Tai Po Gets Its Moment In The SpotlightHead north, way north by some estimations, and you’ll come to Tai Po, the unofficial gateway to the true New Territories. The last stop before Fan Ling, Sheung Shui and the border crossing at Lo Wu, the geographical indent at Tai Po Hoi delineates the Sha Tin side of the NT — not so removed and soon to be connected directly to Central — and the rest of the Territories. It’s from Tai Po that roads head to far removed and mysterious locations at Tai Mei Tuk, Shek Kong and Kam Tin among others. Also setting Tai Po apart from other parts of the Hong Kong and even the shared New Territories? It’s clean, roomy and green — greener than Mid-Levels some would argue, with better hills.

Liveable City
At one time an old school market centre, Tai Po has developed along with the rest of the New Territories as infrastructure moved out and the appeal of relative quiet and green gained traction with residents. Technically its own district, the area stretches out to the northern part of Sai Kung and is defined by its islands and mountains. Its 300,000-odd residents are spread across largely private apartment towers clustered around the Tai Po New Town and in the outlying villages.

Tai Po is a hotbed of natural features, including the Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls (yes, waterfalls in Tai Po), the Wilson Trail, the Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, Tung Ping Chau and the Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden. Needless to say, the district has become a haven for hikers, cyclists and Hongkongers looking for a relaxing Sunday. It’s so popular with local weekend tourists as a matter of fact that in 2012, the government approved of a plan to develop the city’s largest spa hotel (by Wheelock Properties, which the developer would not respond to questions about) and at the time another was before the Town Planning Board — despite green groups’ objections to the hazard they would be to the mangroves in Ting Kok.

For now at least, the apartment blocks and development is clustered around the new town, and that suits residents just fine. For the people already living in the shadow of Tai Po’s substantial foliage the area is served by dozens of primary and secondary schools — including special needs schools — extensive public infrastructure and transit links and at least one public hospital. Despite it’s new town vibe, Tai Po is one of the city’s cleanest regions with the consistently low roadside pollution levels. It may be removed, but it may also be worth the effort.

Worth the Investment?
Ironically, despite Tai Po’s abundant features, developers seem keenly uninterested in the area. A developable land site in Pak Shek Kok received only four residential bids when it went up for sale in late May — down from seven bids at another site nearby in March. “There’s plenty of land supply in the New Territories. The poor response to the nearby site in March and the fact that a Tuen Mun site sold low recently dampened interest in the site,” Centaline Surveyors Director James Cheung, told the South China Morning Post at the time.

The knock against investing in Tai Po is that, regardless of how connected most parts of Hong Kong are to each other, there is only a tiny rental pool in the area, if there is one at all; it’s an end-user sub-market. “Tai Po does have a luxury sector; estates like Hong Lok Yuen, which have their own international school, are still really popular,” explains Engel & Völkers’ Harry Tang. And indeed, as often as you can still find 500 square feet in the $3 million neighbourhood, Tai Po has its share of $10 and $15 million homes — many of them village houses. Rents currently range between lows of $8,000 and highs of $100,000 per month, though chances of finding over 4,000 square feet for under $60,000 elsewhere are fairly low too. Tai Po is affordable luxury, if there’s such a thing.

Of course tourism often boosts an investment market but without any solid plans for the area — many of which residents and green groups oppose at just the idea stage — it’s hard to estimate if the region could ever support the kind of rental market that makes investment worthwhile. The tenant pool is also low despite the Tai Po Industrial Estate being home to businesses such as the SCMP, ATV and dozens of tech firms.

“There’s always a potential investment opportunity in Hong Kong for real estate; the New Territories has less fluctuation in prices compared to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. It also has less potential tenants,” notes Tang. “Investing in the New Territories is a long haul [commitment].”