via Lo Fu Tau and A Po Long
Once you summit Discovery Bay’s Lo Fu Tau (“Tiger’s Head”), the hike to Mui Wo via A Po Long is pretty easy, as it’s all downhill from then on – and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but quite literally, lol. The descent is gentle, and from A Po Long intersection onwards, fully paved (unfortunately). At almost 7km and easily 2 hours, however, the hike is a moderately long one, and that’s not counting the somewhat challenging ascent to Lo Fu Tau (add another couple of kilometres and up to an hour for that!).
It’s thus a good hike for your step count and stamina, but don’t set out too late in the day, as you will need around 3-4 hours, depending on how many rest stops, photos and mini detours you take. There are certainly great views to snap and enjoy along the way, as well as some interesting sights to check out, which all add up. Of particular note is Silvermine Cave (old disused silver mine, entrance only), Silvermine Waterfall and the village properties before Mui Wo, amongst other things.
Specifically, you can expect great panoramic views from Lo Fu Tau peak (on a clear day, that is), and not too long after starting your descent via Lo Fu Tau Country Trail, keep your eyes peeled for three rock formations of potential interest: a ‘sitting duck’ stone up on your left (it looks a lot more like a duck as you walk around and behind it!), a ‘sword-testing’ stone on your immediate right (vertically split boulder, opposite the duck), and a giant ‘peach’ stone planted firmly in the middle of the path (a little further down the trail). All three are grouped fairly close together.
At certain sections of the trail on the way to A Po Long intersection, good views will open up of the boundary crossing facilities and airport at Chek Lap Kok, plus you can even see the highrise residential buildings that mark the beginning of Tung Chung. These will come into view on your right, while on the left you will again spot DB reservoir, the island of Peng Chau, and pass around the furthest most point of the DB golf course, from where you can see all the way out to Mui Wo, visibility permitting.
A Po Long to Mui Wo
At A Po Long intersection, take a rest stop in the pavilion, then head left on the Hong Kong Olympic Trail to Mui Wo. From this point on, the trail is fully paved with partial shade, and it really isn’t too long before you find yourself on the elevated outskirts of Mui Wo.
From the dated white pavilion (the one at A Po Long looks much nicer and timeless, in my opinion!), it’s a downward descent to Mui Wo via a series of concrete steps. As you start to encounter village properties, look out for Silvermine Cave on a rise to the right. There’s a large faux wooden pavilion next to it, plus a vague (and incorrect) info board by the cave entrance and a circular stone plaque in the ground denoting the site’s years of significance, from the initial discovery of silver in 1862 to the cessation of operations in 1896. (The current info board wrongly states that silver mining commenced in 1910. Huh?)
From what I can gather, mining activity is believed to have commenced in the 1860s, with major mining excavations (at least three, maybe four, tunnels and multiple shafts by completion) and infrastructure development undertaken in the 1880s, which led to first media coverage about the mine in 1886. The mine produced not only silver but also lead from galena ore. In fact, more lead than silver was produced, but silver production was what drove profits. As such, once the mine’s silver grade/content declined amidst low market prices for silver in the 1890s, the operation ceased to be feasible, resulting in its closure in 1896.
So, that’s the backstory, but what about the mine as it stands today? Well, unfortunately, there’s not much to really see or explore in the few metres of accessible cave before the mine is sealed off for safety reasons. Since you’re there, however, you may as well go inside to take a quick peek, provided the cave floor isn’t too muddy (the last time I visited, a layer of gravel had been added, which is a good idea).
Silvermine Cave is the ‘rebranded’ eastern entrance to the mine’s upper tunnel. You can proceed for several metres before you come face to face with a 22cm steel-enforced concrete wall. And that’s it folks! No joke. There used to be three other mine entrances, but two are long gone, having been reclaimed by nature and the sands (more like dirt, lol) of time, whilst the remaining eastern entrance to the mine’s lower tunnel (behind the nearby public restroom – I still need to check this out) is similarly sealed off, which is probably a good thing.
A 2007/08 site reconnaissance conducted by expert consultants found that the lower tunnel contains water over a metre deep in parts, plus flooded pits of unknown depths. These are thought to lead to an inaccessible buried third tunnel below. Also, the lower tunnel is home to a bat population comprising several species, which the government doesn’t want to disturb for both conservation and public health reasons (bats are known vectors of multiple human diseases like rabies).
