lantau

Escape To… Lantau Island, Hong Kong

When people refer to Hong Kong they are referring to not just the island of Hong Kong, but also it’s extensions.  Similarly to New York’s boroughs – and this is one of the limited similarities – Hong Kong has different sections beyond the island itself that are every bit of the crazy metropolis that is Hong Kong.

Today, we’re taking a brief look at the island of Lantau, located to the west of Hong Kong Island about 25 min – 1 hr ferry ride away on average (depending upon which ferry you get on and which part of the island you’re headed to).

Lantau is actually the largest island amongst the islands, including Hong Kong as it is double in geographical size.  It is not, however, the most populated island despite all of it’s land mass (there’s about thirty percent of the population here).  Hong Kong has an amazing public transportation system, so most people shudder at anything that is not an easy train, bus or cab ride away.

For those who are willing to make the effort, though, they are rewarded with the well-kept jewel that is considered “the lungs of Hong Kong” – referred to as such for the indigenous forests that still exist and minimal high-rise housing.  Of course, we’ll see how long that lasts since there are planned expansion projects involving reclaimed land and housing…

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When most people think of Lantau, images of Disneyland, the new airport and the Big Buddha statue pop into people’s minds.  Which, is fair enough – these are all very much apart of the island.  I’ve never been to the Disneyland here, nor do I have an active interest in going so I really can’t comment on it except to say that the locals, both young and old alike, seem to be quite fond of the attraction.  The only familiarity I have of the old airport in Kowloon as a comparison to the new one on Lantau are the photos and stories regaled from frightened passengers of how they could see intimate details inside the windows of apartments they flew past whilst landing.

So, by all accounts, with that in mind and in comparison to other international airports I’ve frequented, I’m going to rate this new airport on Lantau with high marks: Not only is it in a wide enough open space that there is no real imminent danger of crashing into an apartment building every time you land or take off, there is a golf course (9 holes at Sky City Nine Eagles), an Aviation Discovery Centre, IMAX Theatre, world class shopping, a versatile and solid selection of dining options, and exhibitions at various gates (currently Bruce Lee: Kung Fu-Art-Life and the Art of Cantonese Opera are on, to name a couple).

The Big Buddha statue is truly awesome and a must-do, along with the Ngong Ping 360 cable car that takes you to great heights, but there’s more to the ‘other’ Hong Kong…

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Lesser known accoutrements of the Big Buddha

The Wisdom Path

This is just a short walk from the big Buddha in the hills of Ngong Ping.  The Wisdom Path traces a series of thirty-eight wooden steles shaped in a pattern of infinity, containing verses from the Heart Sutra, which is one of the world’s best-known prayers revered by Confucians, Buddhists, and Taoists alike.

Ngong Ping Sewage Treatment Works

So, this is admittedly an odd one.  It’s a plant that treats roughly about 119,000 gallons of sewage daily is located just next to Ngong Ping Village.  Interestingly, consumption of reclaimed water fro the plant is 37,000 gallons daily.  And, there is a small exhibition at the information center that is open to the public.

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Destinations

Tai O

Located in the northwest part of the island, this small fishing village is famous for it’s stilted houses that line the channel through the village, and locally produced shrimp paste.  There’s also the charming, boutique Tai O Heritage Hotel that is housed in a colonial building that was originally built as a British police station to guard the shore against bandits at the beginning of the 20th century.  Most of the rooms have a sea view, this makes for a great locally kept secret staycation spot.

Mui Wo

This is one of the main ferry terminal points, but just north of the ferry pier is Silvermine Beach, named for the silver mines that helped found the area toward the end of the 19th century.  It’s a quaint area, with wild water buffalo and cows roaming around amidst a hotel overlooking a fairly wide beach.  Just behind the hotel in the hills there’s a waterfall with gardens and a pavilion (again, more tourist signage from the waterfront near the hotel).  Also, there’s the Man Mo Temple on the way up.

Pui O and Cheung Sha Beaches

Located on the eastern side of the island, these villages sit amongst a long black and yellow sand beach.  There are some designated camping areas, which seems to be a fairly popular pastime for local families, and the beaches provide a nice opportunity to dip in the water and chill on the beach.  It’s a nice escape for the latter especially, there are a few restaurants that line the beach so you can grab a bite and chill all day.

There’s the Stoep in Cheng Sha, a long time local favorite that serves up South African cuisine (think braai, the wood fueled bbq cuisine of South Africa).  There are seats on the beach, so you can grab a table and some lunch and wine or Pimm’s jugs and just literally chill on the beach.

In addition to camping, windsurfing (and sometimes surfing when the waves get big enough) is a pastime for which locals and expats will travel to Pui O.  There’s a recently opened beachside restaurant and bar here, complete with work from local artists, dj’s, and a collaboration with a local brewmaster.  It is the Sunset Beach of Lantau… but more reminiscent of the Shelter Island benchmark when it was in it’s infancy stages.

Tai Long Wan (Lantau)

There are three Tai Long Wan’s (a.k.a. Big Wave Bays) in Hong Kong, and the one in Lantau is the least well-known of them but worth a mention.  The waves are decent after a typhoon, otherwise it’s a fantastic spot to just escape the buzz of HK fairly under the radar, which means that you can actually enjoy the peace of the beach and not have to deal with too many tourists.

Disco Bay

… Short for Discovery Bay, DB is the residential development on the northeastern coast of the island.  It’s quite similar to Southern California’s private cookie cutter communities, and mostly consisting of expats.  It’s a different breed of Stepford-Wifedom, though, with binge drinking in the public square and rumored swinging neighbors.  Nonetheless, there are upmarket private and public recreational facilities and some great bars and restaurants. 

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Flora and Fauna

The Fabled Pink Dolphins

Pink dolphins, people.  Get involved.  There are cruises provided by the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine parks located just off Tai O on the island of Lantau to view these mesmerizing, endangered mammals.  There is also a viewpoint for observing the dolphins on the coastal hillside at Fu Shan, which you can find using the tourist direction signs pointing the way to this site from the Shaolin Wushu Centre on Shek Tsai Po Street. 

Hiking and Walking

Hong Kong is known for it’s great hiking- we have the annual MacLehose Trailwalker here: a 100km hiking course that generally takes anywhere from 24 – 32 hours to complete… unless you’re a Gurkha, in which case you’re likely to complete it between 12 – 16 hours.  And some of it is definitely on the island of Lantau – not to be missed!  There are a number of trails and countryside walking paths, but the Lantau Trail climbs across the islands central peaks and spans 70km.  It also leads to the Lantau Peak, Hong Kong’s second highest summit, which is noted for it’s breathtaking sunrises.  However, certain stages of the trail are not for the out of shape or weak of heart, so investigate some of the hiking guides before attempting it.

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As a career sommelier, Kimberley Drake has overseen some of the finest wine programs and operations in America and Asia. Her accomplishments range from working as a sommelier at Jean Georges in NYC to opening Hong Kong’s Café Gray Deluxe as their chef sommelier. Kimberley can be reached at Kimberley@NewsWhistle.com.

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Lead-in Image Courtesy of Philip Lange/Shutterstock.com

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