HONG KONG — Of all the problems created by the pandemic, Sisi Wong did not expect that finding parking would be one of them.
Travel to Hong Kong was cut off. Residents were urged to stay home. And besides, Ms. Wong lived in a remote northern pocket of the territory, where rolling hills outnumbered skyscrapers and few visitors ventured even in normal times.
Yet there she was, arriving home to find trash scattered near her house, taxis clogging the single narrow road and her usual parking spot occupied by a stranger’s car.
“We’ve called the police, we’ve blocked the road, but there are still so many people,” Ms. Wong said on a recent Sunday, as yet more cars trundled by her tiny village, which sits — to her newfound dismay — next to a photogenic reservoir ringed by weeping willows.
Paris to the Galápagos, the pandemic has brought one small blessing, to the relief of many locals: the disappearance of some obnoxious visitors. That’s also true in the postcard-famous parts of Hong Kong, where lines no longer spill out of designer showrooms and travel coaches no longer block the neon-lit streets.
But as foreign tourists have vanished, a new, local species has emerged.
Bored and trapped in an area one-third the size of Rhode Island, Hong Kongers have sought out the most far-flung, once-quiet corners of their territory of 7.5 million people, mobbing nature trails and parks with the kinds of crowds previously limited to the Causeway Bay shopping district.
Even though the subtropical humidity can make being outdoors unbearable much of the year — and despite an abundance of mega-malls offering ample entertainment excuses to never leave their air-conditioned interiors — Hong Kongers seem to be experiencing the collective thrill of discovering nature.
75 percent of Hong Kong is undeveloped, much of it protected parkland roamed by wild boars and monkeys. Just outside the glittering cityscape is a quilt of islands and peaks ringed by the turquoise South China Sea.
At some of the island’s most popular nature spots, like Devil’s Peak, a rocky outcrop strewn with century-old military ruins, climbers now find themselves in standstill pedestrian traffic. Hikers scaling Lion Rock — a steep, feline-shaped mound that yields a breathtaking skyline view — can sweat on the ascent without fear because the lines for photos are so long, they are able to dry off before their first selfie.
The crowds aren’t the only problem. Crumpled surgical masks dot the trails like strange new flora. Environmental groups have fretted over illegal camp fires. The number of mountain rescues by the Fire Services Department nearly tripled last year, to 602, as some newbie hikers perhaps pushed themselves too far.
“They’re often taking a tourist mind-set to the countryside,” said Vivien Cheng, the director of community partnerships at the Green Earth, a sustainability nonprofit. “If someone discovers a place with a very beautiful rock, then that place is doomed.”