One of the many wonderful things about writing this blog is that I am slowly building up an invaulable record of what I did and when. Before I set off this morning for Hong Kong’s highest point, I looked back at my post ‘A Walk Around The Peak’ published in October 2013. I recalled then the threat of a boutique hotel development which would have brought traffic and disruption to the narrow circuit which runs around the summit. Happily, it seems plans to develop the historic mansion at 27 Lugard Road are in abeyance after the planning authority granted permission, only with such stringent conditions that the proposed establishment would have been impossible to run. Hooray I say! Hong Kong has quite enough building going on without needing to dispoil one of its star attractions.
Imagine my amazement when, at the foot of the driveway up to the controversial property, I found my very own post, printed and neatly laminated, pinned to the rockface. The only piece of anti-development propaganda written in English it had clearly been there since it was published. I had to wait my turn behind other curious walkers to re-read it. It brought a little tear to my eye to think that, in a city on the other side of the world, something I had written had encouraged those protesting against the plans. My words might even have made a small difference. I felt very proud.
A world away from the tumult that is Hong Kong city, there is no question that The Peak and the country parks which skirt around it are precious natural resources. From these lofty heights it’s easier to appreciate that almost three-quarters of Hong Kong’s territory is still countryside, supporting thousands of species of plants, birds and insects. A surprising number are found exclusively in this small area.
Whilst the weather in October is lovely for a Sunday stroll it’s not the best time to see the island’s many flowers in bloom. For that one needs to visit in March or April, when the revitalising mist and fog that shrouds The Peak during winter has worked its magic, encouraging trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to open their flowers in the spring sunshine.
At any time of year, if you walk slowly and open your eyes you are sure to spot something interesting on The Peak. I was pleased to find a single, solitary orchid growing out of a steep bank at the end of Harlech Road road near the Lung Fu Shan viewing point. Its tiny flowers, the size of my thumbnail, were a lovely clear yellow.
Nearby I spied what I first took to be a type of toadstool or fungus. (I apologise for its rather phallic appearance, but that’s nature for you.) Thinking it was unusual for a toadstool to have structures that looked like leaves around its base, I then found more of the same but with little white points which looked like they might have been some kind of flower. I have no idea what this might have been, but it was rather fascinating.
Remaining with the weird and wonderful for a moment, I suspected the tree pictured below might be an exotic interloper, the Brazilian grape tree, Plinia cauliflora. (If you know any better, please leave me a comment.) Bright green fruits emerged directly from the trunk and branches.
One particular small tree was flowering, although I think it might have been slightly confused by the seasons. This was Polyspora axillaris, also known as the Hong Kong Gordonia or fried egg tree. It has rather splendid orange bark which peals off in patches, a little like a London plane. Unlike camellias, to which Polsporas are related, the flowers drop off neatly when they die and create a pretty carpet on the ground. One would normally expect to see them flowering in winter rather than autumn.
With no vehicular interruption other than a pizza delivery man on a moped, the Peak Trail was left to the usual mix of energetic joggers, pocket-dog walkers, local ladies with over-sized sun visors and chattering tourists. This is how it should be. Lugard Road, once listed as one of Hong Kong’s ‘Eight Great Sceneries’ and romantically dubbed ‘the fairy bridge locked by the fog’ can only retain its magic if left largely un-trafficked. There is more than enough space for another chi-chi hotel elsewhere.