Geneva Vanderzeil’s life adventures have taken her from her native Brisbane to London and now Hong Kong. The founder of DIY blog A Pair & A Spare, Vanderzeil also penned the 2013 tome DIY Fashionista: 40 Stylish Projects to Re-Invent and Update Your Wardrobe and has designed her own shoe collection.
Based primarily in Hong Kong for the past seven years, she recently became a mother and renovated a house in Brisbane with her husband, interior designer Ben McCarthy, a process documented via videos and blog posts. The couple share a Hong Kong studio, and McCarthy has designed about 100 restaurants there. “We try to understand everything that’s opening here,” says Vanderzeil, which makes her a good authority on the city’s latest and greatest attractions.
Despite its reputation for being overwhelming, Hong Kong shouldn’t scare people off. “What I think people don’t really understand is that a huge percentage of it is parks,” she says. “So if you like to get away from it all, there are actually a lot of things you can do in Hong Kong.”
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So skip the malls and crowds and simply unwind with these pulse-slowing picks from Vanderzeil.
Hikes and parklands near the city
This first stop might defy your expectations of Hong Kong, but the dense city boasts plenty of green space, anchored by the iconic view from The Peak, the island’s highest point. “This is quite an obvious one,” says Vanderzeil, “but it’s the best way to unwind without having to go too far. It’s a really accessible, beautiful series of walks.” While the tram up to the lookout is reliably packed with tourists, she recommends approaching the trails from Hatton Road on the western side to get the same amazing views without the crowds. It’s an ideal reset for when you first arrive in the city. “I do The Peak every day,” she says. “You feel like you’re in a forest. That’s an incredible thing. We don’t even have that in Brisbane.”
Mid-Levels, Hong Kong
Moksa Slow Beauty & Juice Bar
Once you’ve stretched your legs and cleared your head in nature, treat yourself to some indulgent self-care at this spa, nail and massage parlour, which doubles as a juice bar. Although it’s located next to a popular tourist attraction (the world’s longest escalator), the salon itself is totally chilled out. “You’d think it’d be really chaotic, but it’s a little oasis,” Vanderzeil says. “All the products they use are organic, and they have a really nice selection of fresh juices. And they do great massages. It’s a calm escape in the middle of the city.”
First Floor, 30 Hollywood Road, Central (entrance on Shelley Street)
Cafes in Sheung Wan
An up-and-coming neighbourhood, Sheung Wan is home to some lovely cafes that are ripe for relaxation and people-watching. Vanderzeil singles out Mana!, an organic vegetarian spot with great selections of salads, smoothies and teas. “They’re trying to lead the no-food-waste revolution [here],” she says. “It’s really healthy fare, which is a little bit hard to find in Hong Kong. It’s got a really nice veranda on this pedestrian square.” She also mentions Teakha, a minimalist cafe that does masala chai and beautiful cakes and desserts. “It’s quite relaxed and a bit of an escape,” she says. “The fig scones are out of this world.”
Mana!: 8 Tai on Terrace, Sheung Wan; Teakha: 18B Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan
Sai Wan Swimming Shed
An open-air spot right on the ocean, this swimming destination on the island’s western side also provides a stunning view. “It’s like a jetty, where all the older, more traditional Hong Kong people go,” says Vanderzeil. “They swim off the jetty around the edge of the island. I’ve never swum there, but it’s just a really nice place to go and have a coffee. The best time to go is in the morning, when there’s not a lot of people.” Again, escaping the crowds is key for keeping your visit cruisy in Hong Kong.
Victoria Road, Mount Davis
Frank’s Italian American
A self-described “red sauce bar, restaurant and music joint … with its roots in northern New Jersey”, this downtown spot opened in December 2018. Vanderzeil adores Frank’s for its cosy upstairs booths. “It’s great for just relaxing with a glass of wine – having a low-key night, but still going out and having a nice time,” she says. And while her husband actually designed the fit-out, she insists that she’s not biased. “It’s actually really good!” she says, laughing.
G/F, 79 Wyndham Street, Central
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