Hong Kong owes much of its success as a world business leader to its proximity to rapidly industrializing southern China. Lately, however, the city also has its booming neighbor to thank for increased air pollution. (Between 2002 and 2006, the number of smoggy days grew from 41 to 57 annually, according to the city's Environmental Protection Department.) As a result, officials are trying to add and expand green spaces. One of the most ambitious proposals calls for a new park and waterfront promenade--as well as a cruise terminal, condos, and hotels--at the site of the defunct Kai Tak Airport. Here's where to breathe freely in the meantime.
Hong Kong Wetland Park By the town of Tin Shui Wai--so close to mainland China that the towers of Shenzhen are visible across the water--this 150-acre park opened in May 2006 as an ecotourism and conservation initiative. Its airy visitors center has telescopes for spotting the more than 200 bird species living among the park's marshes, mangroves, and fish ponds. Exhibitions look at how dams and pollution threaten the vital roles of wetlands. wetlandpark.com, $4.
Ngong Ping 360 Launched last September, the Ngong Ping Skyrail treats passengers to a 25-minute ride up the lush mountainside of Lantau Island, which rises sharply from the South China Sea. At the top is Ngong Ping, a replica of a traditional village with footbridges, curved-roof shops--one devoted entirely to chopsticks--and a teahouse that gives free demos. np360.com.hk, cable car $11, village free. Note that from mid-June through December 2007 Skyrail service was temporarily suspended because of safety concerns.
Wisdom Path On a rugged slope of Lantau Peak, about a 15-minute walk from Ngong Ping Village, 38 towering wooden columns form a figure eight, symbolizing infinity. They're carved with Chinese inscriptions from the Heart Sutra, a text respected by Buddhists. The columns were arranged at varying heights about two years ago, and the tallest remains blank to evoke the concept of sunyata (emptiness). Free.
Nan Lian Garden Highways crisscross and apartment towers vie with mountaintops in Kowloon's bustling Diamond Hill district, which welcomed this nearly nine-acre public garden last November. Modeled after the Tang Dynasty's Jiangshouju Garden, manicured Nan Lian has rock clusters, a waterfall, 59 types of ancient trees, and ornamental wooden structures (one hosts exhibitions). A gold pavilion sits in the middle of one pond, and a bridge leads to the Chi Lin Nunnery, which is charged with maintaining the garden. nanliangarden.org, free.
Nature Kaleidoscope The stilt homes of sleepy one-time fishing village Tai O and the vegetable gardens and greenhouses of sustainable Kadoorie Farm are among a new series of guided daily excursions organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as a way to promote the city's outdoorsy side. An advance in-person reservation is required; four booking centers include the Causeway Bay MTR station, near exit F. discoverhongkong.com, three tours are free (with a U.S. passport), plus minimal admission costs, others are $38-$46.