Alethea Dean, 29, is a long-time Discovery Bay resident, “born” in Mid-Levels to an English father and a Chinese mother. “Those flats [in Mid-Levels] were huge — I learnt to roller skate in the kitchen. We loved the place, but it reached a point where we wanted to buy and there were no comparable properties in our price range on Hong Kong Island.”
Dean isn’t alone. “Market uncertainty and cutbacks on housing allowances by multinational companies bring many to Discovery Bay, which sounds a more reasonable choice,” said Lawrence Cheung, director of PrimeHome DB, a realtor specialising in property sales and rentals in Discovery Bay. “Some expats would rather stay in Hong Kong over the winter to save on heating costs.”
DB has a good mix of housing to offer, ranging from 432-square foot studio flats to 5,000- plus square foot beach villas along Headland Drive, with 80 percent of the houses enjoying a bay view. Rentals of a 1,300-square foot low-rise flat is around $27/square foot ($35,000), compared to $40 per square foot in Stanley and $45 in Mid-Levels. In short, “We chose DB because of the bang we got for our buck,” recalls Dean, now settled in a 1,616 square foot low-rise flat.
Hidden away among the blankets of greenery in northeast Lantau and surrounded by blue, the master-planned suburbia designed in the 1970s is home to a population of 16,000, most of that expats, white-collar professionals and pilots from over 30 countries.
The city has plenty of great beaches, but one free from holidaymakers and Frisbee attacks is rare. The first and largest private beach in town at Tai Pak Bay is perfect for water sports, a private swim and a lazy afternoon with your favourite paperback. Further afield is a scenic hiking trail if the urge to dust off your field boots and put on your brush pants strikes. A relaxing stroll takes you to other parts of the island, including Mui Wo and Tung Chung.
And forget the fact that you’re an islander on remote Lantau. Your world is only minutes away. Seriously. The self-contained community has numerous recreational amenities including a cycling trail, an astroturf football pitch, basketball courts and four clubhouses with a 27-hole golf course and marina. Apart from the obligatory Park ‘N’ Shop and McDonald’s, there’s an array of cuisine from burgers to grills at DB Plaza. The largest waterfront alfresco dining spot is D-Deck, which features 18 bars and cafes and is a nice place to chill out any time of day. Stay at one of those waterfront terraces after 8pm for the Disney nightly fireworks — for free.
Kids, too, are going to find a world here. Playgrounds, slides and swings are scattered around the area, but it isn’t uncommon to see small children on very early ferries going to schools as far away as the New Territories Dean points out, speaking to most parents’ nightmares. “But hopefully a new ESF (college) will see an end to that.” The ESF-run Discovery College and the Discovery Bay International School offer primary-cum-secondary education for residents, who are free under the existing school places allocation system to study in the Central and Western District where elite schools abound.
Most striking about Discovery Bay, dubbed Hong Kong’s first “ecological town,” is that it’s essentially car-free, making it safe for pets to roam freely. Residents get around on shuttle buses, bikes and golf buggies — the only private transport allowed. Pets on Discovery Bay seem much more welcome than anywhere in town. “[There’s] plenty of room to run around and less problems with traffic,” notes Dean, owner of two cats. A veterinary clinic with emergency service and pet shops with grooming services are readily available to serve the large pet population.
Nevertheless, commuting can be a nuisance. Although Discovery Bay is served by a 24-hour ferry service to and from Central, the downside is that, “You become a slave to the ferry schedule,” says Dean, a writer and editor who works in Central. “Some evenings you really wish you could just hop a cab and be home instead of waiting for the next ferry and having another half hour on that!” Alternatively shuttle buses to Tung Chung and Sunny Bay MTR stations and the airport take about 20 minutes.
So what can be expected in Discovery Bay soon? AMALFI will hit the market this fall, says Chan Chi-ming, HKR International Limited’s head of Hong Kong business unit. The three 16-storey towers will offer 168 units ranging from 600 to 2,000 square feet. When the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is completed in 2016 China will be accessible in 30 minutes, and Chan expects the luxury development will be a hit among Mainland buyers, potentially accounting for up to 50 percent of all buyers.
The Lantau enclave is not without rivals: Stanley, Park Island on Ma Wan, Mui Wo and Lamma all vie for buyers’ attention. “Stanley is more a tourist attraction where you have little privacy on weekends; Park Island is a wall-like housing estate; houses in Mui Wo lack management,” Cheung said, jokingly. “As for Lamma, there’s long been a joke: with mostly village houses, it’s more a home to the hippies.” Buying a home in Hong Kong is an ordeal to be sure. All things considered, Dean’s final reason for choosing DB trumped all others: “It’s great to wake up next to green mountains instead of someone else’s bathroom window.”