Shaggy beards and big sunglasses aren’t the only 70s icons making a revival. The Sea Ranch, for years Lantau’s monument to shattered dreams, is making a comeback.
Residents are slowly returning to the site on the tip of Chi Ma Wan and property values are rising.
Like Discovery Bay, The Sea Ranch was built as an upmarket coastal resort accessible only by ferry. It opened in 1979, several years before DB, but was never big enough to sustain itself and after a series of legal disputes among the owners it finally closed in 2002.
Since then it has been visited mostly by adventurers and chroniclers of Hong Kong’s underbelly. A much-quoted Time Out story compares it to “visiting Discovery Bay after a direct hit from a neutron bomb.”
Just last week CNN ran a piece by local journalist Andrea Lo asking why even with the city’s stratospheric real estate prices The Sea Ranch remains largely vacant.
Good question, but in truth it is gradually being reoccupied. Two years ago the estate had around 30 tenants. Depending on who you ask it now has a hundred (according to a security guard) or 70 (an owner).
The rise and fall of The Sea Ranch was recorded in this 2014 video project by HKU journalism student Piotr Zembrowski:
As well as documenting a dead dog on a sofa, Zembrowski tracked down ex-residents.
“A beautiful place,” says Pamela Barton, described as the founding chairman. “We had the most incredible parties.” She wept when she returned to the site in its dilapidated state.
But The Sea Ranch today is no tumbledown. The owner, New World Development, has put a broom through it. Most of the blocks have been repainted, the landscaped grounds are well cared for and the ferry makes the 15-minute run to Cheung Chau almost every hour.
Sales figures tell the tale. In 2013 one unit went for a paltry HK$732 psf. The last sale, a month ago, fetched HK$2981 psf.
Since 2012, 29 of its 130 units have been sold and prices have sharply increased. The ten units sold in 2012 went at an average HK$1484 psf. In 2015, five sold for an average HK$2396 psf.
Sales have dropped in the past 15 months, suggesting prices have peaked and that quite a few have been bought for investment reasons. It’s certainly not hard to find The Sea Ranch apartments for rent or sale on local property sites.
The downsides are clear. It has no retail stores, no pubs or cafes and no internet – residents make do with mobile routers. The famous clubhouse and swimming pool have not been restored. Fussy would-be residents might be deterred by the arrival of a “dioxin-spewing incinerator” on Shek Kwu Chau.
But in other ways the experience is little different to the rest of southwest Lantau – it’s quiet and scenic, with a ferry commute to Central (via Cheung Chau) of just over an hour. With Hong Kong’s insane property market, this may be a good option for willing commuters, those working part-time or from home, or retirees.
For Lantauistas, it’s a pleasant day trip. You can get there overland from Pui O in one and a half hours. You can return the same way, or hire a kaido to take you to Cheung Chau or Shap Long.