Alison Jenner, The Peak, February 2005, pgs 95-99
Islands. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of a warm sea breeze, sapphire-blue seas, and most importantly, tranquility. There are many reasons why people flock to the Maldives or some other secluded beach-front resort, but common among them is escaping the madness of modern society.
You may own a sprawling 8,000sqft mansion on the Peak, a private jet that will take you to your summer home in the Caribbean and a Rolls-Royce that allows you to travel in comfort and style. But you can't stop prying folks in their SUVs and glaring headlights as they slow down to take a peek at your mansion. And your spanking new Rolls-Royce Phantom won't do you much good when you're stuck in traffic.
For those who fantasize about stealing away to a private paradise where miles of uninterrupted beach stretch as far as the eye can see, help comes in the form of specialized island brokers like Cheyenne Morrison, Vice President of Elysian Fields Realty Services.
The allure of buying an island is to get as close to paradise as one can and it is no wonder that many of the rich and famous own a slice of their own kingdom. Hello magazine recently reported that Johnny Depp splashed out US$3.6 million for his private paradise in the Bahamas. Richard Branson owns the famed 74-acre Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands and Nicholas Cage has one in the Bahamas.
"An island really is the ultimate indulgence. It is the ideal purchase for the man who really has everything. What's the point of having a helicopter and a private yacht if you don't have your own island to park them," quips Morrison. His company is the only realtor in the Philippines specifically servicing foreign buyers interested in the purchase, lease or development of the country's islands.
"You'll be surprised at how many people want to have their own island. A lot of people have been in the big city, they hold stressful jobs and they want a completely different way of life. Here, they're not fighting traffic; they can dig up clams or go fishing,” adds Rudy Nielsen, president of Niho Land & Cattle Company which handles various real estate projects in British Columbia.
There is nothing more exclusive than owning a private island, as it is effectively your own little kingdom, says Morrison. “I think that buying an island is the best and most prestigious form of real estate. Even the most expensive house in the world is at the end of the day just a house, but even the smallest island provides something unique.
"There is nothing that can match the exclusivity of an island. An island by its very nature excludes and keeps out others. Its your own castle, protected by nature’s own moat. You have the utmost sense of privacy in the boundaries of your own little kingdom and you are the lord of all you survey. Also, most countries allow you to rename the island to whatever you want. You could rename the island after your wife, your daughter, or after yourself for that matter.”
Like diamonds, the best islands don’t come cheap. The size of a desirable island can range anywhere from five to 1,000 acres, should have an elevation of 15 ft, a harbour and several anchorage areas. Islands come in many forms and you can choose if you want to live Robinson-Crusoe like in a small island with nothing but trees, or buy a big island complete with a mansion, power plant and airstrip. But it’s not just an idyllic getaway; islands can also be a good source of investment. According to Morrison, the price of islands in the Caribbean has increased by up to 300 per cent in the last 10 years.
But for every person who has made his dream of living in paradise come true, there are others for whom the isolation they so covet has proved to be a bit too much. Don’t forget that you have to maintain your own home and boat, and, of course, your piece of paradise will not come with a Starbucks.
Many countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines also prohibit outright foreign ownership, but interested buyers can use local corporations and joint partnerships to get around this problem. A reputable island broker will help you through all the legalities.
Purchasing your own island is a big investment and isle lovers should make sure they are really suited for island life before signing on the dotted line. Buyers should also thoroughly inspect the beaches they intend to buy before splurging the money. Elysian Fields offers seaplane inspections where buyers can view three islands in a day for US $1,000 of which the company will pay 50 per cent upon proof of capacity. They also offer a three day private island inspection tour on a luxury yacht for US $1,500.
PARADISE IN THE PHILIPPINES
Touted as one of the last unexplored islands in the Pacific, Palawan- the location for James Bond’s 1997 thriller Tomorrow Never Dies- is made up of 1,781 islands. The second largest province in the Philippines, Palawan is a comfortable one-hour flight from Hong Kong.
