South Lantau is transforming from an urban beach destination for weekends to a high-end housing and luxury lifestyle enclave. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
Hong Kong has no shortage of swish living, be it up on the Peak or down in Repulse Bay, but Hong Kong Island’s stranglehold on luxury property is loosening if not completely vanishing. Upscale developments like The Arch, Sorrento and The Cullinan have brought five-star residences to Kowloon, and it could be argued that Yuen Long (home to Sun Hung Kai Properties’ massive YOHO project) is making a case for itself. The arrival of the MTR in Wong Chuk Hang could kick-start a loft-cool boom in the area the way it did with family homes in Kennedy Town. So it comes as no surprise that South Lantau is throwing its hat into the luxury ring.
With Sai Kung quickly approaching its saturation point, Lantau has become an increasingly viable option for residents – expatriate and local Hongkongers alike – seeking a better work-life balance and respite from urban mayhem. The low-density developments and waterside position at a relative bargain compared to Island South have put South Lantau on the radar beyond the traditional pilot’s club.
The beautiful south
Extolling the delights of South Lantau living, Kelly Merrick at Lantau realtor HomeSolutions says: “There is an ease of life here as things function at a slower, quieter pace than in other areas of Hong Kong. It’s easy to navigate and be in charge of your own time. The scenery is beautiful, as South Lantau is sandwiched between mountains to the north and the sea to the south.” Kelly is quick to point out that newcomers are instantly embraced by the vibrant community; young families appreciate the accessibility of schools, green spaces and recreational options; and everyone welcomes the wetlands and clean air.
One of South Lantau’s superstar areas is Cheung Sha, a favourite for its al fresco dining, relaxed lifestyle and long beaches. As of mid-2016, Cheung Sha prices and rents were a fraction of what comparable properties in Mid-Levels would command – if they existed. Kelly notes that the most popular properties among purchasers and renters are 2,100-square-foot village houses that usually include gardens, rooftops or both. “Outdoor space is such a luxury in Hong Kong, yet most residents in South Lantau are able to enjoy these benefits,” she says.
Also popular are low-rise flats near the Mui Wo ferry pier, and of course the beachside villas in Mui Wo and Cheung Sha. Prices on average are roughly 65% lower than in all other parts of Hong Kong combined. One-bedroom flats that can run upwards of HK$10 million on Hong Kong Island can be picked up for HK$2 million in South Lantau, in addition to being three times the size. Flat rentals start at an average of HK$12,000 and villas and houses at HK$35,000, most with sea views.
That could be changing however. Swire Properties’ WHITESANDS and Sino Land’s Botanica Bay both made waves with recordsetting sales for Lantau in 2015, with the latter boasting Lantau’s first HK$100 million transaction, and then besting itself with a HK$200 million sale. WHITESANDS villas run in the HK$50 million neighbourhood. The 28 three- and four-bedroom detached homes range from 1,954 square foot to 2,598 square foot, all with private front and back gardens and spacious rooftops.
“We have carefully incorporated many unique and attractive features into the project, so that WHITESANDS has the Swire Properties’ stamp of creative innovation and best-in-class quality,” says Adrian To, director of residential at Swire Properties. “WHITESANDS also answers the rising demand for luxury residences in close proximity to both nature and the buzz of the city, and we believe it offers a truly privileged living experience for residents.”
The government has big plans for Lantau in general, including the town centre at Tung Chung, and would like to see 1.1 million people living there in the next 20 years. According to a population census there were 18,000 in 2011. For now the luxury market remains limited, but for how long is anyone’s guess. “Much to the chagrin of many who do not want South Lantau to change, I do think that South Lantau is destined for more luxury development,” argues Kelly. “The government is updating the water supply and sewage treatment for much of the area. This is seen by many as preparation for further development. Specifically in Cheung Sha, as the government has designated that area as its green belt zone.”
But Edina Wong, head of residential leasing at Savills, is more cautious. While WHITESANDS and Botanica Bay have an influence on perception, and prices have doubled or tripled in the last 10 years, Edina believes there’s a long way to go before South Lantau commands the luxury label of its rivals.
Connectivity is a major factor in what makes Hong Kong Island’s luxury enclaves just that. While the roads servicing Clear Water Bay, The Peak and Repulse Bay are easily accessed and link to MTR stations, Mid-Levels is in walking distance of Central. In contrast, Edina draws attention to Lantau’s car “restrictions… you must have a permit before you can drive. You can take the ferry to Mui Wo and take a taxi or bus from there or Tung Chung.
“There are no options for [secondary] schools, so kids have to travel to Tung Chung or Discovery Bay, and both have limited options and are hard to get into,” Edina adds.
But the relocations continue, and new developments like Sino’s and Swire’s aren’t the only options. Gentrified village houses that took off in Sai Kung are experiencing a similar renaissance in South Lantau, enough to create a cottage industry to support it.
“The advantage of the South Lantau village houses is that they are customisable,” says Kelly. “Many have sea and/ or mountain views and are close to the beach, which feels like paradise. Lovely beachside restaurants and great neighbours add to the living experience.”
Images: Terry Chow and courtesy of swireproperties.com and wikimedia.org