Soon after leaving Silvermine Cave, as you near the bottom of the hill, you will see a picturesque Chinese pagoda and small barbecue area on your left. The odd looking circular structure nearby is a public restroom (the same one noted above, so the other mine entrance should be behind it), and on the other side of all this is the official Lower Silvermine Waterfall, which you can clamber around if it’s not flowing too heavily (and usually it’s not, unless it very recently poured with rain). For rock buffs, the igneous rock face behind the falls is apparently porphyry (same for other falls in the area).
Optional: Upper Silvermine Waterfall
What most people don’t know about is the *unofficial* Upper Silvermine Waterfall, which is essentially more of the same, but more impressive and extensive than the lower falls. The upper falls are actually multi-tiered and I don’t want to go into too much detail about how to access them, but suffice it to say you can either take the dirt path to the side of the dated white pavilion I mentioned a few paragraphs back (on the right if heading from DB to Mui Wo), or you can take the path shown in the directions at bottom. These paths will take you to the top or bottom of the upper falls, respectively.
Navigating the many stages of the upper falls can be a tad tricky, steep and jungly in parts (even thorny – I ended up with tiny prickly bits stuck to the skin of my legs!), and it may be easier to tackle it bottom-up than top-down, so starting from the lower path and climbing upwards. I certainly found the middle stage to be quite steep, and as you know, it’s always easier to go up than come down something steep. Anyway, that’s my advice and the way I did it, and I must say, it was quite the adventure climbing up and around the falls! You get some great views from the top looking down over the many cascades and pools and out to Mui Wo.
If going bottom-up, keep an eye out for flag/ribbon markers and stick to the left side for both the first stage (gentle/easy) and second stage (steep/hard), then switch to the right until the final stonewall falls (moderate). Remain on the right side until near the top of the small walled stream, then cross over to the left (if you cross too early, the stream banks are super soft and almost like quicksand, as I ruefully discovered), walk over the narrow wall, and follow the dirt path back up to the dated white pavilion. That’s it! You can refer to this other hiking blog for photographic directions (I used it myself!).
Incidentally, if you follow the Upper Silvermine Waterfall downstream from the bottom starting point, it will take you through a lush jungle paradise surrounded by private farms, until you come across a path that leads back to the main trail to Mui Wo. I suppose you can continue further along the stream until you reach the Lower Silvermine Waterfall, but I figured I had (unintentionally, doh) explored enough of the undergrowth in the wrong direction, so was happy to emerge and start over, lol.
Back on the trail to Mui Wo
Picking up from the official Lower Silvermine Waterfall, continue down the path until you reach a main intersection. Despite what the signs say, both left and right will take you to Mui Wo ferry pier in more or less the same amount of time, and my preference after having tried both routes is to go right via Pak Ngan Heung village, which literally means “white silver township”. Incidentally, the stream/river that forms Silvermine Waterfall is unoriginally named River Silver (surprise, surprise – not). Lol, everything is named silver around Mui Wo!
Pak Ngan Heung developed as a direct result of the mining activity in the area. After the mine’s closure in 1896, the population size diminished and those who remained switched to a life of farming and fishing. Today, Pak Ngan Heung resembles most other rural villages. There is a white entranceway before the village, and to the left of that, a quirky ‘ancient’ public latrine of the squat variety (no longer in use, I should point out!).
To the right upon entering the village is Man Mo Temple, which is said to be the oldest such site in Hong Kong, although the building itself is clearly contemporary, fitted out with the usual shrine, altar and incense, etc. Also, look out for the dilapidated abandoned ‘star house’ later on. I don’t think it has any historical significance, other than it looks rather unique and has an Asian communist vibe to it, lol, especially with all of the stars at top and bicycles parked outside.
From Pak Ngan Heung, follow the Islands Nature Heritage Trail / Mui Wo Rural Committee Road to Mui Wo’s Silvermine Bay Beach, checking out the village properties along the way. Some are quaint, some new, others literally shacks, and some clearly abandoned. It’s an interesting and eclectic mix. You’ll also pass a few local farms, strange rest stops that look like mushroom-covered bus stops for gnomes (my first impression at least, lol), and possibly some water buffalo out in the fields, etc. I’ve been told that feral water buffalo can often be found roaming Mui Wo and the beach, although I have yet to see any beyond the fields.
Once at Silvermine Bay Beach, turn right and follow the waterfront promenade around to the ferry pier and bus depot, which are situated in the main ‘downtown’ (and I use that word very loosely, lol) area of Mui Wo. There are a few pubs and eateries in the vicinity, of which the China Bear is probably the most well-known and popular with expats (located on the waterfront to the right of the ferry pier). Once you’re done, all of your transportation options are right there, so it’s easy to make your way back or to wherever else you need to go.
