As Hong Kong locations go, The Peak is it: the bee’s knees, the cat’s pyjamas, the top of the tree, the absolutely most desirable place to be, the address to end all addresses. Pretty much since modern Hong Kong has existed, the area properly known as Victoria Peak, at the top of a 552-metre mountain of the same name that towers over central Hong Hong and commands the most magnificent of views of the city, has been The Place To Be. Unfortunately there’s not very much of it, and that, coupled with its desirability, has turned it into some of the most expensive real estate on the planet – real estate that has recently risen to its highest ever price, back above the previous high just before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.
So, reasons of historical prestige aside, why does this area of land at the top of The Peak, also known as Mount Austin although almost never called that, command prices as sky-high as its location? Well, there are the views, which, depending on where you’re standing, could cover just about anywhere. There’s the secluded, exclusive, tucked-away feel of the place, noticeably apart from the city but still within spitting distance of it. Most of all, there’s the Hong Kong government’s role; it owns virtually all the land in the city, and so can exercise pretty tight controls over prices in an area as concentrated as The Peak by simply not releasing much land for development. (Put it like this: in July 2010 a property developer paid HKD10.4 billion, or more than HKD32,000 per square foot of gross usable floor area, for a site on Nicholson Road auctioned by the government – and that was considered slightly low by the market.) There’s also a large concentration of Hong Kong’s most desirable properties here – as with a lot of Millionaires’ Rows around the world, the popularity of The Peak is self-sustaining, as property developers are drawn to put many of their most opulent creations in the area of the city with the most cachet.
The Peak is effectively ringed by other districts, which makes it relatively easy to gain access to services, from education to shopping, that aren’t fully provided for up the hill. To the north is Mid-Levels, a spiritual continuation of The Peak in a diluted way, if not quite a physical one, with its numerous residential towers, full range of services and extreme proximity to Central. West is desirable, sea-facing Pok Fu Lam, then to the south there’s slightly grittier Aberdeen and Wong Chuk Hang, and to the east a hillside and then pleasant, residential Happy Valley.
The area around the Peak Tram (actually a funicular) and the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria shopping malls is frequently rammed with tourists – The Peak is Hong Kong’s top tourist attraction, mainly for its stupendous views, attracting seven million visitors a year. But in general The Peak is a quiet, peaceful area, with plenty of greenery and little of the hustle and bustle typical of the city. It’s a place for pet animals, not party animals. Indeed, The Peak is mainly a family area – but only for the select few families that can afford to live there. And so, for your neighbours there, you’ll have a very large number of Hong Kong’s great and good, plus those expats whose companies decided to give them a very generous financial package indeed. Probably the biggest disadvantage is the place’s mild inaccessibility – but by the standards of any normal city, rather than hyper-compact Hong Kong, The Peak really isn’t that far from Central and the rest of Hong Kong. And if you live there, you’ll definitely always be able to at least see everywhere else.
Medical services on The Peak are dominated by Matilda International Hospital, a large private hospital with an excellent reputation. Other than that, the area isn’t exactly filled with medical practitioners, but everything you need is just down the hill in Central and Mid-Levels; numerous medical and dental clinics, the Canossa Hospital at the bottom of Old Peak Road, near the top of Mid-Levels, and Hong Kong Central Hospital in Lower Albert Road, Central.
Most secondary school-age children will have to leave The Peak to go to school; the only local option is the German Swiss International School in Guildford Road, which also has an English-language stream. For younger children, there’s Peak School, a primary school that’s part of Hong Kong’s English Schools Foundation, a collection of high-quality international schools with a government subsidy that doesn’t stop them charging hefty fees.
The lack of a station on the MTR, Hong Kong’s metro system, can be a bit of an issue, but then if you live on The Peak, you’re unlikely to be using public transport all that much anyway. If you do, the district is served by buses, although they have to get up and down one or another somewhat old-fashioned, winding road – there are no high-speed expressways around here, which is of course part of the place’s exclusive charm. Bus services include the 15 to Central, the 15B to Causeway Bay and minibus 1 to Central. There’s also the Peak Tram, which is mainly for tourists but can be quite useful if you happen to live near a station and want to get to Central.
It takes about 10 minutes to get to Central from The Peak, and if you’re working anywhere on Hong Kong Island, your commute time isn’t going to be too bad. From Central, you’re a 25-minute train ride from the airport, and about 45 minutes from the border with mainland China.
Shops and Services
It’s fair to say that The Peak isn’t exactly rammed with shops, but again, the district’s position at the heart of Hong Kong Island means that most of the city’s premier shopping districts are within easy striking distance.
Both of Hong Kong’s main supermarket chains are represented up here, and then there’s the largely tourist-oriented Peak Tower and Peak Galleria shopping malls, which feature a curious combination of upscale boutiques, the odd supermarket and a whole lot of unmitigated tourist tat. Other shops are thin on the ground, but there are a couple of smaller shopping centres dotted around the district.
For most leisure and cultural facilities, again you’re going to need to descend the hill. There are lots of restaurants in and around the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, many of them designed very much with families in mind, and several with knockout views. Highlights include the international Pearl on the Peak and Cafe Deco, upscale Italian Simpatico and the outdoor Peak Lookout.