Victoria Peak

 

Jostling your way through an impatient throng of tourists is hardly the best start to a peaceful stroll, but there are few things in Hong Kong that don’t involve negotiating a crowd. As I stood in the queue for the tram I watched a Russian woman in lethal stilettos, an Indian family determined to shove their way to the front and a large Portuguese group, armed with expensive cameras, who almost invisibly worked their way through the melee of tourists waiting to board the tram to the top of the peak.

 

 

 

The Victoria Peak Tram was built in the late 19th century to link the wealthy residents of the 30 or so colonial houses at the top of the hill with the sprawling city below.  Alexander Findlay Smith, a Scotsman who had worked on the railways back in his homeland, won the rights to build the tramway in 1882. Clearly an astute businessman, Findlay Smith bought a large house at the top of the Peak at the beginning of the project, turned it into a hotel and put it on the market as soon as the new transport link was opened in 1888.

 

 

 

There is what appears to be an excellent museum at the lower station showing vintage carriages from the early days of the tramway and telling the story of the businessmen and their servants who relied on the tram to get to and from the city. Visit during the busy periods however and you won’t have a cat in hell’s chance of reading any of the displays, as you are herded into various holding areas during the one hour wait (apparently it can be longer) to board the tram. The secret here is to come early in the morning before the madness begins.

 

 

 

Tickets can be bought as singles or returns and by default include the Sky Terrace 428, an unsightly construction at the top of the tramway that boasts an unrivalled 360 degree panoramic view. For those looking to get to the top, take a few photos and come back down, this might represent a sensible option. Be aware however that hundreds of others are on the same mission and you’ll need to be quick, or ruthless, to capture your shots on the terrace without others stepping into your way.

 

 

 

If you do have a little time and are in the mood to stretch your legs a better option is to save your Hong Kong dollars and take a stroll along the Peak trail, a 2.8km walking path that circles the peak. The path is flat, very easy to follow and within 5 minutes of leaving the shopping mall that sits under the viewing terrace, almost deserted. Along the path are clear views of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Victoria Harbour that for me surpass those from the crowded terrace. I watched black kites riding the air currents around the Peak, their impressive wing-span silhouetted against the blue sky as they circled the narrow strip of woodland separating the hilltop from the skyscrapers below.

 

 

 

If, like me, you get so fed up with the queue to get up the hill that you buy a single tram ticket and opt to walk back down instead, you’ll find the way down both easy and tough; easy for the fact that at around a 1 in 3 gradient the only effort you have to make is to stop yourself from running down the hill and tough because….let’s just say your hamstrings will remind you of your 20 minute descent in the following days.

 

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