Checkerboard Hill (格仔山) is a short hill (only 98 metres high) located in the north of Kowloon Peninsula, just below Lion Rock.
The hill’s significance is tied to its history when it was once an integral part of Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s former international airport. Today, Checkerboard Hill has been revived to its former glory as a monument and relic to what was once one of the most dangerous airports in the world!
Its revival has meant the restoration of the hill and repainting the red and white checks on the sides that lend the hill its name.
The History of Checkerboard Hill
Hong Kong’s infamous Kai Tak Airport opened in 1962. But thanks to the topography of Kowloon, it wasn’t possible for planes to align with the runway from far out.
So, to land at Kai Tak, pilots had to approach Kowloon from the west. And the Instrument Landing System wasn’t installed on the runway but instead guided them to a hill with red and white checks painted on it (in this case it was an Instrument Guidance System). And just before reaching the hill, pilots had to execute a sharp 47° turn to align and land on Runway 13.
The hill that played this crucial role was Kowloon Tsai Hill (Checkerboard Hill), which was largely levelled and marked with a red and white checkerboard pattern and installed with an apparatus for aircraft navigation.
With the opening of Chek Lap Kok International Airport, Kai Tak ceased to operate. Checkerboard Hill was abandoned; trees overgrew and the paint faded away.
But during the Covid-19 pandemic, the HK Government restored the hill back to its former self, as a monument to Kai Tak!
How to get to Checkerboard Hill
So, with all this out of the way, you’re probably curious to know how to get to Checkerboard Hill?
The entrance to Checkerboard Hill is located on Junction Road in Lok Fu. The easiest way to arrive here is by a short walk from the Lok FU MTR Station.
Take Exit B from the MTR station towards Junction Road. Once on Junction Road, turn left and walk for approximately 350 metres towards Kowloon City.
The entrance to Checkboard Hill is located directly opposite Bishop Walsh Primary School.
Walk up Checkerboard Hill
From the entrance, walk up the steps into the alleyway between the two buildings.
At the end of the buildings is a flight of steps to the right. I can only assume that part of the revival also included painting the edges of the steps yellow. Because all you need to do is follow the yellow steps up the hill.
So, climb the flight of steps and at the landing, take the next flight of steps on the right.
At the end of the second flight of steps is a seating area. Walk slightly ahead and turn right to locate the next flight of steps.
At the end of the third flight of steps is a short uphill incline that ends at another seating area.
But before you go any further, let’s discuss how to explore Checkerboard Hill.
Best Way to Explore Checkerboard Hill
The top of Checkerboard Hill is levelled and is occupied by the Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden, which is built on top of the Lok Fu Salt Water Service Reservoir, and an HKO weather station.
The Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden occupies the largest portion of the plateau. It is a spacious garden with spectacular views of Lion Rock.
But to enjoy the best views from the hill and to reach the red and white checkerboard, you’ll need to set out on a mini-hike around the top of Checkerboard Hill.
Checkerboard Hill Hike
The Checkerboard Hill Hike is an approximately 700-metre loop around the top of the hill that covers all the major attractions, so to speak.
You can start the hike in any direction, but we recommend counter-clockwise.
Stop 1 – The Top of Checkerboard Hill
From the point where the road splits (next to the fenced HKWW maintenance area), turn right and walk on Fu On Street.
Almost at the end of the street is a public toilet. Opposite the public toilet, locate the steps to the path along the fence of the Lok Fu Salt Water Service Reservoir.
The path runs along two sides of the fence and then reaches the steps behind the reservoir.
Climb up these steps carefully because I didn’t think they were too sturdy.
Fortunately, it’s a short climb to the landing behind the Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden. From here, walk towards the small mound to the right.
At 98 metres, this mound is the highest point on Checkerboard Hill.
And the only views from here are those of the Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden.
Stop 2 – Lookout Point
To continue on the hike, take the path behind the triangulation station and walk down the mound.
Keep walking till you reach a fence. Through the fence is the first glimpse of the red and white checks on the side of the hill.
For now, walk on the path around the fence to emerge at the lookout point.
The lookout point is a small open space on the south side of Checkerboard Hill, with unobstructed views of the city.
The views may not be as impressive as say from on top of Lion Rock, but they’re still very enjoyable.
Stop 3 – Red and white checks on the side of the hill
Now onto the main attraction – the red and white checks on the sides of Checkerboard Hill! It is worth noting that the patterns are painted on the west and south faces of the hill.
To reach the checks, jump over the gate on the fence to the right. The steps on the other side descend the west face of the hill.
Right here is the first encounter with the red and white checks. You can also try to sit on the slope but be careful because deceptively slippery!
From the west face, walk around the side of the hill to reach the top level of the checks on the south side. Keep in mind that there are another two levels of checks on both faces of Checkerboard Hill.
We found the top level to be quite crowded, so we walked down another flight of steps to the level below. Fortunately, this level was less crowded.
Stop 4 – Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden
After the red and white checks, it’s time to end this short Checkerboard Hill Hike loop at the Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden.
To complete the loop, take the steps down one more level, from the south face.
Now at the third level, turn left and walk below the pattern.
At the end of the path, take the steps on the left and then walk around the barrier at the landing.
After the barrier is a short path along the fence of the HKO weather station that ends right in front of Lok Fu Service Reservoir Garden.
Enter the garden and take a moment to relax or just appreciate this large park on top of Checkerboard Hill. Don’t miss the awesome view of Lion Rock from here!
End your excursion
When you’re done exploring Checkerboard Hill, simply trace your steps back to Junction Road. Once back on Junction Road, there are a couple of interesting options nearby that are worth checking out.
The Kowloon Walled City Park is a short 10-minute walk. Much like Checkerboard Hill, the Kowloon Walled City Park is a monument to the former Kowloon Walled City, a garrison that was once a lawless enclave for fugitives and criminal gangs.
Next to the Kowloon Walled City Park is Kowloon City, one of our favourite neighbourhoods when it comes to food! Kowloon City is home to some of the best Thai restaurants in Hong Kong and also the famous Islam Food restaurant.
However, after our hike, we just wanted to relax and grab a coffee. So, we headed to Stone Houses Cafe, an outdoor cafe that is a short 2-minute walk from Bishop Walsh Primary School.
How often do you come across an outdoor cafe and restaurant situated on a historic site in Hong Kong?
Hill with red and white checks in Hong Kong
We hope you enjoyed our guide to Checkboard Hill and how to make the most of your day hiking around the hill.
If this hike got you curious and now you’re looking for the best views of the old Kai Tak runway, I recommend hiking to the Beacon Hill Viewing Point.
Also, did you know that there is another relic from Kai Tak on top of Black Hill? Go check it out!
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