Hong Kong’s great outdoors – our natural playground

Tourists are filled with awe when they discover the sheer vastness and variety of terrain in Hong Kong’s stunning wilderness. Who can blame them?

Our city is mostly associated with images of skyscrapers and neon lights. But we locals know better. Many of us are used to weekend retreats to the city’s greener, more tranquil rural side, with its hills, reservoirs, waterfalls, rocky coastlines and hundreds of forest trails.

Country parks and protected reserves form more than 40 per cent of the land, so we have endless options ― from the highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, with its 35-metre Long Falls, to the UNESCO-listed Hong Kong Global Geopark, featuring volcanic rock formations created more than 140 million years ago.

Forest therapy with Jasmine Nunns

One Hong Kong native who often finds herself having to debunk visitors’ misconceptions about our city’s landscape is Jasmine Nunns, a certified forest therapy guide and founder of Kembali ― a company that offers individuals, groups and families activities such as nature and forest bathing walks, camping and swimming in rock pools, as well as craft workshops and life coaching.

Forest bathing ― the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bath’ ― is a form of preventative therapy to improve mental and physical health, which has been shown to enhance a person’s sleep quality and mood, sharpen focus, reduce stress levels and improve the cardiovascular system.

It involves ‘bathers’ spending time in nature ― connecting with it using their ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet ― so their senses savour the feel, sights, smells and sounds of their surroundings while walking slowly and aimlessly in nature.

“The walks are therapeutic in their essence: they invite the healing power of nature to benefit us socially, emotionally and physically,” Nunns, 35, says. “For me, it’s a practice of remembering our five senses and also our relationship with the natural environment. In doing so, we develop a sense of affection and compassion not only with nature, but also for ourselves.”

Nunns says studies have proved the positive effects of time spent in nature ― benefits which are especially advantageous for Hongkongers, who generally live a hectic lifestyle. “In an urban environment like Hong Kong, we are constantly trying to extend and stretch our capacity to work longer, party harder, be awake longer, sleep less and do more,” she says. “Nature teaches us that there is a time for rest and regeneration before we can begin again.”

Nunns’ deep appreciation of nature stems from her childhood. Growing up in a village in Tai Po, near Kadoorie Farm, she was able to play in ― and embrace ― unspoilt nature, swim in streams, climb trees and rescue animals. She studied geography at university and worked for animal welfare charities and environmental non-profit organisations before founding Kembali, which means ‘to return to’ in Bahasa Indonesia.

When deciding where to take Kembali’s forest bathers, Nunns says she’s spoilt for choice. “The natural space in Hong Kong is incredible,” she says. “There are so many opportunities to explore ― just thousands of kilometres of trails we can go on.”

Top of Nunns’ list of criteria for selecting a therapy venue is the presence of an open space, which will allow Kembali’s bathers to move freely. She particularly enjoys visiting one special spot in Tai Mei Tuk near the Bride's Pool Waterfall. “I find myself really drawn to that area because there are forests, rivers and other bodies of water,” she says.

“It feels really alive and abundant. But honestly, I just love the diversity of all the places we have here in Hong Kong.”

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Written by the South China Morning Post (Morning Studio)
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