Pui’s Home, the lair of the resident alligator who entertains visitors for hours with his impressive set of teeth, without moving a muscle.
The Zoological and Botanical Gardens may be more lush and impressive but I remembered the Wetlands long afterwards. We still talk about it and wish we had been able to linger longer. TTW
Diana Streak travelled at her own expense. More at www.wetlandpark.gov.hk. Photos © Diana Streak.