A sublime escape
Most people associate Hong Kong with the gleaming glass skyscrapers of the city’s bustling financial district which tower over Victoria Harbour to create one of the most iconic seascapes in Asia. It’s certainly a spectacular sight. But Hong Kong island is only one of more than 240 in a beautiful archipelago. That works out at about two islands to explore for every Sunseeker in the city (124 at the last count) making the region an ideal and enchanting cruising ground for luxury motor yachting.
While travelling at a cruising speed of 20 knots, exclusive restaurants, traditional Chinese fishing villages or tranquil anchorages by deserted beaches can all be reached comfortably within an hour or two, and the scenery en route is guaranteed to be stunning. For those living and working in one of the most densely populated and hectic cities in Asia, their beloved Sunseeker offers a sublime means of escape.
“It really is exceptional to be able to escape our high-rise city,” says Canny Lo, a Hong Kong-based businesswoman, philanthropist and songwriter. She has owned ‘Little Mermaid’, a Sunseeker 115 Sports Yacht, with her husband Steven, since 2013. “I really enjoy sleeping onboard overnight. Living in Hong Kong the peace and quiet is very precious and I love the gentle rolling motion at night – it’s like being rocked in a baby basket,” she says as her yacht departs Aberdeen Marina Club. Here on the south side of Hong Kong island, traditional sampans and fishing junks bustle alongside pristine yachts secured at their moorings.
For owners like the Lo family, their Sunseeker enables them to spend precious private time together as a family (they have a 14-year-old daughter at boarding school in England) or with close friends, but the vessel also has a more serious commercial function.
“The boat’s main purpose is for entertaining. My husband is a businessman and it helps with relationship building. Hong Kong has excellent entertainment but it’s a very small place, so sometimes you feel you could visit all the restaurants in one day. This is a fantastic tool for entertaining business clients in private with a glass of wine and in a very relaxed manner,” says Lo.
One of the family’s many business interests is professional football and Canny Lo is Chair of local Premier League team, Pegasus. She reveals that most of the Tottenham Hotspur football team have been entertained onboard while visiting for friendly matches arranged in Hong Kong. As with most overseas guests, the players and staff loved cruising through the magnificent Victoria Harbour at night, when the lights of the high-rise buildings dance on the inky black water.
Tai Long Sai Wan and the Sai King Peninsula
While the harbour is always buzzing with every type of vessel from the famous Star Ferry, glittering cruise liners, sailing junks, and tugs to crane barges and pilot vessels, for Canny Lo it remains more of a spectacle for guests than a destination.
“We prefer to anchor overnight up in Sai Kung, sometimes close to a friend’s boat,” she says referring to the region on the eastern coast of the Kowloon peninsula, some 21 nautical miles from the busy harbour front. It’s less than an hour’s sail at the Sunseeker 115’s optimum cruising speed but it’s like entering another world. Here the water is usually crystal clear and there are discreet small white-sand bays, like Tai Long Sai Wan, on the coast of the country park, which offer wonderful and secluded anchorages. There are no buildings here – let alone skyscrapers – and for those without a boat, the delightful bay can be reached only by walking for half an hour along a bumpy, boulder-strewn path.
“My 14-year-old daughter, Eily, loves to come out here on the boat when she is home for school holidays,” says Lo and until the 1970s, the area was occupied only by the local Hakka people. The only regular overseas visitors were Italian priests tramping through the hot countryside in search of villagers to convert to Catholicism. Even today there are few tourists, the area remains very natural and the nearby marine park at Hoi Ha Wan boasts more coral diversity than the entire Caribbean Sea.
“In the summer we use the boat every other week for family and friends, and our favourite evening trip is to cruise over to Lamma Island, have a seafood supper ashore and enjoy the sunset” says Lo.
Separated from Hong Kong island by the busy shipping lane used by the thousands of container ships transiting each year, Lamma is a typically laid-back destination famous for its barefoot lifestyle. Originally inhabited by a few local fishing families, it is now also an alternative residence preferred by expatriate writers, architects and creative types. There are no cars here and only narrow concrete paths connect the small villages.
The most popular anchorage for motor yachts is Picnic Bay on the east side of the island, so named by the British because of its reputation as a popular picnic destination for the former colonial elite. It offers a deep, sheltered bay for anchoring and a public pier to drop off guests or to take the tender ashore. Lamma is famous for seafood and, to the south side of the bay, lies a line of simple eateries known as ‘Dai Pai Dongs’ catering to visitors from ‘Hong Kong Side’.
The deep-fried squid in black pepper (Zar Yau Yu) is not to be missed and in the cooler months those feeling energetic can walk off their meal by following the family trail to the main village of Yung Shue Wan and arrange for their boat to collect them at the pier there. It’s a wonderful hike in the shadow of Mount Stenhouse and en route the Kamikaze Caves can be seen, where occupying Imperial Japanese troops concealed mini motor torpedo boats designed for suicide attacks on Allied shipping during the Second World War.
Lantau Island is bigger than Hong Kong island and, located on its western extreme on the coast of the Pearl River Estuary which leads north to the old Chinese trading port of Guangzhou (Canton), is the stilted fishing village of Tai O. Things haven’t changed much here in several centuries, except that these days the locals earn their living more from tourism and fishing than smuggling and piracy.
