Inhabited since Neolithic times and twice the size of Hong Kong Island, Lantau is Hong Kong's largest island. But while Hong Kong Island has a population of 1.3 million, Lantau has only about 100,000. Much of its population growth has occurred only recently, first with the founding of Discovery Bay, a large and expensive settlement of condominiums popular with expats and chuppies (the local term used to identify Chinese yuppies), then with Hong Kong's new airport (which brought with it the creation of a new satellite town at Tung Chung), and finally with the 2006 opening of Hong Kong Disneyland. But one of its biggest draws is the Giant Tian Tan Buddha, the largest seated outdoor Buddha in the world. Accessible by ferry or via MTR and then cable car, Lantau is by far Hong Kong's most popular outlying island.
Yet much of Lantau remains mountainous and lush. Country parks make up more than half of the island, with 70km (43 miles) of marked hiking trails. Lantau is an island of high peaks, remote and isolated beaches, small villages, temples, and monasteries. To do the island justice, I suggest arriving the old-fashioned way, by ordinary ferry, followed by a bus to the Giant Buddha and then returning to the city by cable car and subway. You should allow at least 5 hours for the entire trip.
Ordinary ferries, with both ordinary and deluxe class, depart from Central Ferry Pier no. 6 in Central approximately every 2 hours between 6:10am and 10:30pm and arrive about 50 minutes later at Silvermine Bay, known as Mui Wo in Chinese. Hover-ferry service departs more frequently from the same pier, and gets you there in about 40 minutes, but it doesn't provide panoramic views from an outside deck in deluxe class. In Mui Wo, as soon as you exit the ferry pier, you'll see a bus terminal with buses going to other parts of the island, with departures coinciding with the arrival of the ferries. For the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, take bus no. 2 bound for Ngong Ping (Po Lin Monastery). The exact fare of HK$17 Monday through Saturday and HK$27 on Sunday and public holidays is required, so come with lots of change or use the handy Octopus transportation card. The bus from Silvermine Bay to Po Lin Monastery takes about 45 minutes as it hurtles around hair-raising curves and up and down through lush countryside -- not for the faint of heart. I always enjoy every minute of it. For the most panoramic views, sit on the left side of the bus.
Lantau is also accessible by taking the Tung Chung MTR Line, which departs from Hong Kong Station in Central and travels to Tung Chung, the end terminus, in about 30 minutes. In Tung Chung, you can board a 17-passenger cable car that travels 5.7km (3 1/2 miles) directly to Ngong Ping in about 25 minutes, with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside, the airport, and the South China Sea. The round-trip fare of the Ngong Ping Cable Car is HK$107 for adults and HK$54 for children; one-way fares are HK$74 and HK$38, respectively. Packages that bundle cable car rides with attractions at Ngong Ping Village are also available. If you like spending money, you can even spring for cable cars with glass floors or private cars. Otherwise, bus no. 23 also travels between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping in about 50 minutes; the fare is the same as from Mui Wo and the ride is no less hair-raising.