Lantau might have some of Hong Kong’s oldest settled communities, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that modern roads came to the island.
Historically Lantau people were seafarers and farmers who lived on or near the coast. Any contact between villages was by sampan or mountain path.
That was true long after the island came under British control.
In 1950 a colonial district officer, Austin Coates, advised that a road connecting the southern coastal villages Mui Wo, Pui O and Shek Pik was “urgently needed.”
His advice was accepted, and the road that is now the South Lantau Rd was built in the middle of the decade, running from Mui Wo to Shek Pik. Coates, who went on to become a full-time writer, wrote a novel about it, The Road, which examined the colonial experience and the impact of modernity through the prism of the project.
The last five kilometres of road from Shek Pik to Tai O were laid down in the early ’60s ahead of the construction of the Shek Pik Reservoir. That is the part now known as Keung Shan Rd.
The original single-lane Tung Chung Road that connected the south coast to the north was also built in the 1950s, broadly following a traditional mountain path. That was replaced seven years ago by the current two-lane road.
It’s worth recalling South Lantau’s roads have always been closed to outsiders – even before the Chek Lap Kok project and the building of the North Lantau Highway and Tsing Yi bridge allowed vehicles to drive directly onto the island in 1997. Prior to that cars could only land in Lantau via ferry. Passage had to be booked three months in advance and the permit cost $1200.