In 1902 the British authorities built a marine police headquarters on the edge of the village to deter piracy and keep an eye on the shipping lanes to Canton. Now the building has been impeccably restored as the Tai O Heritage Hotel. The magnificent white colonnaded structure is a delightful spot to stop for lunch or tea and the stone pier, once used by the marine police launches, provides convenient access. In the village, the distinctive fragrance of dried fish and shrimp paste permeates the air and a simple folk museum, complete with opium pots, reveals some of the village’s colourful past.
If you are lucky enough to visit around the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (that’s 30 May in 2017) you will witness the festival of Tuen Ng being celebrated, more commonly known as the Dragon Boat Festival. Tai O stages a colourful waterway praying ceremony known as the God’s Parade before the business of racing begins. Cruising home via the Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club you might be lucky enough to see a pink dolphin. Actually, Hong Kong’s famous pink dolphins are really Chinese White dolphins (Sousa chinensis) and are under serious threat from intensive development, though a new marine park is being designated for them.
Hong Kong is a place of beauty and contrasts, offering a hypnotic fusion of eastern and western culture. Even the most modern and sophisticated of Hong Kong Sunseekers is not immune from participating in old Chinese maritime customs.
“At the beginning of the year, we always take the boat to the Tin Hau temple at Clearwater Bay,” says Canny Lo, explaining that Tin Hau is the Chinese goddess of the sea who looks after seafarers. “While we enter the temple and pray for her to bless the boat, the Captain must drive the boat in a figure-of-eight pattern. It is very traditional and means good luck, not just for us and the boat but also for the crew and staff. That is very important.”
It’s certainly a spectacular sight, but Hong Kong island is only one of more than 240 in a beautiful archipelago. It makes the region an ideal and enchanting cruising ground for luxury motor yachting
Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
One of Hong Kong’s oldest sports clubs has established itself as arguably the spiritual home of the city’s yachting and watersports tradition, over the course of 170 years. The club provides sailing and rowing courses, as well as exclusive dining options in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island.
(+852) 2832 2817
Aberdeen Marina Club
Founded in 1984, the Aberdeen Marina Club is an exclusive private members’ club which enjoys reciprocal membership arrangements with a few overseas yacht clubs. It boasts seven restaurants, 10 banqueting suites and offers swimming, tennis plus wet and dry berthing facilities for motor yacht owners.
(+852) 2555 8321
The Repulse Bay
This swish residential development was built on the site of the legendary Repulse Bay Hotel frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway. The Veranda Restaurant at Repulse Bay recreates that classic colonial environment for lunch or dinner, complete with the faint hum of rotating ceiling fans, as diners enjoy views of the anchorage of Repulse Bay.
(+852) 2292 2822
Four Seasons Hotel
Towering over the famous Hong Kong harbour waterfront, the five-star luxury hotel’s restaurants and facilities can be accessed via dropping off guests at Central Pier 9 and walking for about eight minutes through the International Finance Centre. It’s worth the effort because two of its restaurants have recently been awarded Michelin stars.
(+852) 3196 8888
Jumbo Floating Restaurant
This huge floating Chinese restaurant in the middle of Aberdeen harbour is easy to access with a motor yacht. More than 10,000 customers have ordered its Flamed Drunken Shrimp since it was first served. Prepared in front of the customer, the shrimp is dipped in Mei Guei Lu then fried over an open flame.
(+852) 2553 9111
Aberdeen Boat Club
Not to be confused with its neighbouring Marina Club, the ABC has a wide range of facilities for yacht, speedboat and cruiser owners spread over two club houses, with jetty and pontoon moorings available for members’ exclusive use. The Club has more than 1,000 members and their families, hailing from over 35 different countries The ABC celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017.
(+852) 2552 8182
This stylish seafood restaurant is located above the Star Ferry Pier on Central Hong Kong waterfront. From there, it offers unrivalled 270-degree views of the harbour.
(+852) 2167 7251
Mijas at Murray House
The key attraction of this smart, contemporary Spanish restaurant is its location. It is sited on the first floor of Murray House in the popular fishing village of Stanley, now a highly desirable residential area popular with Hong Kong’s growing French expatriate community. Murray House is a striking three-storey, 160-year-old colonial building, which was re-located brick-by-brick to its current position in 1982.
(+852) 2899 0858
Built in 1928, the ‘Grand Dame of the Far East’ is the oldest hotel on Hong Kong and many think it’s still the finest in terms of traditional luxury and style. Eating at Felix on the 28th floor overlooking the distinctive Hong Kong skyline is arguably one of the most impressive dining experiences in Hong Kong.
(+852) 2696 6778
The Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club
This is home to some of the region’s largest luxury yachts: it also hosts the city’s annual boat show. Visitor berths are available only via prior arrangement. The impressive Gold Coast Hotel, which overlooks the marina, also offers some superb dining options including YUE, the award-winning contemporary Chinese restaurant.
(+852) 2404 2222
Tai O Heritage Hotel
This Grade II-listed historic building offers an exquisite taste of old Hong Kong’s colonial past. The Tai O lookout is the first-floor glass-roofed restaurant with antique hardwood furniture salvaged from the former China Tee Club. It makes the perfect spot for lunch, afternoon tea or supper and offers panoramic views of the Pearl River estuary.
(+852) 2985 8383
This popular Lamma seafood dai pai dong is nothing to do with the famous hotel group. It’s all pretty basic but arguably the best al fresco seafood eatery in Picnic Bay, Lamma Island. Try the razor clams and salt and pepper squid and watch the sun set over the mountains.
(+852) 2982 8290