The Dragon's Back

Slumming it on the island really isn't so bad. Firstly there are the views, which are not inconsiderable:

And, thanks to some classic British bureaucracy, quite a lot of amazing countryside. More than two thirds of this special administrative region is reserved for greenery – the reason it's such a lanky, fraught metropolis. The vegetation looms over the iconic skyline, up and over hills, round bays, dipping all the way to the South China Sea. And that's just on Hong Kong Island.
North of the city in the New Territories lies the Maclehose trail, perhaps the most famous – and certainly most brutal – trek in the area. The route runs for 100km and is said to contain so many ascents and descents that it's the equivalent of walking up and down Mount Everest. A fit, experienced walker will hope to finish it in 20 hours. During an annual Oxfam charity walk, those not used to such exertion will be closer to 30. There are tales of Nepalese soldiers running it in 11, which is only fleetingly a surprise. 
We opt for something considerably more, well, realistic. Not far behind the fringes of Hong Kong Island's hustle and bustle lies the start of one of its most famous treks. Hailed as perhaps the best urban trek in the world, the Dragon's Back trail can be started from various points, but we opt for its city jump off.
Leaving Wan Chai, the last stop on the Island Line of the metro system, we pass through a noisy mall, across a blaring street and up a curving road towards one of the city's cemeteries. Here things become a good deal more quiet, although the traffic continues to roar below. Anyone looking for a flavour of Hong Kong's colonial past could do worse than to stop a while here. Crammed onto impossibly steep slopes, the cemetery houses Chinese, English and Portuguese names – and frequently mishmashes of all three.
We march upwards and quickly find ourselves under thick foliage, but we've barely entered the woods before we notice large numbers of butterflies. What's remarkable is not simply the number, but how many different types there are. Blue Barons and Common Tigers are joined by countless others (not quite countless: Hong Kong is home to 235 different species).
Our path leads us on, along a skinny road, past an old boy, tap aff, practising tai chi in the warm morning, and eventually a sign that takes us off the road altogether and into a forest path. While it's hot, the sky is covered in a dull cloud, pierced only occasionally by the sinister silhouette of a black kite. 

As we continue into the Shek O country park, the roar of the city fades to a distant growl. And as the woods deepen, it disappears completely. We've been walking for less than an hour and already the city seems like a ridiculous impossibility. No sooner have the engines died, however, than the screeching of the insects has started.
By an experienced hiker's standards, this isn't too arduous a test, but for the casual us, especially in such humidity it provides a decent test. Sweating between the flowering bushes either side of us, we barely notice the retreat of the trees as we reach another crossroads. Now, finally, we are to walk the Dragon's Back proper.
The path could hardly be named better: a half hour of rugged, red road that leads along an undulating spine between a series of little peaks. The ground has flashes of rouge between gnarled stones giving the impression of marching along Smaug.
By the time we reach the Shek O peak (which stands at a hardly Himalayan 293 metres) we are exhausted but happy with our effort, and absolutely delighted to be greeted by a park bench. From this lofty perch they say on a good day, it's possible to see all the way up to the New Territories. Today we take their word for it.

Make no mistake, Hong Kong isn't a cheap place. Everything – the fruit, the water, the milk – everything is expensive. Also, it's certainly not real China and as if to underline that point, they use a different currency. We are about to leave and soon our Hong Kong Dollars will be pretty much worthless. With 41 of them left – about £3.60 – we're determined not to take any more out. That however has to see us through the next 30 hours.
One bag on the front, one on the back, we look like two turtles doing it missionary as we stumble around in the rain working out how best to spend our pittance. Eventually we stumble across a little supermarket, take turns at spending what we have and by the time we're done we have quite a pile of nutritionally-questionable fodder to sustain our border train to Guangzhou. From there we will transfer onto another train that heads north, and into mother China.