In an accessible area of south-west Lantau lies a 200-unit 1970s luxury resort called Sea Ranch. The eerie residential development was once described by Time Out as feeling “like visiting Discovery Bay after a direct hit from a neutron bomb”.
The resort was completed in 1979, but accrued massive debt and was the subject of years of legal wrangling. Despite its notoriety, the self-contained enclave in Chi Ma Wan has quite idyllic surroundings and is visible to passengers on the Hong Kong-Macau ferry routes.
There is now renewed interest, with several units undergoing refurbishment and more residents moving there, attracted by the secluded setting.
A documentary was published last year by a group of HKU students. Director Piotr J. Zembrowski, whose team shot the film in 3 weeks, said, “I made this documentary to explore what the developer’s initial vision was, what The Sea Ranch was like when it opened, what went wrong and what it is today.”
The current handful of residents must bring in all their supplies by boat and face a long commute to the city via Cheung Chau. No shops or restaurants exist at the resort – only a small stand on the pier sells soda pop. Power is provided by CLP generators; there is no internet but mobile broadband works well. Water is free of charge from a nearby hill and bottled gas is delivered on demand. Management fees are high (HK$3,200 in 2012), as sewage costs, security staff, gardeners and the “free ferry” are expensive to maintain.
Back in the 1970s, it was promoted to upmarket clientèle as a “community with every luxury”. Brochures boasted top-notch restaurants, a cocktail lounge, a sports complex, sauna, nursery, library, a man-made beach and high-tech seaview apartments…
New World Development now manage the resort which consists of 20 blocks. The clubhouse buildings remain in a state of disrepair. At the time of writing, properties were available for under HK$2 million.
The area is private and, officially, only guests of residents are welcome. However, visitors can try to hike to the development or hire a 25-minute, $30-80 wallah wallah boat from Cheung Chau.
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