City Weekend

Wish you were here? The Hong Kong resort that delivers paradise at a bargain price

HK$4 million will get you a shoebox in Causeway Bay or a 1,200 sq ft flat with sea views and private beach at Sea Ranch, the semi-abandoned development that time almost forgot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 8:32pm

Every day hundreds of people board the high-speed ferries from Hong Kong Island bound for Macau. While en route passengers can catch a glimpse of a mysterious cluster of terracotta roofed buildings, nestled on a white sandy beach.

The Sea Ranch – once destined to be a luxurious private resort – cuddles the south coast of outlying Lantau Island.

“Life takes a little planning as there is only one way off and on to Sea Ranch,” new resident Julie Rachford told the Post.

The bay is not accessible at all by land, so the only way to get to the semi-abandoned resort involves catching two ferries, taking over an hour from the Central ferry pier. There are no shops, not even a convenience store, or medical facilities.

Also, it’s not open to strangers, so you can’t just drop by for the weekend, which increases the sense of mystery surrounding it. An invitation from a resident must be secured prior to arrival, otherwise you run the risk of being chased off by the attentive security guard.

Due to the lack of management, news reports recently maligned it as “a good horror movie set”, and it has attracted adventurous photographers who take shots of the ruined facilities while lying in bushes.

A short visit by the Post’s reporter revealed a rather eclectic community of about 50 people, including Rachford, and a mix of professions and nationalities.

“It’s my dream island,” said Mary-Ann Mamaril-Sparrow. She enjoys an envious lifestyle with spectacular sea views and a private beach.

And it all comes at a surprisingly low cost by Hong Kong standards. A 1,240 sq ft flat sold for HK$4 million in June; a 1,220 sq ft property in Causeway Bay went for HK$17 million.

On average, property on Hong Kong Island costs HK$14,709 per square foot, compared with HK$3,226 at Sea Ranch.

Will Hong Kong’s record supply of 98,000 new homes cool the scorching property market?

Originally opened as a 200-flat five-star resort in 1979, Sea Ranch was sold as a “community with every luxury”. The resort used to boast a private clubhouse with swimming pools, tennis courts, restaurants and even a helipad.

But the developer, Hutchison Whampoa, could not sustain the heavy operating costs and it ran into debt in 1983. Some flats were given away for HK$1.

Due to conflict between residents and the previous on-site management company, the famed clubhouse shut in 2002. People continued to drift away as the shops pulled out leaving dilapidation and dust.

Since Urban Planning Management, a subsidiary company of New World Development, took over running things in 2009 the neighbourhood has revived a little.

I was told by the agent that I wouldn’t like the place because nothing was there
Mary-Ann Mamaril-Sparrow, Sea Ranch resident

Despite its inaccessibility, it has continued to attract an eclectic community. Residents hail the resort as an affordable housing alternative, an achievable dream for ordinary workers.

Richard Harris has seen cycles of people come and go – his father was one of the first to buy a Sea Ranch property in 1979 – and he notes that settlers tend to be “interesting people who like to be off the beaten track”.

Mamaril-Sparrow first spotted the development on a ferry over to Macau and later stumbled upon a property when searching for a pet-friendly home. At first she was deterred by property agents when asking about the large flats that carried small price tags.

“The price on paper was correct. But I was told by the agent that I was wasting my time and that I wouldn’t like the place because nothing was there.

“But as we got nearer to the Sea Ranch, my eyes widened with anticipation. I couldn’t believe it! It’s my dream island!”

The nearest supermarket is on Cheung Chau Island, a 15-minute trip away by private ferry, then it’s a 40-minute ferry ride to Central. But a two-ferry commute does not bother the residents.

“Where else can you live within an hour of the Central business centre and yet have such a fantastic lifestyle?” asked Mamaril-Sparrow.