Alternatively, before leaving you can check out Mui Wo and some of the other surrounding villages, where there are more historical/cultural sights to take in, such as a small ‘museum’ (very limited days and hours of operation; seems to only be open on Wednesdays and weekends from 1-4pm), a couple of old guard towers (more impressive in photos than the tiny one at Pak Mong, near Tung Chung), and of course more temples, etc. I always seem to arrive at Mui Wo a tad too late in the day, so haven’t checked these out myself, but must get around to it one day!
- From Lo Fu Tau peak, follow the signposted dirt path of Lo Fu Tau Country Trail, which will take you down and around the furthest most point of the DB golf course (with views out to Mui Wo) to the A Po Long intersection and pavilion rest stop (60 minutes). Not long after starting your descent, keep an eye out for the ‘sitting duck’ stone on your left, the ‘sword-testing’ stone on your right (opposite), and the giant ‘peach’ stone a little further down.
- At the A Po Long intersection/pavilion, head left on the paved Hong Kong Olympic Trail to Mui Wo (about one hour).
- Just before descending to Mui Wo, you will arrive at a dated white pavilion with an info board about Mui Wo. From the dirt path to the right of the pavilion, you can access the top of the unofficial Upper Silvermine Waterfall, although starting from the bottom is advisable.
- As you start to encounter village properties, keep an eye out for Silvermine Cave (30 minutes from A Po Long, not counting any waterfall detours), which is located on a rise to the right of the trail.
- Soon after leaving Silvermine Cave, you will spot the official Lower Silvermine Waterfall on your left (5 minutes). Use the public restroom there, if necessary.
- Continue down to the main intersection and take the right-hand option to go to Mui Wo via Pak Ngan Heung (my preferred route). Check out the ‘ancient’ latrine before the white entranceway on your left, and Man Mo Temple upon entering the village on your right.
- Follow the Islands Nature Heritage Trail / Mui Wo Rural Committee Road to Silvermine Bay Beach (25 minutes), checking out ‘star house’ and the other village properties along the way. Keep an eye out for feral water buffalo.
- At the beach, turn right on the water promenade and follow it around to the ferry pier and bus depot (5 minutes).
Start Point: Lo Fu Tau peak, Discovery Bay
End Point: Mui Wo ferry pier and bus depot, via A Po Long intersection
Distance, Duration & Difficulty: Almost 7km in about 2 hours at a moderate pace, even longer if you stop for lots of rest stops, photos and/or exploration; gentle descent the whole way, not difficult, but a little long; getting up to Lo Fu Tau is another matter, however (fairly steep, may be difficult for some, peak stands at 465m, so factor in another couple of kilometres and up to an hour for this alone, depending on where you start your ascent; see here for one option, albeit not the shortest, quickest or easiest route!)
Trail Surface: All dirt from Lo Fu Tau to A Po Long, with some roughly carved stone steps in parts; entirely paved from A Po Long to Mui Wo, final descent has steps
Environment: From Lo Fu Tau to A Po Long, typical grassy hillside, cut back from the trail, no undergrowth or trees, so also no shade; from A Po Long onwards, some shade is provided by the trees and jungly undergrowth next to the trail; one Red-necked Keelback (venomous) and a dead baby Greater Green Snake (non-venomous) sighted just before A Po Long as of the last update!
Challenges: Besides the ascent to Lo Fu Tau, none, except possibly the distance
Don’t Miss: Great views at Lo Fu Tau peak, ‘sitting duck’ stone, ‘sword-testing’ stone, giant ‘peach’ stone, Silvermine Cave, Silvermine Waterfall (both the official lower and unofficial upper falls), Pak Ngan Heung (old entranceway and latrine, Man Mo Temple, ‘star house’), village properties en route to Mui Wo, Silvermine Bay Beach (there are more historical/cultural sights beyond those listed for this particular route if you’re up for taking detours and wandering about Mui Wo and the other surrounding villages)
For further info, see also:
- The Accidental Hiker: Lo Fu Tau, Discovery Bay
- Geological Society of HK: Exploration of the Existing Silvermine Cave and Study for Its Reopening (PDF newsletter)
- The Industrial History of HK Group: Silver Mine of Silvermine Bay
- Wikipedia: Mui Wo