Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Hong Kong Landscapes

Hong Kong Landscapes: Shaping the Barren Rock

Bernie Owen
Raynor Shaw
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Hong Kong Landscapes
    Book Description:

    Hong Kong has a largely mountainous terrain, very little flat land, no major rivers, no great forests, and a paucity of mineral wealth. The relative poverty of the place led the British Foreign Secretary to remark, in 1841, that Hong Kong was a "barren rock with hardly a house upon it". Prior to that date, the rugged landscape of Hong Kong had evolved, with little human interference, over about 400 million years. Subsequently, large influxes of people and their farming, building, reclamation, and economic activities have markedly transformed that original landscape. This book explains, in simple terms and with numerous photographs and figures, the origins of these varied landscapes, examining the contributions of different rocks, geological structures, and modern processes, as well as the profound impact of people.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-387-7
    Subjects: Geography

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. List of Information Notes
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Using This Book
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Part One: Introduction

    • Modern and Ancient Environments
      (pp. 2-6)

      Hong Kong has a largely mountainous terrain, very little flat land, no major rivers, no great forests, and a paucity of mineral wealth. Following the planting of the British flag at Possession Point by Captain Elliot on the 26 January 1841, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston scathingly remarked that Hong Kong was a “barren rock with hardly a house upon it”. In contrast, Hong Kong today is widely perceived as a prosperous cityscape characterised by tall buildings, a dense urban population, and the bustle of Victoria Harbour. Clearly, remarkable changes have occurred since 1841, developments that are advertised worldwide,...

    • An Environmental History
      (pp. 7-10)

      The oldest rocks in Hong Kong were deposited as loose sediments 400–360 million years ago. Today, these rocks are only exposed in the northeast, along the northern shores of the Tolo Channel. The sediments originally accumulated near a river mouth that drained mountains to the southeast. Multiple streams carried sand and pebbles across the landscape. Small sand dunes formed locally. Over time, the mountains were eroded and became lower, with finer-grained sand and silt being produced from the mountain remnants. These materials were laid down on a delta floodplain that was periodically invaded by the sea. A similar setting...

  6. Part Two: Landscape Types and Origins

    • Rugged Mountain Landscapes: A Story of Ancient Volcanic Eruptions
      (pp. 13-19)

      Long-extinct volcanoes have left an indelible footprint on Hong Kong’s landscape. Large parts of the territory were influenced by volcanic activity that produced relatively hard rocks. Today, these commonly form the foundations of the most prominent peaks, including Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain), which rises to 957 m and is the highest summit in Hong Kong. Other high points underlain by volcanic rocks include: Sunset Peak, Lantau Peak, Fei Ngo Shan, Sharp Peak, and Ma On Shan (p. 12). Although tall cliffs are rare, there are many steep slopes, narrow ridges, and scattered rocky outcrops interspersed with more gentle...

    • Rounded Hilly Landscapes: The Roots of Volcanoes
      (pp. 21-23)

      Today, the roots of ancient volcanoes create very distinctive landscapes in Hong Kong. These roots were the magma chambers that were once located 1–2 km below the ancient land surface. Over time, the hot molten magma cooled and solidified to form the rock granite. Millions of years of subsequent erosion stripped away the overlying rocks (IN04, p. 22), exposing the granite over one-third of the land area of Hong Kong, forming bold, rounded rock surfaces.

      These granite regions tend to be lower and more gentle in appearance than the volcanic landscapes described in the previous section. Rounded boulders are...

    • Ridges and Colourful Landscapes: Ancient Seas, Rivers, Lakes, and Deserts
      (pp. 25-31)

      Over the last 400 million years, environments in Hong Kong have changed radically (p. 7–10). There have been several phases of volcanism, but at other times, ancient seas, river plains, lakes, and deserts have developed. Sediments that accumulated in these varied settings were subsequently buried and then transformed into rocks. Today, these layered rocks form beds (IN05, p. 26) that later earth movements have tilted to varying degrees. In some cases, the layers are gently sloping and form asymmetrical ridges, or cuestas (IN03, p. 18). In other instances, the beds have been upturned so that they are almost vertical....

