Hong Kong Island at Night
Ever since the Europeans settled in Hong Kong, the Peak attracted prominent residents because of its panoramic view over the city and its temperate climate compared to the oppressive humidity and persistent mosquitoes in the city below (it is usually about 5�C cooler than lower levels). These original colonial administrators reached their homes after being transported for 3 hours in sedan chairs carried by coolies. This transportation drawback naturally limited development of the Peak. However, the opening of the Peak Tram funicular in 1888 cut the journey down to a mere 8 minutes. The resulting boost to accessibility created demand for residences on the Peak, and the plateau at 400m became a residential area. Between 1904 and 1930, the Peak Reservation Ordinance designated the Peak as an exclusive residential area reserved for non-Chinese. They also reserved the Peak Tram for the use of such passengers during peak periods. The Peak remains an upmarket residential area, although residency today is based on wealth. Property on the Peak is the most expensive real estate in the world.
Jumbo Seafood Restaurant
After an hour of queuing, we boarded a tram and made an exhilarating climb up to the peak, climb being the operative word, at its steepest point the track has an angle of 45�. It reminded me very much of the many drives I have had over Hardknott Pass in the English Lake District. The views during the climb were impressive; a hint of what was to come.
Upon reaching the upper terminus, we were confronted by a seven storied building in the shape of an anvil. This is the Peak Tower in which there are several attractions, namely: Madame Tussauds Hong Kong, Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, and the Peak Explorer Motion Simulator. The main interest for us here was the rooftop Sky Terrace viewing deck.
Looking down at the city from this famous vantage point, we witnessed one of the greatest man made views on Earth. Victoria Harbour presented one of the world's busiest harbours, with a constant ebb and flow of shipping all year round. Row upon row of skyscrapers stood prominently on the Central District, which is Hong Kong's financial and economic hub. The most spectacular are the Bank of China Tower and the Central Plaza. The Bank of China Tower, with 72 stories soars skyward; the bamboo-shaped outlook of the tower symbolizing that the bank aspires to get better and better. The Central Plaza is a reinforced concrete building with 78 stories. The skyline is so improbable, audacious and lofty that Manhattan's looks provincial by comparison. The ever-expanding construction on Kowloon peninsula crept to the north, and beyond that the undulating hills of the New Territories stretched away to China. This was indeed a spectacular view; words cannot do it justice. Everything I'd heard about Hong Kong's restlessness and energy is dramatically reaffirmed by the view from the Peak.
The actual peak summit is about 500m northwest of the tram terminus, at the top of the steep Mount Austin Road. The governor's mountain lodge near the summit was burned to the ground by the Japanese during World War II, but the gardens are still open.
A must do on this pinnacle was a walk around the peak along the circular hike. This was a 3.5km footpath that snaked along the side of the peak; lush vegetation hemming the path in and overhanging banyan trees providing shade. Occasionally we came across a mansion on the way. The route afforded views of the Central District below, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon, and Aberdeen, the outlying islands and the South China Sea to the south.
The slopes of the peak were covered in their own variety of "bush". Numerous birds flitted about in the trees, adding another new set of sounds for my ears to tune in to. A number of kites (the bird variety as opposed to the string and paper versions) soared around the peaks. I marvelled at how they rode the thermals, managing to ascend about 80m in just three revolutions above a hot spot.
The trail was also a magnet for dog walkers, who would occasionally congregate in groups that I would define as mutual dog admiration gatherings. The trail is also popular at night, where folk can enjoy the pleasures of the constellations above and the colourful twinkling Milky Way below.
We lingered for a while, feasting our eyes on the splendid views, before returning to Central to pick up a cruise boat that Dan had booked us on.
Promptly at 6pm, a red and green traditional Chinese vessel pulled alongside a pier, and several groups boarded. We discovered we were part of the "Splendid" party; absolutely splendid.
The boat slipped its moorings, and off we sailed to pick up more pirates over in Kowloon before starting our cruise around the harbour.
We soon recognised other "Splendid" trippers by the orange stickers stuck to their chests. There was also a large contingency of noisy Americans with blue "Loud American" stickers. They were crammed around the on deck bar, demanding to know why it hadn't opened yet. "Wait until we have picked up the other passengers in Kowloon," was not the response they were willing to swallow.
A young coloured girl, who went by the name of Hunter, was sitting on her own next to us, nervously stabbing at keys on her phone in an attempt to look preoccupied. "They are a bit loud, aren't they?" I said, nodding towards our US chums. She laughed, "Yes, Americans are always loud," and then I realised she was an American herself. "Are you with them?" I asked. "Yes," she said, "we are based in Japan in the navy. We sailed down to South Korea, and now we have a brief stay in Hong Kong."
The bar was by now open, and I asked her if she would like a drink. She wasn't sure, she wasn't used to drinking. I got the impression she had never sampled the demon waters before. "I don't drink back home, I'm only 18, and drinking under the age of 21 is illegal," she explained. "I'm not sure how I'll feel after drinking alcohol," she added. I learned that she had grown up in Harlem, New York, and seemed to have led a sheltered life. She had never left New York until she joined the navy.
I left her chatting with Dan while I got us each a drink, and on my return, got chatting with Jim, an elderly English fellow who was travelling with his wife to Melbourne to visit their daughter. "We were meant to have 3 days here," he told me, "but our plane had engine problems, and the resulting delays left us with only two days in Hong Kong. We are staying with some friends who are Chinese, and they are killing us with food overload, but they are looking after us and helping us to cram all we can into the time available."