Riding the Peak tram to the top of Victoria Peak high above Hong Kong has been a tradition amongst travellers to the former British Colony since 1888.
Recently I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to ride this amazing funicular railway which is more like a modern day roller coaster than a traditional railway journey.
The journey begins in a bustling station on Garden Road near St John’s Cathedral. There were literally thousands of people lined up waiting to take the 1.4 kilometre journey into the clouds above the city of 10 million people.
It reminded me of a Disneyland ride, but I managed to secure a VIP pass which allowed me to bypass the waiting mass. Even then, the rush of people getting on to the tram was rather overwhelming, but we all eventually made it on board and I was lucky enough to snaffle a seat.
Historic Peak Tram dating from 1956
It is an ingenious design straight out of the industrial revolution of the 19th century and was used to power mountain railways around the world. Two trams use the single track route, passing on a loop halfway up the mountain. The weight of one tram proceeding down is used to draw the other tram up the mountain.
Steam power assisted the running of the cable until 1926 when an electric motor arrived by ship from Britain. Modern Swiss made trams now service the route with the track which has a Russian gauge.
In Hong Kong, my cable car charged up between high rise buildings at an acute angle and then passed through jungle. The views on the way were spectacular and everyone on board was busy using their phone to take videos and photos. It was rather funny looking at people rocking and rolling along the tracks peering into their phones: an indictment of modern society I’m afraid.
The iconic development on top of the mountain
When it first opened, the tram was for local residents only. You could even take your cow to market on board.
Locals still use the tram to commute and there are four stations on the way. However times have changed and the tourist trade has now invaded Hong Kong, especially since it became open to visitors from China. These days, 11,000 people a day on average take the journey.
After just five minutes, we arrived at the top of the mountain 400m higher and it was nothing like I expected. The whole area has been modernised and is more like an outdoor shopping mall than your normal lookout.
The views are superb although the “light mist” described by my guide was probably pollution and it shrouded the vista. I’m afraid that is one of the hassles facing tourists in China today; the pollution is shocking in places.
I wandered around the shops and it was all very modern, a far cry from the colonial days. Still, I found it to be a laid back respite from the hustle and bustle of the teeming city far below.
Diners enjoy the spectacular views
In the centre of the main square is one of the historic cars from 1956. Looking into the history of the line I learnt that building of it was quite a major project in its own right.
All the equipment had to be hauled up the mountain by hand. The workers had no mechanical support. When it was completed, it was considered an engineering marvel. And so it remains today.
Just a tip, if you are part of an organised tour, you get the VIP treatment. I was on a tour from my ship Diamond Princess and just as well. Buying a ticket and queuing independently would have taken hours.
If you are staying a hotel in Hong Kong, ask the Tour Desk about the best way to take the Peak Tram. It will save you a lot of time and trouble.
However, make sure you “do the Peak Tram”. It was as stunning and fascinating as I imagined it to be.
Feature supplied by WYF Media: www.wtfmedia.com.au
Written and Photos by Dallas Sherringham