    • Lowlands and Valleys: Fractured Rocks and Rivers
      (pp. 33-39)

      Faults, large and small, are zones of weakness in the earth’s crust that control the locations of Hong Kong’s rivers and plains. Most valleys reflect the combined influence of fracturing of rocks by faulting and erosion by rivers. This is apparent when the pattern of faults is overlain on a topographical map (figure below).

      There are three main fault orientations in Hong Kong. The largest valleys follow a NE-SW alignment, as shown by the Sha Tin Valley and its extension along Tolo Channel (a flooded river valley). Other faults that run parallel to this trend control the configuration of several...

    • Coastal Landscapes: Cliffs, Beaches, and Mud Flats
      (pp. 41-46)

      Coastlines reflect the interplay between geology (rock type, faults, and joints) and marine processes (erosion and deposition). These factors vary from place to place, resulting in the variable development of cliffs, beaches, and tidal mud flats along different sections of the coastline. Hong Kong’s highly indented coast is about 350 km long and shows a marked contrast between west and east. The western shores tend to have a more subdued appearance (photograph below), with gentler slopes and either rocky or muddy coasts. In contrast, eastern areas tend to be much more rugged, with abrupt, near-vertical rocky cliffs (p. 40) and...

  7. Part Three: Hong Kong Regions

    • The Northwestern New Territories
      (pp. 48-66)

      Landscapes characterised by rivers, lowland plains, and coastal wetlands impart a distinctive flavour to this region, providing scenery that does not occur in other parts of Hong Kong. Isolated mountain ridges also form a unique element of the landscape. Several of the mountains and valleys, and parts of the coastline, follow a NE–SW orientation, best shown by the Lam Tsuen Valley, Tai To Yan, and the coast at Lau Fau Shan. Human settlement is widespread, with villages scattered across the lowlands. New Towns are located at Fanling, Sheung Shui, Yuen Long, and Tin Shui Wai. A few older settlements...

    • The Northeastern New Territories
      (pp. 67-83)

      Rocks exert a particularly strong influence on the shape of the landscape of the northeastern New Territories, which is distinguished from other regions by the extensive exposure of sedimentary rocks. The scenery developed on these materials is dominated by broadly E-W-trending ridges, some of which (e.g. Wang Leng) are asymmetrical in cross-section. These are characterised by gently inclined northern slopes and rugged south-facing cliffs. Others, such as the Bluff Head ridge with a NE-SW trend, are rounded and symmetrical. The highest mountain, at 603 m, is Wong Leng. This summit, other peaks, and the southerly slopes tend to be grassy,...

    • The Western New Territories
      (pp. 84-100)

      Parts of the western New Territories demonstrate the most extreme examples of gully erosion in Hong Kong. Other areas show how deliberate human intervention can bring about a recovery in “natural” landscapes. The region includes the Castle Peak Range, the Tuen Mun Valley, and the hills of the Tai Lam Country Park, as well as parts of the low-lying Shap Pat Heung and Shek Kong floodplains. Many small villages lie within the latter two areas. The largest town is Tuen Mun, which housed about 500,000 people in 2003.

      There are three distinct mountain massifs. The Castle Peak Range is bordered...

    • The Central New Territories
      (pp. 101-118)

      The landscape of the central New Territories, more than most regions, reflects Hong Kong’s violent eruptive past. The region is dominated by three mountain peaks, underlain by volcanic or intrusive rocks. The highest peak is Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain; 957 m), and the others are Grassy Hill (647 m) and Needle Hill (532 m). The Sha Tin Valley is also underlain by igneous rocks, but the scenery there has been altered significantly by people.

      Streams radiate from the Tai Mo Shan massif in all directions, with several being interrupted by waterfalls (IN22, p. 102), including some of the...

