you were here, by Turi Condon - 27th December 2006
Actor-director Mel Gibson has one,
and so does pop star Shakira. But you need more
than a few million to buy a private island and
escape to your own piece of paradise, writes Turi
years ago Arn Barnes bought an island off the
central Queensland coast to get away from it all.
But it wasn't quite as idyllic as it sounded.
previous owner turned out to be bankrupt and the
title was in dispute, so Barnes spent the next
five years in legal wranglings through the Queensland
Supreme Court before taking possession of his
slice of white sand and azure sea. The moral:
one way or another, you pay for paradise.
price of private islands is as varied as their
buyers, who range from movie stars to con men
and those, like Barnes, who just want isolation.
You can pay as little as $US50,000 ($64,000) for
a 1ha atoll in The Philippines, which island broker
Cheyenne Morrison says he sold while standing
outside the church on his wedding day in 2004,
to Mel Gibson's $US15 million outlay for Mago
Island in Fiji and up to $US75 million for what
is the most expensive island on the market, Fiji's
Vatu Vara. And that's before the sorts of problems
that beset Barnes.
magazine's website carries a list of the most
expensive islands for sale in 2006.
the list was Isla de sa Ferradura off the northern
coast of Ibiza, Spain, at $US39.7million. Its
5.6ha in the bay of San Miguel has a luxurious
white hacienda with a home theatre and revolving
terrace overlooking a swimming pool with its own
waterfall and bar. There's also a cave complex
housing a whirlpool, solarium and steam bath.
place was a tie between the undeveloped Cerralvo
Island off the coast of Baja, Mexico, and a deserted
resort, Pakatoa Island in New Zealand. Both have
a price tag of $US35 million.
October, pop star Shakira and Pink Floyd's Roger
Waters headed a group of investors who paid $US16
million for the 283ha Bonds Cay in the Bahamas.
an island to buy isn't hard. Property website
realestate.com.au has two Australian islands listed.
The one off Queensland has drawn nearly 5000 hits
and the other, off Tasmania, nearly 2000.
are even specialist island brokers. The US-based
Coldwell Banker and German-Canadian Vladi Private
Islands have the lion's share. Vladi claims to
have sold 2000 islands in its 30-year history
and has pages of islands for sale on its website.
Coldwell Banker, which has top-end property franchisees
in Australia, also has islands for sale on its
while listings of multimillion-dollar islands
abound, closing a deal is a bit harder.
Douglas-based Morrison, from Coldwell Banker,
says he has 180 islands worth $US700 million listed
but so far his most expensive sale has been $3
million. He has Vatu Vara on his books but he
acknowledges December's coup may pose a stumbling
43-year-old Morrison says if he were to sell Vatu
Vara, he could retire. "All I've got to do
is sell one island a year and I'm doing fine."
But there can be a downside to being an island
broker: "I was in the Bali bombing, the last
one," he says.
real buyers from voyeurs and crooks is also a
problem. "No matter how rich they are, there
are still tyre kickers," he says. "I
have a whole file on con men. I've had Russian
mafia and Italian mafia; $35 million prices attract
con men." For any island above $US1million,
Coldwell Banker requires potential buyers to prove
their financial bona fides.
Gibson, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage and Johnny
Depp reportedly own islands but most celebrities
aren't interested in Australia, which has a coastline
dotted with comparative bargains. "For US
celebrities, it's an 18-hour flight to get here,"
Morrison says. "They look in the Caribbean
and the Bahamas." He cites rumours that Russell
Crowe has run an eye over Pakatoa Island in New
to home, some of Australia's smart money recognised
the potential for island residential and resort
redevelopment a few years ago. The Oatley family,
which sold its Rosemount Estate to Southcorp six
years ago for $1.5 billion, bought Whitsundays'
Hamilton Island for almost $200 million in 2004.
