The Sea Ranch: From Home of Hong Kong’s Elite to Abandoned Relic Frozen in Time


The Eerie Urban Legends Surrounding The Sea Ranch

A common urban legend tells the story of The Sea Ranch, a prestigious beachside property built for Hong Kong’s elite, now crumbling into ruin on the south coast of Lantau Island. People falsely claim that the property fell out of favor because the developers made forgot to build a road connecting The Sea Ranch with the outside world.

Tall tales even accuse the venue of being haunted or a hotbed of cult activity.

Let's separate fact from fiction and delve into the mysteries that surround one of Hong Kong’s most-fascinating, failed luxury property ventures.

Separating Fact from Fiction: What Does Hong Kong’s The Sea Ranch Really Look Like Today?

A stunning private beach, resplendent houses that overlook turquoise waters, well-manicured lawns highlighted by tall palm trees, private ferry services…you’d be forgiven for thinking that The Sea Ranch was still a playground for Hong Kong’s rich and famous to this day. But look a little deeper and the cracks begin to manifest.

Many of the gorgeous beachfront homes are without owners and stand eerily empty. Akin to colorful shells one might find discarded on the nearby beach, they are pretty, but hollow and lifeless on the inside. While the property itself still undergoes maintenance, it’s oddly quiet with barely a soul in sight.

Despite this, The Sea Ranch is undeniably gorgeous. I’d dare say it resembles the ideal property for many a disillusioned Hong Konger in search of space, privacy and a quieter life.

So, what gives? Is The Sea Ranch abandoned or not?

Since the beachfront properties are managed by a holding company created by some of The Sea Ranch’s original tenants, they’re still maintained. It’s the clubhouse and facilities lurking in the depths of The Sea Ranch, run by a different holding company, where you’ll find things get a little sadder and creepier.

A Quick History of The Sea Ranch

  • 1975 – Hutchison (Hutchison Whampoa in 1980) announces plans to build The Sea Ranch, an exclusive, hyper-luxury property for Hong Kong’s ultra-rich
  • 1976 – The Sea Ranch successfully sells all 200 units
  • 1980s – Many residents get bored with their properties and begin selling them. High operating costs and empty properties begin to take their toll on Hutchison Whampoa’s profits
  • 1983 – The Sea Ranch reports a debt of 7-9 million HKD
  • 1983 – Hutchison Whampoa sells holding company (Holiday Resorts) that managed The Sea Ranch’s facilities to the residents for 1 HKD
  • 1996 – A group of residents split from Holiday Resorts and set up a rival holding company named Incorporated Owners (IO)
  • 1998 – The new holding company won control over most of The Sea Ranch’s residential properties. The clubhouse remained under the control of Holiday Resorts
  • 2002 – The Sea Ranch Clubhouse closed permanently

A Great Documentary About The Sea Ranch

Created by Piotr Zembrowski in 2014, this awesome documentary details the history of The Sea Ranch and has interviews with some of the people who helped build the luxury property, some of its tenants and even people who took advantage of its downfall.

How to Get to The Sea Ranch

You can hike to The Sea Ranch or take a combination of ferries. While you’re guaranteed to make it to make it if you hike, you may not be so lucky taking the ferry there directly.

If you do end up visiting The Sea Ranch, never trespass into people’s private property, don’t take or steal anything and do not disturb any of the residents.

For a detailed guide on how to get to The Sea Ranch check out the article below:

A Luxury Property Born from a Vision of 1970s Excess

The Sea Ranch was pitched to Hong Kong’s public as a hyper-luxurious property that was akin to permanently living in a 5-star hotel. Aside from the incredible exclusivity, privacy and beauty of the location, The Sea Ranch also offered property owners 24-hour room service, sports facilities, the largest private swimming pool in Hong Kong, private ferries to and from Hong Kong Island, a Western restaurant and even a Chinese restaurant made it the playground for Hong Kong’s elite.

The Sea Ranch Opened to Much Interest and Fanfare

The Sea Ranch opened to much fanfare and intrigue from Hong Kong’s wealthy elite. By offering such an exclusive and intriguing premise, properties were snapped up for anywhere between 250,000 and 554,000 HKD plus additional management fees for ferry services, security, maintenance, etc. This was cheap even by 1970s Hong Kong standards.

Pamela D. Barton, M.B.E, Founding Chairman of The Sea Ranch recalls how there would be weekly fancy-dress parties and how the clientele was initially “all executives, people who were golfers or sailors, top people in industry and in the offices.”

As mentioned previously, The Sea Ranch also offered an abundance of amazing facilities that people simply wouldn’t be able to experience in typical Hong Kong living conditions.

Furthermore, brochures from the time say that The Sea Ranch was perfect “If your company needs a retread for senior executives”, “when you entertain overseas visitors” and “for pampering family and friends.”

Interest Wanes and The Sea Ranch Begins Hemorrhaging Money

Within a decade, the first wave of property owners had seemingly grown tired of the compromises of living in The Sea Ranch and began selling their properties. Not only was the distance between The Sea Ranch and life in Hong Kong rather far, but according to The Sea Ranch property owner Alex Lush, it seemed people no longer had an appetite for properties like The Sea Ranch since more convenient alternatives began sprouting up.

In 1983, Hutchison Whampoa had racked up a debt of 7 million HKD from the project and was considering suspending services. As a result, it decided to sell the holding company, Holiday Resorts, to apartment owners for a nominal amount of $1 and wrote off the debt.

The Sea Ranch still captured the imagination of the public even at this time as Priscilla Chan’s hit track Dancing Street was filmed on the property.

An Ugly Split in Management Leads to the Abandonment of the Clubhouse

The next few years would see growing discontent from many The Sea Ranch property owners about the state of management. In 1996, a group of residents split from Holiday Resorts and formed their own holding company named Incorporated Owners (IO). IO successfully acquired the rights to run and maintain the 200 beachfront apartments, while Holiday Resorts retained control of the clubhouse.

Sadly, Holiday Resorts allowed the clubhouse, which was once one of the most luxurious parts of The Sea Ranch, to fall into disrepair. In 2002, they closed down the clubhouse permanently. Today, the clubhouse looks like the perfect setting for a horror film with the walls peeling, old furniture crumbling and odd knickknacks standing exactly where they were on the day the clubhouse was abandoned for good.

Most people who talk about The Sea Ranch looking like some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare are only referring to the clubhouse and not the actual waterfront properties.

The Sea Ranch Still Lives on Today

There’s a reason the beachfront properties of Sea Ranch still look so good; people are moving back! The Sea Ranch is still situated in one of the most beautiful, scenic locations in all of Hong Kong. With uninterrupted views out across the ocean, a total lack of crowds, spacious apartments and surprisingly cheap property prices, those who want an inexpensive (relative to Hong Kong prices) holiday home or who just want to get away from the stresses of city life find refuge in this idyllic paradise.

As with most things that sound too good to be true, there’s a reason property prices here are so inexpensive. There are no roads in and out of The Sea Ranch, which means residents will have to hike out or take the private ferry at designated times – the last one departs from The Sea Ranch’s private pier at 10:15pm. Add to that the fact that there are no shops, restaurants, or medical facilities in the complex, and you can see why most Hong Kongers, who thrive on convenience, simply wouldn’t be able to adapt to this type of lifestyle.

As of 2023, property prices go anywhere from 1.4-3.5 million HKD.

Still, as more apartments undergo refurbishment and interest grows, The Sea Ranch’s legacy is revived once more like green shoots sprouting forth from the ashes.