24 Jun Secret Hong Kong: A Visit to The Sea Ranch
For years we have been wondering about the 70s-style “resort” that you can spot on Lantau Island’s south coast when you are taking the ferry from Hong Kong. A bit of research and we discovered the poignant story of Sea Ranch, the Hong Kong luxury beach retreat that has been nearly abandoned for 20 years. Only accessible by ferry (or a very strenuous hike–read on for more about that!)
On a beautiful early June day, we decided to try to have a look at the place for ourselves. We heard there were still a few people living in the complex and that was a private ferry running to the complex from nearby Cheung Chau island. Just as we reached Cheung Chau from Central, we saw the Sea Ranch ferry and hopped right on. No one seemed to mind, and soon we were chugging our way towards the mystery beach with its “ghost complex” of once-grand beachfront flats.
Back in the day, Sea Ranch really was swish. The developer created it as a secret weekend hideaway for well-off Hong Kongers. It had a big swimming pool, a grand clubhouse, and a swinging 70s vibe. There’s a great short documentary about Sea Ranch’s glory days.
But it just didn’t work out. It was too remote, and too difficult to access. Yet years later, another similar project, Discovery Bay, became one of Hong Kong’s great success stories. (Well, that is, if you think “success” is creating a Hong Kong suburb that looks like suburban San Diego–but in developer terms I suppose that is!)
As the boat pulled into the Sea Ranch dock, we became excited–finally we were about to set foot on this fabled secret beach!
The instant we stepped off the boat and on to the dock, three irritable men came running over to us. Who were we? What were we doing? We said we wanted to look at some property (true), and they glowered at my companion and told us to get back on the boat and go back to Cheung Chau!
My companion was not in the mood to argue, so we rode the Sea Ranch ferry back without setting foot on the shore.
After coming all the way from Central, we were not about to give up on Sea Ranch without a fight! On our ferry across, we had noticed another empty beach right next to Sea Ranch’s. On our maps it was labelled as “Tai Long Wan.” This confused us, since we knew two other beaches with the same Cantonese name (it means “Big Wave Bay”). In fact, I discovered there are not 3 but 4 “Tai Long Wan”s in Hong Kong. That’s a lot of big waves.
Anyway, back in Cheung Chau, we were able to find a really nice sampan boat driver to take us to this Tai Long Wan. What a beautiful ride! We stepped off the sampan, and as it pulled away had this breathtaking moment of experiencing silence a beach utterly deserted and without footprints.
And a moment of fear tinged with excitement–how were we gonna get out of here?
This is where a pair of good hiking shoes and a proper map of Lantau Island make a world of difference!
The short story: we made it to Sea Ranch, which is about a 15 minute walk through scrub and over a hillside from Tai Long Wan. And this time no security guards ran up to us, and no one seemed to care that we were there. The place is as deserted as in the documentary. We saw a woman walking her dog on the empty beach. We walked by a kiosk where the security guards were dozing in the sun, waiting to terrorize anyone coming in on the next Sea Ranch ferry. We realized that we would never want to live in such an odd, ghostly place. And that the beach at Tai Long Wan is more beautiful.
Getting out of Sea Ranch wasn’t so easy. It’s a two hour-ish slog up and down a headland, punctuated by gorgeous views of the small hilly green islands, the Sokos, that mark Hong Kong’s southern boundary. (We are definitely organizing ourselves a sampan trip out there sometime later this year!).
Finally, covered with sweat, we descended into the well-known Lantau Island village of Pui O. At sunset, the local Tin Hau temple felt welcoming.
My companion told me there was a restaurant and beer somewhere in the distance by those buildings you see in the photo below. I’m there! I said, but first we stopped for a few minutes to take in the Pui O vibes from afar. They felt much more upbeat than Sea Ranch’s.
We are not going to be adding Sea Ranch to our “Far Flung Walks” repertoire any time soon. But we will continue to roam to the edges of Hong Kong to discover and curate the adventures that we can share with you. Our day in Sea Ranch reminded us that Little Adventures in Hong Kong is a business that grew out of our pleasure of hunting for secret places like this. Even though Hong Kong may be a small place, there are still many more to discover.
If you go…..
- Do NOT take the official resident’s Sea Ranch ferry from Cheung Chau island (unless you want to make an immediate enforced return trip to Cheung Chau as we did). Do bring a copy of the map (also below) to the PUBLIC ACCESS ROUTE through Sea Ranch. It’s always helpful to have solid information to present to over-zealous authorities! The line marked in purple is right of way, and as a hiker/visitor you have every right to utilize it. Do be respectful of other’s privacy and don’t wander from the path. If you forget to bring this map, it is posted at the eastern end of the promenade, just where the path comes down from the hill.
- We recommend hiring your own sampan over from the Cheung Chau public pier. We spoke to a few boatmen before settling on the extremely nice Mr. Wong Chun Fat, who we shall definitely be contacting again! (Card below). He does not speak English, so you may need some help on the phone, or just look for him at the pier. The cost was somewhere to the south of 160 HKD for two persons. (We were hot and tired and didn’t bargain hard. Plus Mr. Wong was really nice and his boat looked solid enough to withstand the wake of all the scary Macau fast ferries that we had to dodge crossing over to Lantau.)
- We also recommend having your sampan driver drop you at Tai Long Wan beach rather than the Sea Ranch pier. Tai Long Wan actually was more amazing than Sea Ranch in our opinion. Imagine a wide sandy beach without footprints in Hong Kong! There is a lot of pandanus growing along the beach, but if you look carefully you will find the path that leads back and up the headland and connects with the marvelous Chi Ma Wan country trail.
- The Chi Ma Wan trail is well-marked, and will take you up and down and up again, around a beach and through a village or two, and you’ll end up in lovely Pui O, where you may catch a bus or taxi to Mui Wo, and onward by ferry back to Central Hong Kong.
And if this seems too daunting, then contact us and if there is demand we may organize a Tai Long Wan/Sea Ranch/Pui O group hike for sometime in the fall…..