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FEATURE: A glimpse of H.K. nature, away from the shopping frenzy.

HONG KONG, Aug. 23 Kyodo

(EDS: ONE PICTURE ACCOMPANYING THIS STORY IS AVAILABLE VIA E-MAIL. THE PHOTO ADVISORY IS TO FOLLOW)

Red rocks that are 380 million years old, tree-like ferns that fishermen have used to numb fish, and a fishing village-turned-fish-breeding bay can all be seen in a day-tour in Hong Kong being launched next month that targets tourists from Europe, North America and Japan.

''Tourists from Japan, European countries and the United States love visiting nature,'' said Eva Cheung, corporate communications and public relations senior executive of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. ''We want to take visitors to Hong Kong's rural side and introduce them to the untamed features away from the all-developed city.''

From September to February, the board's Nature Kaleidoscope tour will take visitors to see different wonders of Hong Kong's nature, with different tours running every day of the week.

It is the first eco-tour the board has organized for visitors that showcases the hidden nature of Hong Kong.

A panhandle that forms part of the shoreline along the Tolo Channel in northeastern Hong Kong is 380 million years old, according to island-hopping tour guide Miranda Chan.

''The Jurassic period was only about 180 million years ago, the rock is much older,'' Chan said. ''There are places of interest many local people don't even know.''

White-flowered derris, a rare climbing fern with a stem 15 to 20 centimeters in diameter is found in an area called Lai Chi Wo, about 45 minutes' boat ride away from Sha Tin in the New Territories.

''Fishermen used to grind the plants into powder and sprinkle them in the sea to numb the fish before netting an easy catch,'' Chan said.

''Luckily, the natural chemical in the plant here, rotenone, was not strong enough and that spared the plants from going extinct,'' she added.

Unfortunately, visitors who take the hanging derris for a swing could pose a bigger danger to the plant, she noted.

''That's our job, to educate and remind people how fragile nature is, and only by protecting it, humans and nature can survive in harmony,'' Chan said.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has not been too keen on nature conservation, neither the British or Japanese rulers were particularly mindful of protecting the environment, Chan said, leading to extinction of precious trees.

About 10 minutes' sail from Lai Chi Wo is Kat O, once a busy fishing village in the early 20th century. Kat O has transformed into a fish-breeding bay where a handful of makeshift ponds are anchored near the shore, harboring the ''fruit of the ocean'' for the small group of fishermen who still reside on the once popular island.

Houses with construction dates engraved on their walls are vacant and deteriorating into debris after island residents left for better job opportunities in the city.

''Some of the residents have returned and renovated their ancestors' homes in recent years, but still, many who live here are elders, who have witnessed the rise and fall of the fishing village,'' Chan said.

The island-hopping tour will be held on Saturdays.

Tourism board public relations manager Lucinda Wong said there are other eco-tours, including a farm visit, bird watching and Wetland Park tours available seven days a week.

The six-month pilot program costs HK$100,000 to run and is available to non-Hong Kong residents only. Wong said locals have abundant choices, but this is the only nature tour for visitors.

However, critics say only a small number of visitors would be interested in Hong Kong's countryside as most of them come for shopping and food and they would prefer traveling to neighboring Macao or mainland Chinese cities over a close encounter with nature.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Aug 28, 2006
Words:624
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