Opportunities abound to buy your own island

Hamilton Island now hosts a popular yacht club.
Hamilton Island now hosts a popular yacht club.

There are few status symbols that hold up to owning an island and, for those looking to take the plunge, the stunning coastline of Australia has a range of sublime islands for sale.

International investor Mayfair 101 clearly has an appetite for islands, having recently picked up Queensland’s Dunk Island for $31.5 million. The group has also signed contracts for the purchase of more than 200 properties in the nearby Mission Beach area for an additional $150 million.

Apart from Dunk Island, Mayfair 101 is also understood to have bought Mission Beach’s Elandra Resort for about $5.5 million as well as a swag of luxury residential beach properties and vacant blocks in the scenic hamlet south of Cairns.

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“Mayfair 101’s vision for the area is to create a tourism mecca with a series of interconnected offerings. The strategic purpose in securing considerable property holdings on the mainland is to de-risk the group’s investment in Dunk Island by supporting the rejuvenation of the region as a whole,” Mayfair 101 says in a statement to The Australian.

A resort on Dunk Island was once a playground for the likes of Sean Connery, Henry Ford II and several Australian prime ministers, before it was devastated by Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

Its former owner, Peter Bond, former CEO of failed energy company Linc Energy, bought the roughly 5.2sq km island for about $7.5 million in 2012, and kept it for personal use, according to Tom Gibson, group vice-president of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels and Hospitality Group and the broker for Dunk Island.

Relatively inexpensive to purchase when compared with prime city property (but exorbitant to develop and maintain), islands give the owner complete control over a domain, and a front-row seat to wild, remote vistas of natural beauty.

Dunk Island from above. Picture: Isabelle Dore

Some might look to the Caribbean, where Sir Richard Branson, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio are among an elite group of island owners. But Australia’s vast coastline also boasts myriad postcard-perfect islands, and at any given time there are some for sale, ranging from less than $1 million to tens of millions of dollars.

They are more of a lifestyle choice than a savvy investment decision. But those with luxurious facilities built on them occasionally sell for big sums, and some large islands with commercial zoning house lucrative resorts.

Richard Vanhoff, director of brokerage Private Islands Australia, has been selling islands with wife Narelle since 2004. Most of them are on the tropical Queensland coast along the Great Barrier Reef — an area known for its warm climate, turquoise waters and abundant marine wildlife. Vanhoff says a range of motivations drives people to purchase islands, some of them on the quirky end of the personality spectrum.

One of his more recent buyers was a Sydney doctor and avid shell collector, who bought an island because of the plethora of shells that could be found on its shores. Other island dwellers simply aren’t very social and want to live away from society.

But most of the buyers are part-timers, sometimes buying as a group. “There are the young characters getting together with their girlfriends and turning them into fishing spots for their mates,” Vanhoff says. “They formed a corporation and they’re out there partying every several weekends.”

Larger islands with commercial zoning — allowing the operation of a resort — often have an ownership history that reads like a rich list of wealthy entrepreneurs. These buyers tend to have complementary business interests, but the line between personal and business use is blurred.

“They tend to be people who have had some industry-related functions, such as building, construction, property development,” Mr Vanhoff said.

The late winemaker and yachtsman Bob Oatley, for example, paid about $200 million for Queensland’s Hamilton Island in 2003. His family developed it into one of Australia’s most desirable holiday destinations, with a highly popular yacht club. The roughly 7sq km island’s annual Race Week has since become Australia’s largest offshore keelboat regatta. It’s about 20km from the nearest harbour on the mainland, but most residents and holiday goers get there via a commercial airport on the island.

Hamilton Island’s previous owner, tourism entrepreneur Keith Williams, had, like Oatley, bought the island after being struck by its beauty while sailing past it. But wisely, most island buyers with a personal retreat in mind opt for something smaller and easier to maintain.

In 2016, Vanhoff sold the 9.3ha Turtle Island on the Queensland coast near Gladstone to a billionaire from overseas. He wouldn’t provide details, but media reports say it was Singaporean property magnate and hotelier Koh Wee Meng, who paid $3.45 million and planned to use it as a personal retreat.

At the time of sale, it had a four-bedroom house, pool, pontoon, two helicopter pads and parking for five cars (which would get to the island via a barge), along with water tanks and dams. The seller was Australian actor Brendon Lunney, and the island was originally developed by horse racing identity Bob Bentley.

Vanhoff has a range of other islands for sale, including the undeveloped 16.2ha Ninth Island, 12km from Tasmania’s north coast, for $1.98 million. And a month ago, he sold the 28ha Worthington Island about 500m from the Queensland coast near Gladstone, for $400,000, dubbing it “Australia’s cheapest island”.

– with Ben Hurley

This article originally appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au/property.