Sydney developer Terry Agnew owns Great Keppel,
Brisbane developer Kevin Seymour teamed up with
Daydream Island owner Vaughan Bullivant, and former
ironman turned property developer Grant Kenny
has taken a stake in the Lady Elliot resort.
sealing the deal is just the beginning. Island
development and living costs are at least 30 per
cent higher than on the mainland because of the
expense of transporting materials, goods and labour.
You also have to generate electricity, treat your
own sewage and, for some, desalinate drinking
journalist turned property developer Chris Mattingley
is selling Bamborough Island off the central Queensland
coast. Despite its beauty, and the cachet of owning
an island, it is costly and Mattingley has other
developments where he wants to use the capital.
The island is leasehold grazing land and Mattingley
says annual lease payments are $12,000. "Then
you have to insure it, supply your own power and
there isn't a hardware store on the corner when
you need a box of nails," he says.
he do it again? "Maybe, at another stage
of my life. It certainly hasn't been a negative
experience, it's just having the time to enjoy
you can't afford to buy, you can always rent.
Double Island off Cairns was bought by OzEmail
internet tycoon Sean Howard for $4.5 million in
2000 and can be hired lock stock and barrel. Ten
guests staying three nights costs $35,700. There's
a group discount: 40 guests for seven nights costs
Barnes, who has a $4.5 million price tag on Long
Island, which is about halfway between Rockhampton
and Mackay, it's past the high tide mark. The
island was a family holiday spot for years but
Barnes doesn't use it much these days. "I'm
73 now and I've had too many birthdays along the
way," he says.
a Singapore-based Australian expat negotiating
to buy his 4800ha island. Barnes says the prospective
buyer, like everyone else, is looking for a place
to get away from it all.
Price: $US75 million.
Location: In Fiji's Lau group, close to Tonga.
Attractions: Limestone cliffs covered in dense
jungle, white sand beaches and a flat summit,
sheltered lagoons. Marketing blurb says a cross
between Bora Bora and the Lost World of Arthur
Conan Doyle. Mel Gibson owns the neighbouring
History: Reputedly there's buried treasure. The
island was once owned by Joe Thompson, an American
seaman with a seemingly endless supply of gold
coins. Thompson was insane at his death and the
secret of his treasure, if it ever existed, died
Negatives: Mel Gibson and the coup in Fiji.
In the Duke Group, named after British royalty.
Bamborough Castle, Northumberland, was founded
by Ida, king of the Angles, in the 6th century.
Price: About $2 million.
Location: In the Coral Sea off the central Queensland
Attractions: Whales and turtles, rocky headlands,
nine sandy beaches and secluded coves. History:
Was once part of a single pastoral holding with
nearby Marble Island. Marble has been used as
a hunting resort, mostly by Americans pursuing
the island's deer.
Inclusions: Airstrip, dam and 11 rainwater tanks.
The four-bedroom home is furnished and has a mainland
phone line. There's also a caretaker's or guest's
Title: Residential leasehold expiring in 2021.
Negatives: Americans with guns nearby.
Price: $2.9 million
Location: In the Furneaux Group, eastern Bass
Attractions: A rugged coastline interspersed with
long sandy beaches. Fairy penguins, sea eagles
and mutton-birds can be seen.
History: First settled by sealers in the 1800s.
In 1912 the windjammer Farsund was wrecked 200m
off the southeast coast.
Inclusions: The 607ha island was mostly used for
grazing and includes an old house.
Title: Freehold, leasehold and crown land.
Negatives: Snakes, mostly harmless.
Price: $44 million, negotiable.
Location: Whitsunday Islands.
Attractions: 513ha, mostly national park, and
white sandy coves. Approval for a five-star hotel,
marinas and 800 homes.
History: Has had a few owners.
Inclusions: 131ha of partly developed land along
4.5km of ocean front. An airstrip.
Title: Leasehold with 90 years to run.
Negatives: Could eventually house 3000 people
at any one time.
Condon is The Australian's property editor.