SIR WILLIAM Des Voeux, who could never be called the most cheerful of Hongkong's Governors, was in a particularly despondent mood one day early in 1888. Sitting in Mountain Lodge, the long-demolished summer residence of Governors and situated on The Peak, Sir William bemoaned his ''miserable'' life there ''. . . the fog was as dense as the worst that afflicts London in November . . . the damp inside the house was such that water ran down the walls in streams and collected in pools on the polished floors . . .'' On writing paper doubtless as damp as a bathroom sponge, he continued: ''At such times one seemed entirely cut off from the world, the existence of which was revealed only at rare intervals by the arrival of a Government messenger with papers.'' And quite right, too, modern Peakites would chorus; the modern mountain dwellers want nothing more than to be cut off from the hoi polloi massed on the teeming streets of Hongkong far below now air-conditioners and dehumidifiers can keep them mildew-free. Forget about the rise of the middle classes, democratically-elected Legislative Councillors and the explosion in housing developments over the past two decades. With a few notable exceptions - including the Governor, ironically - The Peak is still the province of those who have reached the pinnacle of social mountaineering, or at least those who have scaled close to its upper reaches, or else executives blessed with a bounteously generous housing allowance. For the first 50 years of Hongkong's existence The Peak was reached only through the sweaty exertions of chair-coolies. According to author Nigel Cameron's An Illustrated History of Hongkong, a small number of wealthy families had made the area their home before The Peak Tram opened in 1888, but that event initiated a headlong rush of development and mock-Gothic, Italianate and whitewashed villas and mansions for the rich. During a malaria scare in 1904 the Governor reserved the area for Europeans and ''Chinese of good standing''. With this gesture of social apartheid the tag of exclusivity settled on The Peak like a winter mist. ''The Peak is still the place to live, and there are a lot of people in Hongkong who will not live anywhere else,'' according to Ms Isabel Michie, residential director of First Pacific Davies and Peak resident. ''Your average Peakite or Peakette doesn't even care about the mist - it makes things so quiet and peaceful. In fact I love the mist; when you cannot see Central you feel you are living in another country by yourself.'' As the Sunday Morning Post 's Peak guide shows, her compatriots include senior government officials and members of the judiciary, industrialists, socialites, reclusive millionaires and diplomats. Some, like the Hotung family, have lived there for decades, although others, like the People's Republic of China residents of Sky Court and the richly-remunerated new airport consultants are relative Johnny-come-latelies. One can happily chat to estate agents like Ms Michie and Richard Ellis' residential manager Ms Jan McNally about rents on The Peak before realising the sort of the prices they are talking about are rather more than the annual wages of thousands of Hongkong residents. Looking for a 3,700 square foot colonial-style four-bedroom house in Strawberry Hill with swimming pool and tennis court? Yours for $120,000 a month. Or perhaps a 3,180 sq ft four-bedroomed flat in Plantation Road with pool and two parking spaces is whatyou are after - as long as you have $80,000 a month to spend on the rent. BUDGET housing on The Peak comes in the form of a 2,150 sq ft two-bedroomed apartment in a Coombe Road low-rise, a snip at $47,000 a month. Perhaps your budget stretches to an outright purchase of a choice property - like a four-bedroomed, 3,300 sq ft flat in Mount Kellet Road for $11 million, or Kellet View, a 5,000 sq ft house with garden on the market for $25 million. There are properties on The Peak, stretched out along places like Middle Road, Mount Cameron Road, Black's Link and Barker Road, that almost never come on the market. ''Yes, they appear very infrequently; people who live in them have been there a long, long time, and they appear to be reluctant to leave,'' Ms McNally said. They are the sort of houses like Jebsen group chief Mr Michael Jebsen's two-storey, pale mustard southern German-style mansion that pokes out of the dense foliage along Middle Gap Road that can be seen from several kilometres away. Or Hutchison Whampoa managing director Mr Simon Murray's surprisingly compact, single-storey white house in Mount Cameron Road with his two dogs who greet strangers at the gates with howls, and William Ma's place at the top of Barker Road - once owned by Australian tycoon Mr Alan Bond until he was forced to sell it - with an incongruous steel and glass canopy over the entrance that provides cover for some of the seven cars parked in the driveway. Then there are the official residences of the Chief Secretary at Victoria House, the Chief Justice at Gough Hill Road and Hongkong and Shanghai Bank chairman Sir Willy Purves in Middle Gap Road that are unlikely ever to be sold, unless the cadres have got their eyes on Repulse Bay as an enclave for the leaders of the Special Administrative Region. Senior Police Inspector Cleland Rogers, sub-divisional commander of The Peak, cannot even speculate what his white-washed, century-old station off Peak Road would go for if the land was sold for development. Although bigger in area than Central district, the sub-division is fairly thinly populated and there are those who grumble that the only reason the station remains open is because of the calibre of the residents. Inspector Rogers refused to comment on that point, insisting: ''There is no special service for The Peak and its residents.'' Running The Peak station - with its magnificent views, a scale model of The Peak in the garden and a resident duck - is supposed to be a promotion post for the commanding officer, although Inspector Rogers said it could be hard to attract staff worried that the lack of routine crime would slow down their chances of bettering themselves. When crime does strike The Peak, such as the audacious robbery at Police Commissioner Mr Li Kwan-ha's Magazine Gap Road mansion, it tends to make headlines. But only 24 crime complaints have been made so far this year. So is it a boring place to work? Inspector Rogers, whose previous posting was shiftwork with the Emergency Unit, paused and reflected. ''It is like working in a small British town, rather than in a large metropolis; it is a bit slower up here,'' he replied with the sort of diplomacy that would be the envy of the consul-generals living nearby. It is only a minute by car from the station to The Peak Tram where coachloads of Japanese tourists are disgorged, oblivious to the thick mist that reduces the Hongkong skyline they have come to gawp at to fuzzy grey silhouettes. As the tram bumps and grinds its way out of the fog and down to Central a visitor is left to muse that however swish and exclusive areas like Beverly Hills, Mayfair and St Germain might be, they cannot boast their own climate - unlike Hongkong's Peak.