48 hours in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has seen challenges for its Best Stopover Destination crown, but this efficient, electric city can do a whirlwind 48-hour jetlag breaker like no other.
A hazy flight over the skyscrapers of Hong Kong island and a hazy head from one too many in-flight wines. With no customs queues and rapid-transit systems running to the second, it is clear we are not in Auckland any more. A quick check-in and bag dump at the Marriott Sky City, my airport hotel with a dedicated train stop, and we begin the 25-minute MRT ride into Hong Kong station.
Hong Kong station at 5pm is rush hour in Auckland on steroids. You can spend hours in the adjacent malls of competing excessiveness, but I prefer to wander on the street. There is order among the chaos, as long as you go briskly with the flow of foot traffic, all helped by air bridges that stretch over highways and eventually to the famed Mid-Levels escalator that effortlessly whisks city workers from Connaught Rd up the hills to their apartments or Soho for dinner.
The ride up to The Peak, high above the Mid-Levels and Central skyscrapers, is a step above the Wellington cable car in terms of sometimes terrifying gradients. In true HK fashion, there is a mall waiting at the top, but more impressive is the panorama of the neon-hued, upward sprawl of Hong Kong island and across to Kowloon. This is hawker territory, but uninterrupted views can be found further down the well-lit walking tracks.
Expatriates tend to congregate in Lan Kwai Fong. Join them for a late-night drink at one of the precinct's many bars or head to the closest 7-Eleven and grab a beer to go and wander the streets to pick up the same street-party vibe.
Making the most of staying on the airport island of Lantau, I venture out early for the Tian Tan Buddha. The 20-minute taxi ride is full of surprises, chiefly that my driver, Wan, wants to discuss the political influence of China on Hong Kong (when every guide book said to stick to small talk with locals). The ever-present haze will mark your holiday selfies, but the greenery and the roadside cattle prove this city offers everything.
Wan departs, which is a shame as the steps to get up close and personal with the largest sitting Buddha in the world don't open until 10am, and I wander the tourist ghost town until the guard allows me to race up the stairs for my 10 minutes of Zen with the Tian Tan Buddha and some great views across evergreen Lantau.
Hong Kong is often dismissed as a shopping destination only for the Gucci and Louis Vuitton set, but there are options for any pay scale. Citygate outlet mall one level up from the Lantau train station, where the gondola back from the Tian Tan Buddha drops me, quickly dispels any anti-materialist inspirations from the Big Buddha moments beforehand.
Back in Central for some midtown wandering. If you're after a Kiwi coffee fix, head to Fuel Espresso in the lavish IFC mall, or maybe the best authentic dim sum at Tsim Chai Kee Noodle, both in Central.
The iconic Star Ferry, a fleet of nostalgic green tugboats, connect downtown Hong Kong with the Kowloon peninsula and Tsim Sha Tsui. The trip offers a plethora of cityscape photo ops. Catch it from terminal 7, Star Ferry Pier, Man Kwong St.
Dinner is at the InterContinental's Yan Toh Heen, where head chef Lau Yiu Fai serves us scallops with shrimp and pear, stuffed crab shell, basil dragon pearls with ginger panacotta and the very strange dessert of steamed turtle and Chinese herb pudding - although I'm not sure that last one is PETA-approved.
Instead of watching the Symphony of Lights, which electrifies the Hong Kong cityscape from the best seat in the house, the Intercontinental lobby, since it's Wednesday, jump on the Metro and head to the Happy Valley Raceway for the twilight races. Tourists get discounted entry and the beer garden is the place to be, whether you like horses or not.
The Chi Lin Nunnery and Gardens offers an oasis in the city, although it's a dozen stops on the MTR line away from Kowloon to Diamond Hill. Like the Big Buddha, the space is eerily empty, save for some koi and some cleaners. Entrance is free, the landscaped gardens and architecture are polished and it's a serene final stop before taking the MTR back to the airport and jetting to my final destination.
WHERE TO STAY
Intercontinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Rd, Kowloon. Offers the best view of the symphony of lights and the Hong Kong island skyline all from your room.
Marriott SkyCity, Hong Kong Airport. Right by the airport, but on the Metro line, so also easy to get to Central and Kowloon.
WHERE TO EAT
Tsim Chai Kee Noodle, 48 Wellington St in Central.
Yan Toh Heen, Intercontinental Hong Kong Fuel Espresso, Shop 3023, IFC mall, Central.
Josh Martin flew courtesy of Cathay Pacific and stayed with assistance from the Intercontinental Hong Kong.