"I never wanted to come here before because of its outer shiny appearance with a false artifice, devoid of the beauty of raw nature, but since I brought the visually impaired here, I have come to understand that it is otherwise."
Hong Kong has many hills and few flatlands, and even fewer green plains. Apart from Ngong Ping grassland which is a product of nature, many famous and large areas are man-made. In the past, I heard that there was a piece of grassland as large as a Victoria Park hidden in the mountains of Sai Kung called Sham Chung. Many people would go camping, come for a picnic and fly kites during holidays. When you look at the photos, you would think you were on the Mongolian plains full of foliage in the background. However, when I looked up the information on the internet, I found out that the site was originally a wetland with biodiversity, but it was sold to a private developer many years ago and the plan to build a golf course was called off. After hearing such a story, my interest in this place was low until I visited it for the first time when I organised a hiking activity for the visually impaired.
Sham Chung is located at the northern part of Sai Kung, surrounded by mountains on three sides, including Shek Nga Tau, Shek Uk Shan and Wah Mei Shan and facing the Three Fathoms Cove. "Sham" means deep inland, while "Chung" refers to the salt and freshwater junction near the shore. There are many ways to get to Sham Chung. Those who like to hike can take a two-hour walk from Shui Long Wo to Sham Chung, but as most of the road is a concrete path, it is not very exciting for nature hikers like me. The easiest way is to take a ferry from Ma Liu Shui Pier, but as I live in Tseung Kwan O, I couldn't justify taking a ferry all the way to Sham Chung. I decided to take a taxi to Yung Shue O (this is a restricted area) and walk for 45 minutes to Sham Chung. Skip the battle with cars along the road and enjoy the view of the mangroves.
The first time I went to Sham Chung was to try out the trail with my aunt and have a picnic. I prepared a lot of food beforehand and even wore a pretty dress which I regretted later. The 45-minute trail was easy. No stairs, only a very few slopes, and the ground was perfectly paved. A 1-star trail ideal for families.
Yung Shue O consists mainly of rivers and streams, freshwater marshes, mangroves and forests. This is also a popular spot for bird and butterfly watching. Every time I passed by the mangroves, I would get close to the plants and observe them, not only looking out for hermit crabs poking their heads out, but also help release the fishing ropes and ghost nets trapped in the branches of the trees. These horrible things wash up to the shore and become entangled in the plants, and over time the branches turn white and wither. Passers-by will think I'm silly for getting rid of them because there will be more the next day. I just want to do what I can, and if everyone does a little bit, there's a lot in collective power.
After a 40-minute walk, you reach Sham Chung Pier. The white lighthouse against the tranquil sea is a beautiful sight, and this is the best angle to enjoy the sunset especially if you are on the last boat. Continuing along the concrete road is a little river that feeds into the sea and when the moment of the large open meadow comes into view, it is truly amazing! Although it was tucked away in the mountains, the sunlight was not blocked. It shone fiercely on the lush green grass. The scene reminded me of the swiss meadows in the movie Sound of Music where music was heard everywhere. I instantly felt the urge to take off my shoes and run wildly on the grass and lie down! However, I urge you not to do this! Because the villagers have added a lot of fertilisers to make the grass grow strong. Don’t forget that this was a swamp. I didn't know whether I am stepping on grass, mud or...?
Back to reality, we found a shallow grassy area near the fishpond and sat down to eat on the ground. Luckily, we had brought mosquito coils with us otherwise we would have been bitten by mosquitoes. After our meal, we wandered around. There are five settlements in Sham Chung, but the names differ in literature and oral accounts due to the varying transliterations in Hakka and Cantonese. There is a stall along the concrete road next to a coconut tree, which is one of the settlements called Wan Chai. To the right are the villages of Shek Tau Path, Pau Nei Chai, Holy Church and Tui Min. Villagers settled here 200 years ago and this area was used for farming. In the late 19th century, Catholic missionaries came to the area and established the Epiphany of Our Lord Chapel and School. However, after the Second World War, when agriculture declined and transportation became difficult, the villagers moved out and the village fell into disuse.
After a relaxing afternoon in Sham Chung, I decided to take the visually impaired on another trip, as it was a short one with no stairs. There are also places to rest so that they could experience nature. On the day, there were three visually impaired persons, two of whom had lost their eyesight completely and had to be led along the whole way. When I let them touch the heart-shaped leaves and the grass on the trees, they were thrilled and said they loved the smell of the grass and the warmth of the sun.
Watching their satisfied smiles reminded me of a few things. As experienced hikers, we challenge ourselves to conquer a mountain and prove our abilities, forgetting the curiosity we felt when we first encountered nature and how small we are, and that nature has always been there for us. As able-bodied human beings, the pleasures we see, touch, smell and enjoy should not be taken for granted. Help those around you to appreciate these. Nature can heal the soul and you can be a healer too!