HONG KONG. Located on the southeast coast of China at the mouth of the Pearl River delta 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Canton, Hong Kong is centered around one of the world's largest natural deepwater harbors. The congested metropolis is actually several cities that are part of a territory measuring more than 400 square miles (1,000 square kilometers)--Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon peninsula, and the New Territories. The New Territories in turn make up the larger peninsula from which Kowloon extends and more than 230 surrounding islands. Tall mountains rise from the sea and create a topography of rugged beauty and dramatic vistas.
The heart of the metropolis is the capital on Hong Kong Island, Victoria, which climbs almost vertical streets halfway up Victoria Peak. Rising to a height of 1,825 feet (556 meters), the top of the peak has most of the territory's few detached houses and mansions. The island shelters the harbor from the South China Sea. Major government buildings and the headquarters of banks and powerful hongs, or commercial trading houses, are located at the foot of the peak in Central Hong Kong Island--on land largely reclaimed from the harbor. The major commercial center is the city of Kowloon directly across the harbor. Most industrial property is in skyscraper "new towns" in the New Territories to the north. Except for the huge island of Lantau, most of the remaining islands are small and sparsely populated. A few have bedroom communities with inhabitants who ferry to work on Hong Kong or Kowloon. A large floating population of boat dwellers dock in the territory's typhoon shelters.
Steep terrain has forced about 90 percent of Hong Kong's population to congregate in just 15 percent of the land area, creating the highest population density in the world. With no place to expand but upward, it has some of the world's tallest buildings outside New York City. Much of the territory, however, is uninhabited government parkland, and some of it is still wild. It has many snakes, and the bird population on Hong Kong Island includes a large community of escaped domestic parakeets and their offspring.
Hong Kong's tropical latitude produces high temperatures most of the year and a short, mild winter. Spring is extremely wet, often causing dangerous landslides and floods. Autumn is extremely dry. Hill fires have burned entire communities of crowded squatter huts put up by refugees. The most significant weather event is the typhoon season of late summer.