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The Peak’s secret garden

07 November 2017

A Chinese lion guards the pavilion. 

By Vir B. Lumicao

Nestled on a notch atop Victoria Peak in Hong Kong is a jewel of the former Crown Colony that mesmerizes visitors and relives the halcyon days of this bustling, vertically expanding yet sylvan city.

The notch where the green gem, Victoria Peak Garden, sits is part of the crater of an extinct volcano that was first named Mount Austin, for the former Colonial Secretary John Gardiner Austin and later named after the British monarch, Queen Victoria.

The 552-meter-high tree- and brush-covered granite mountain was and through the years became the most expensive real estate belt that is home to most of Hong Kong’s rich and famous.

Perhaps this explains why Victoria Peak Garden has remained an inconspicuous, almost secret community park since the completion of its $146.5 million redevelopment in 2007.

The Victoria Peak that most people know, whether they are Hongkongers or tourists, is a concrete landing where the Peak Tram ends and where stand two multi-level edifices featuring a viewdeck, souvenir shops and eateries. It is also where Harlech Road, Mt Austin Road and Lugard Road converge just below the Peak Tower.

Most visitors who take the Peak Tram or the public double-decker buses to The Peak get the impression that their experience is complete once they have circled Victoria Peak via the 3.5-kilomoter flat and paved Morning Trail.

The Morning Trail, with a pit stop at a small garden at the junction of Hatton Road and Harlech Road, may suffice for individuals or groups who want a leisurely nature walk around Victoria Peak or a short calisthenics session.

For people looking for a bigger park where kids can have fun and adults can sit on the lawn admiring the flowers or take a nap under the trees, Mount Austin Playground is just a 200-meter uphill walk from the Peak Tram.

But the park can get too crowded on Sundays and public holidays when families, tourists and groups of migrant workers stroll and loll on the lawns.

This situation led us on a recent day off to the upper parts of The Peak for a discreet spot to rest. We went further up Mount Austin Road towards the communication towers and discovered the quiet and alluring beauty of Victoria Peak Garden.

A white-and-red concrete pavilion that can take about 50 people under its roof stands on the site of the former Mountain Lodge, an alternate residence of colonial governors of Hong Kong until it was demolished in 1946.

The pavilion, guarded by a granite sculpture of a Chinese lion, was built on a concrete podium that provides a commanding view of points that lie southwest of The Peak, such as Pokfulam, Kennedy and the islands of Lamma and Lantau.

The southeast side of the pavilion overlooks the main garden, which has a gate that opens to a flat, well-manicured sprawling lawn. The centerpiece is a lone hexagonal gazebo from which radiate four flower gardens whose plant beds form four diametrically arranged fleurs-de-lis.   

We learned from frequent visitors that the park is a favorite site for pictorials of newly wed couples, especially those with a retinue of guests tagging along. On the day we were there, we chanced upon two pairs of newly-weds posing for souvenir pictures or walking about the main garden. 

The sunken garden.
A short walk east of the main garden lies a quieter, tree-hedged sunken garden with three Victorian gazebos strategically positioned on the edges of a wide green lawn. Among the few people who were killing time or picnicking on shady patches under the trees were small groups of expatriate families or OFWs.

Near the sunken garden is another pocket of green lawn bounded by vegetation where people take their pets for a walk or for play.

Victoria Peak Garden is ringed by a network of cobblestone paths obviously designed for joggers, pet walkers, exercise buffs, hikers and other people who need a quiet place to enjoy the outdoors. For the tired, there are wooden benches along the paths.

One path from the pavilion leads to a circular dead-end where one can view the top of Mount High West or look farther west to Kwai Chung, Tsing Yi and Lantau or south to Pokfulam. 

From Victoria Peak Garden, a visitor can walk back to the Peak Tower via Mount Austin Road or take the Harlech Road Fitness trail that descends to the Morning Trail at the Hatton Road junction, which winds all the way down to Pokfulam Road.       

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