Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 September, 2010, 12:00am

Rugged, scenic and with a diversity of attractions, northeastern Lantau tends to get ignored by many, especially those who flock by the thousands to Disneyland and even by the residents who commute to and from the California-inspired, China coast suburbia that is Discovery Bay.

The land on which Discovery Bay was built originally formed part of Douglas Clague's Hutchison International conglomerate. The largest area of privately owned land in Hong Kong, it was sold to Eddie Wong after Hutchison faltered in 1974-75. Wong later ran into financial difficulties and, as his principal creditor was the Moscow Narodny Bank, the possibility that a large tract of Hong Kong might fall into Russian hands at the height of the cold war displeased Beijing as much as it did London.

Subsequently acquired by the Shanghainese Cha family, the site was transformed into Discovery Bay. For those who have never visited DB, the use of golf carts instead of cars is not another quaint Hong Kong urban myth; they really do exist.

Poetically named Nim Shue Wan ('Rose Myrtle Bay') was originally a mixed farming and fishing settlement with a small Tin Hau temple, built in 1920. In recent decades, the village - to the south of Discovery Bay - has evolved into a down-at-heel dormitory suburb for the development's many service-sector workers. Further up the coast, Penny's Bay and the boatyards once found there have disappeared, having made way for Hong Kong Disneyland. Here, to the enduring delight of young and old, legions of man-sized, big-eared rodents are the main attractions.

On the coast between Mui Wo and Discovery Bay, the Trappist Haven Monastery - renamed the Our Lady of Joy Abbey, in 2000 - was established by refugee monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, who decamped from Communist China after 1949. It remains a silent, isolated retreat, remote in every respect from the generic 'themed' attractions and idealised subtopia that lurk around the coast.

Monastic rules require monks to live 'by the work of their hands', which led to the establishment of a dairy farm at Tai Shui Hang in 1956. Before the days of high-volume, low-cost air-freight, Trappist-produced milk was widely used by the city's best hotels. Trappist Dairy's distinctive glass bottles are an immediately recognisable local feature. Before long, no doubt, some well-intentioned heritage activist will proclaim the bottle's label yet another 'essential component of the city's precious collective memory.' Give them time ...