    • The Southeastern New Territories
      (pp. 119-130)

      Nearshore islands, a large bay, and a complex coastline, backed by high mountains, give the southeastern New Territories a unique maritime setting. The region extends southwards from Ma On Shan Country Park to the Clear Water Bay Peninsula. To the east, it is bounded by the Sai Sha Rd. and, to the west, by the Fei Ngo Shan ridge. Ngau Mei Hoi (Port Shelter) is a large body of water that constitutes half of the total area and encompasses many islands, the three largest being Kai Sai Chau, Tiu Chung Chau, and Kiu Tsui Chau.

      The most prominent features in...

    • The Eastern New Territories
      (pp. 131-148)

      The eastern New Territories possess some of the most varied, and in places the most exciting, coastlines in Hong Kong. The region is almost entirely made up of volcanic rocks, some of which were formed by mega-eruptions associated with the collapse of long extinct volcanoes. The region stands in splendid isolation from the rest of Hong Kong, being linked only by a narrow strip of land. The area consists of a large peninsula that juts out towards Mirs Bay bounded to the north by the Tolo Channel and to the south by Port Shelter. There are no towns, although several...

    • Lantau Island
      (pp. 149-172)

      The geology of Lantau is distinctive because it includes a very large area of dykes. It also provides favourable conditions for slope failures on many of its steep mountain slopes. For a long time, it was considered remote and inaccessible, but, in recent decades, the degree of human landscape intervention along the north shore has escalated more than in any other part of Hong Kong.

      The island (146 km²) is the largest in Hong Kong. It shares its name with Lantau Peak, which locally means Ragged Head. The mountain (934 m) is also known as Fung Wong Shan (Phoenix Mountain)...

    • Kowloon and the Lion Rock Ridge
      (pp. 173-188)

      Kowloon is the largest urbanised region in Hong Kong, which, together with the northshore of Hong Kong Island, forms the centre of metropolitan Hong Kong. These two areas demonstrate, perhaps more than most, the critical importance to cities of understanding the natural world. Slope failures threaten people and structures. Foundation construction requires a thorough understanding of ground conditions, particularly of rock weathering. Consequently, a knowledge of the geology below an urban area is vital for sustainable city developments.

      Kowloon is surrounded by water to the south and west and by mountains to the north and east. The northern hills form...

    • Hong Kong Island and Lamma
      (pp. 189-206)

      Hong Kong Island is the historic heart of Hong Kong. Along with Kowloon, it forms the urban core. The island’s landscape displays the widespread imprint of human activities, even in areas that appear natural. Nevertheless, open countryside exists over much of its southern side and on neighbouring Lamma Island.

      Hong Kong Island was first occupied by British naval forces under the command of Captain Charles Elliot on 20 January 1841. In the following year, the Treaty of Nanking ceded the island to Great Britain in perpetuity. It was returned to China when a 99-year lease on the New Territories expired...

    • Seas and Islands
      (pp. 207-229)

      This unique region includes some of the most attractive and remote landscapes in the territory—the islands that lie scattered across the seas of Hong Kong. It also encompasses the little-known, or understood, world below the sea. The submarine habitats are extremely varied, possess their own hidden landscapes, and are home to a rich wildlife, albeit one that is threatened by many human activities.

      Hong Kong consists mainly of seas (1,800 km²) with land accounting for 1,104 km². Two distinctive traits distinguish the local maritime areas from much of the south China coastline. Firstly, there is an excellent natural harbour...

  8. Epilogue: Landscapes, Past, Present, and Future
    (pp. 230-234)

    Hong Kong is a small territory situated on the south coast of China. Yet it contains a remarkable range of natural and human-made habitats. The region is mountainous, with numerous intricate valleys. Lowlands occur in several regions. The vegetation is highly varied, as is the fauna. The imprint of people is widespread. Examples include tea terraces on hillsides, rice paddies on lowlands, and extensive urban areas, many on reclamations.

    In order to understand the origins of this scenic diversity, it is important to realise that landscapes are not just the result of geology or formed by a single process, or...

  9. Information Sources and Further Reading
    (pp. 235-241)
  10. Index
    (pp. 242-253)