Known the world over as the Philippines’ last ecological frontier, Palawan boasts of a huge expanse of tropical rainforest and marine wilderness. “This is the last set of undiscovered islands in the world. They are pristine gems, still isolated from tourist hordes and that makes them valuable,” says Morrison, who has listings of 174 islands in the Philippines and a database of approximately another 300. His list includes the one hectare Lover’s Island in Northern Palawan for US $20,000- just 10 minutes away by boat from the airport, the tax-declared island is just large enough to build a house on.
The more comfortable six hectare City Island, in Caraga, is currently going for US $535,000. At 150ft above sea-level, with pristine white-sand covering the entire southern half of the island, this is the perfect place to build that dream beachfront villa. Isolation-phobics will also be relieved to know that the island is a mere 15-minute boat ride to Srurigao City.
Islands in the Philippines are regarded as national assets and as such, there are special laws regarding their ownership and development. Foreigners are also not allowed to own land in the Philippines, but the problem can be solved by way of a private corporation where at least 60 per cent of the capital is owned by Filipinos. To help buyers do away with complicated legalities, Elysian Fields assists foreign investors through its Elysian Fields Property Holding Corporation (EFPHC).
The Caribbean islands - synonymous with palm trees, sandy beaches and warm waters - are the tropical islands of everyone's dreams. However, there are few Caribbean private islands on the market and even fewer have unrestricted ownership. This translates to higher prices.
The Bahamas, a 700-island archipelago, is home to 280,000 inhabitants. The coral islands boast some of the finest beaches and clear blue waters. One of the most famous private islands in the Caribbean is the Necker Island, owned by Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson. Branson said that he bought and developed the 74-acre Necker Island in 1982 so that it could be used by his family and friends for holidays.
The island is now available for rent at US$20,500 per couple per week during the Celebration Weeks in September and October. It is also available to groups of 26 persons throughout the year at US$1,538 per person per night
Canada is probably not the first place that springs to mind at the mention of island paradise, but then again, what many may not know is that the estimated 300 privately owned islands are surrounded by a protected natural inland waterway that contains numerous private islands, deserted coves, marinas and exquisite waterfront properties.
Nielsen of Niho Land & Cattle Company sees a lot of Americans buying their own islands. "[I get] a lot of famous Americans who don't want the paparazzi around. It's more of a retreat, a place to raise kids without the pollution."
Listings for islands in the British Columbia vary widely and lake islands, up in northern British Columbia or the interior, is cheaper than a condominium in the city.
Nielsen's company has one division that markets their own islands which were bought in 1988. Their associate company, LandQuest Realty, sells islands.
His buyers include not only the rich and famous, but also professionals who simply want a reclusive lifestyle. His most recent client was a 35-year-old neuroscience consultant from Minnesota. Dr Charles Hanson bought Battleship Island, a 33-acre gem in Stuart Lake, for CAD$150,000, in order to provide a natural environment for his two children to grow up in. He envisions a relaxed lifestyle, filled with days of idyllic fishing.
PARADISE NEXT DOOR
Nearer to home, Guangzhou plans to sell 10 out of the 15 uninhabited islands at the mouth of Pearl River. The other five islands are inhabited by residents who carry out fishing and farming activities. The Standard reported that the 10 islands will be available to individuals or companies, including those from Hong Kong and Macau.
The minimum asking price per square kilometre will be HK$9.4 million and buyers will only gain rights to the land for a maximum of 50 years.
THE WORLD’S YOUR OYSTER
If you are not satisfied with just owning one of the many islands on offer throughout the world and want to set your sights even further, how about owning 'Hong Kong' - all 5.58 acres of it?
An ambitious project with a budget of US$1.8 billion, The World, is a man-made archipelago developed by Nakheel Corporation. Located off the coast of Dubai, the group of islands is the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and features 300 private islands strategically positioned to form the shape of the world map.
Slated for completion in 2008, prices start at US$6.5 million for a 2.6hectare secluded patch of sand and each island will have 50 to 100m of water between them, accessible only by marine transportation.