Hong Kong’s most exclusive accommodation has no stars, bars or spas, and nothing at all in the way of valet parking. But for splendid isolation, natural beauty and monarch-of-all-I-survey panoramas, Lantau Mountain Camp has yet to find an equal. Set a short way to the east of 869-metre Sunset Peak (Tai Tung Shan), and strung out either side of the Lantau Trail, the “camp” is made up of 20 rough-hewn, single-storey stone cabins that are unlikely to grace the pages of Architectural Digest but are imbued with peace and quiet. Built almost a century ago, most of the cabins are in private hands and serve as high-altitude homes-away-from-home, although some belong to religious organisations or schools that use them as a base for training and for getaways. Few of the cabins – which sell for around HK$100,000 (US$13,000), depending on location and condition – rise very much above the status of bed and roof. One or two are solar powered, but there is no mains electricity so most rely on LED lamps or something similar. Many owners simply fall in with the rhythm of nature, sitting out under the stars or going to bed once night falls. Rooftop tanks collect rainwater and the only way to bring up food, alcohol and life’s other essentials is by carrying them. Septic tanks deal with the associated end products. Covid-19 has put paid to casual rentals, so anyone who fancies a night at the camp needs to get on the inside track (and find an amiable owner) rather than Airbnb’s website. Hiking Lantau Peak? Start from Ngong Ping and save your legs “We bought our cabin in 2009, and go up there most weekends,” says Mark Loasby, who runs a communications consultancy and is chairman of the Lantau Mountain Camp Residents [ sic ] Association. “It’s a glorious escape, and also a great place to hold a party. I celebrated my 60th up there, and we managed to find room for 60 people, so it was certainly a birthday to remember. “We get a lot of people hiking past by day, but come nightfall there’s very little to interrupt the tranquillity and the amazing views.” The camp was founded in the 1920s. A group of missionaries who were casting around for somewhere in which to escape the summer heat trekked up to Sunset Peak and – impressed by its spectacular remoteness and adequate water supply – decided they’d found their piece of heaven on Earth. “Gaining government permits and so on proved to be a long, tedious and frustrating process,” wrote Lantau Mountain Camp’s unofficial historian, Carter Morgan, in informal notes that can be read on the LMC’s website. “Success was due in large part to Dr Isaiah Edward Mitchell of the London Missionary Society, and finally about Christmas 1924 approval was granted and private sale to a list of 20-odd purchasers was completed.” Getting the official go-ahead was one thing – getting some sort of habitation built proved to be equally difficult. A contractor was engaged to build 12 cabins with walls of stone “16 inches thick, and a six-inch roof of poured reinforced concrete”. Construction ground to a halt when the contractor vanished – possibly due to financial problems; however, a replacement was found and the first 12 huts were finished by the summer of 1925. The remaining cabins took shape over the next 10 years, as more city dwellers caught on to the idea of taking a break on Hong Kong’s alternative Peak, and a nearby stream was diverted to feed a rudimentary swimming pool, which is still in use. The camp suffered during the war – Japanese soldiers vandalised some cabins, which they suspected of harbouring guerillas, and looters made off with whatever they could find of value – and it was not until the 1950s that the camp was restored. In recent years changes have been few, although since the Covid-19 outbreak, many owners have been heading uphill at every opportunity. And while there have been indications that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department – which recently erected a bilingual information board near the summit – wants to make more of Sunset Peak’s status as a “destination”, owners remain confident that their alpine fastness will remain undisturbed. “Much of the surrounding area is country park; however, Lantau Mountain Camp is on private land so we are quite safe on that front,” says Loasby. Peter Yung Wai-chuen, who bought cabin No 3 from a member of the London Missionary Society in 1972 for “a few thousand dollars”, agrees. “At the moment all the owners are very much against any sort of government takeover. Bureaucrats would just want to make the place all look the same, whereas its spirit and charm lie in it being so random and unorganised,” Yung says. A lot of the Hong Kong youngsters are a bit daunted at first as it is quite primitive, then really get into what the place has to offer. It’s incredibly uplifting Yohann Rivaud, an outdoor teambuilding coach Yung, a retired documentary-film maker who lives in Cheung Sha, on Lantau’s south coast, came across Lantau Mountain Camp in the 1960s. “I have always loved hiking, and used to pass by the camp going to and from Sunset, and I soon struck up a friendship with Mr GLR Becker there,” he says. “A few years later he offered to sell his cabin – it was only 150 square feet [14 square metres] and it needed a lot of work to make it habitable, but I jumped at the chance. “I used to go up there every weekend, sometimes with friends or family but most often on my own. There are tales about ghosts up there but they’re just so much BS – although at least they might help to scare away the tourists. “From the very top, you can see all the way to China and all the way to Hong Kong. It’s a glorious feeling, a feeling of complete and utter freedom and of being very close to nature. It’s a gift, and one we need to treasure.” Just about everyone who visits finds themselves bitten by the mountain camp bug. “I first trekked up there in 2009 and was blown away by the whole place,” says Yohann Rivaud, an outdoor teambuilding coach. “I don’t own a place there, but I’ve become involved in helping with the maintenance on Hong Kong International School’s cabin, which they bought in 1976, and take groups of kids up there. A lot of the Hong Kong youngsters are a bit daunted at first as it is quite primitive, then really get into what the place has to offer. It’s incredibly uplifting.” Getting to the cabins requires a hike. Cabin owners set off either from Pak Kung Au, on the road between Tung Chung and Cheung Sha, or from Nam Shan above Mui Wo. The former route is a stiffer climb, the latter is gentler but longer. The days when sedan chairs and porters were hired out in Mui Wo belong to a sepia-tinted history.