Lantau Island

Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

Less than an hour by ferry from Central, another world opens up. Mui Wo - or Plum Nest - is the usual access point to South Lantau's dramatically beautiful, semi-rural countryside and an excursion here offers much of interest. For several decades, Mui Wo has been known as Silvermine Bay, but popular usage of this romantic-sounding but factually misleading name is in steady decline.

Lantau's mines were not principally for silver - as in other locations in the New Territories, mineral workings here extracted mainly wolfram, also known as tungsten, which is an essential ingredient in high-quality steel. Lead deposits and some traces of silver are usually found near wolfram deposits. Other wolfram mines operated in Ma On Shan, in Lin Ma Hang, within the Closed Border Area and at the appropriately named Lead Mine Pass, near Shing Mun. All have now closed.

Silvermine Bay fronts an extensive scenic valley and while some limited agriculture still takes place, most fields have been abandoned. Formerly domesticated cattle and water buffalo roam wild on the hillsides and forage for grass, and periodically descend into inhabited areas. Few pose any threat to gardens or humans but nevertheless, overurbanised residents regularly complain about steaming dollops of cow manure on village paths and 'animal smells' on the night breeze - normal components of life in the country.

The water quality at Silvermine Bay's beach is generally fair and the expanse of clean sand makes this a pleasant spot in which to relax, especially on a sunny weekday afternoon when people are few and far between.

One of Hong Kong's more accessible waterfalls can be found at Mui Wo - it's easy to find, along well-marked tracks that lead along a mangrove-fringed creek above the beach. Not far from the waterfall is a sealed-up cave, which was one of the early mineshafts. As with other locations in phantom-obsessed Hong Kong, this cave is apparently haunted by the lingering spirit of a gwai-por (ghost hag). Heavily coloured local legend recounts the story of an Englishwoman, surnamed Luke, who committed suicide nearby.

Regular fast passenger ferries have partially transformed Silvermine Bay - along with other corners of South Lantau - into a popular commuter suburb in recent years. Many residents cycle to and from the pier as part of their daily commute - leaving hundreds of chained-up bikes surrounding the entrance.