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Visiting an aviation sanctuary

January 10, 2008, add a comment

We did it. Nils and I actually took the trip every true aviation enthusiast should take once in his/her life. Well, at least should try to whenever around the area ;). Since any reader not absolutely visually impaired knows that I'm currently residing in Hong Kong, most of the more interested in aviation might have already figured what I'm talking about: We visited the probably most famous checkerboard there least in aviation. For everyone who doesn't have a clue what I'm talking about a short explanation: The old airport of Hong Kong, namely Kai Tak, was located right in Kowloon with its only runway constructed in the middle of victoria harbour. Because of the predominant winds and the mountainous surrounding area a direct approach was impossible. Therefore pilots had to fly into Hong Kong low over densly populated districts and turn sharply by 43 degrees just seconds before touch-down. To help the pilots "hit the right spot", a checkerbord was installed which, whenever visible, marked the spot at which the turn had to me made. This approach is easily the most exciting one in aviation history and if you can't quite imagine what's supposed to be so interesting about it, take a look at this or this or this picture. You can find more information on the airport and the approach on Wikipedia.

But now a little something about our trip itself. We took the East Rail Line to Kowloon Tong and changed to the Kwun Tong Line to get to Lok Fu. The "Checkerboard Hill", the little mountain the checkerboard is placed on, is located in a small park right next to the station. Unfortuntely we didn't bring along a map (d'oh) and since we thought the hill was a little further off we started walking straight into the wrong direction. After we walked into a few dead ends and around the complete park we finally got a glimpse of our goal through fences and plenty of vegetation. We then tried to climb up the hill to get both a view of the old airport as well as the board itself. But since the whole top of the mountain is a fresh water reservoir everything was tightly sourrounded by fences and it was prohibited to step about anywhere. Since both of us are self-confessed wimps who enjoyed a good education we didn't dare to cross any of those lines of course. But obviously we weren't alone in our pilgrimage and we met an asian couple who seemed to have the same goal as we did. Contrary to us they were quite a bit more daring and bravely ignored the old signs "blocking" the entry to some dirt tracks around the middle part of the hill. So we followed them and figured quickly that absolutely no one except us ever gave a damn about the least judging from "trails" they left :). Shortly after we enjoyed an almost unobstructed view of the old airport (now a large construction site) and Kowloon. The checkerboard itself is in a miserable condition, covered by weeds and trees to a large extend and with the colors worn off over time. If it wasn't for the water reservoir the whole hill would probably have already been converted into building ground for an office building, an appartment tower or, most likely, a mall. It would be really nice if someone could clear the board of all the plants, give it a fresh paint job and make it more accessible. This would keep a little piece of Hong Kong history alive... something that should have been done a lot more often in this city but was usually neglected.

Anyway, I can claim I've been there! You can take a look at a few of the photos we took here. And if you think we're crazy...hey, some people fly around the globe just to walk around a stone in circles, so I can take the MTR to look at a checkerboard ;).


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