The ultimate private getaway: islands for sale around Australia

There are several private islands currently on the market. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy
There are several private islands currently on the market. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy

Australia’s islands offer the chance to combine a commercial income with a relaxing lifestyle.

From Queensland’s cheap as chips Worthington Island that sold late last year for just $385,000 or Tasmania’s Ninth Island that’s on the market for $1.98 million to islands that are expected to sell for more than $20 million, an island lifestyle can be achieved at almost any price.

Here are some of the private islands currently on the market:

Dunk Island, Mission Beach, Queensland

Dunk Island is currently on the market. Picture: Getty

Sale price: Expressions of interest. Guide about $20 million-plus

Sales agent: Nick Roche, Peter Harper and Andrew Langsford, JLL

A 135ha resort island in far north Queensland, a 20-minute ferry ride from Mission Beach. It is one of only three freehold islands on the Great Barrier Reef. It has mainland power connections with water and utilities infrastructure plus a commercial airstrip and commercial liquor licence.

Little Yargai Island, NSW

There is a two-bedroom house on Little Yargai Island. Picture: LJ Hooker Maclean

Sale price: $850,000

Sales agent: Grant Neilson, LJ Hooker Maclean

1.01ha island on the Clarence River, between Yamba and Iluka. It is a freehold lease arrangement.

The island features a two-bedroom house, two jetties, a boat ramp, mango orchard, hardwood timber plantation, shed, gardens, solar hot water and water tank. Livestock are allowed but the owners must have permission from the relevant state government department.

Ninth Island, Tasmania

Ninth Island in Tasmania includes 16ha of land. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy

Sale price: $1.98 million

Sales agent: Richard Vanhoff, Private Islands Online Australia

It is a 16ha island on Tasmania’s northern coast. It is a freehold lease arrangement.

No dwellings are currently on the island but seals, penguins and birds are regular visitors.

Pumpkin Island, Queensland

Pumpkin Island is on the market for the second time since 1961. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy

Total sale price:  Around $20m

Sales agent: Knight Frank Australia

This 6ha island has five cottages that can sleep 34 people as part of its boutique accommodation offering, plus two moorings and a helipad. There’s a manager’s cottage, licensed bar and function venue, playground, library, shed, lookout building and a custom-built boat that seats 36 passengers.

There’s an oyster lease that allows the owner and their guests to shuck their own oysters. The lease on offer is until 2046 when it becomes a rolling lease.

It’s just a 20 minute boat ride from Great Keppel Island.

Victor Island, Queensland

Victor Island is currently on the market. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy

Sale price: Via open negotiation, estimate about $4.95 million

Sales agent: Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty

Located in the Whitsundays, Victor Island is a 3ha plot of land with a four-bedroom home. There’s a caretaker’s cottage, helipad, rainwater tank, desalination plant and access to the NBN to enable working remotely.

What buyers need to keep in mind

As with any property purchase, the unique island lifestyle has its ups and downs.

Extreme weather conditions can result in high insurance premiums while buyers should also keep in mind the logistics of long-distance construction and connecting utilities.

But you can have your island and enjoy it too.

Freehold vs leasehold terms

State governments own the majority of Australia’s coastal islands, meaning buyers only own the lease, rather than owning an island outright on freehold terms.

Private Islands Online Australia director Richard Vanhoff said freehold islands are rare, adding that 96% of Queensland’s islands are sold as leaseholds.

However, leasehold terms can last between 20 to 99 years and often roll over automatically on renewal.

Mr Vanhoff explained island leaseholders needed to pay council rates plus annual rent.

Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) sets the latter cost, which is based on 6% of the government’s evaluation of the island.

LJ Hooker Maclean sales agent Grant Neilson said NSW’s river islands were generally sold as freehold. Mr Neilson is marketing Little Yargai Island, one of 129 Clarence River islands in northern NSW.

Tasmania’s Ninth Island is also one of just nine freehold islands in the state.

Utility and water connections

Island buyers need to consider what residential property owners all often take for granted: electricity, water and sewage.

While some islands, including their sewage treatments, are connected to mainland power grids, many others aren’t.

Even island owners who generate their own power, water and sewage treatments may still have to pay annual council rates of $1000 to $2000 and off-the-grid systems also need regular maintenance.

Victor Island includes a four-bedroom home. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy

However, Mr Vanhoff said new technology ensured island living was easier than ever before with 350-watt, rather than 200-watt, solar panels now available and generators no longer large and cumbersome.

He said water was usually collected from the roofs of island buildings or could be obtained from aquifers, which were usually available below islands’ ground levels.

Construction and building

An increasing number of barges can accommodate everything from small graders to big bulldozers, according to Mr Vanhoff.

“You can now get huge machinery onto islands,” he said.

“It’s a little bit more expensive using a barge but it’s not so much of an issue.

“You do your order with Bunnings, they’ll deliver to the barge and the barge will take it across to the island.”

Mr Vanhoff said while island building construction was definitely exacerbated by distances, most islands featured dwellings which could be utilised as is, or improved if necessary.

“Worthington Island, which I sold late last year, had an old packing shed on it,” he said.

“It suited the owner who thought it was his castle but different people have different needs.”

Mr Neilson said the owners of Little Yargai Island had “unlocked the island access conundrum” of construction by building a two-bedroom home, additional sheds, two jetties and a boat ramp on the 1.01ha island.

He added that one of the great points about Little Yargai was its waterway zoning.

Technically part of the Clarence River, no council approval is needed to construct jetties, boat ramps, slip ways and similar water-based points.

Livestock

Cattle can alleviate the costs of island living and enable buyers to enjoy commercial gains.

Little Yargai Island’s highly fertile grounds and alluvial soil ensures it’s ideal for cattle and Mr Neilson said its mango orchard and hardwood timber plantation were also an agricultural benefit for its owners.

However, while livestock are allowed on Little Yargai and Marble islands – the latter one of the Duke Group, a triple set of islands marketed by Mr Vanhoff for $15 million – DNRM approval is needed for island animals.

Livestock may also need to be relocated in harsh weather.

Just before 2011’s Cyclone Yasi wreaked havoc on Dunk Island in far north Queensland, the resort island’s trail-riding horses – some of the few to be found on the state’s isles – had to be rescued and rehomed via the island’s private barge.

Dunk Island is now back on the market with JLL after Mayfair 101 failed to satisfy a $32 million purchase agreed to in 2019.

Insurance

Mr Neilson said weather issues such as NSW’s recent floods could result in higher insurance premiums.

But living on Little Yargai’s much larger neighbouring isle, Palmers Island, he is well versed on flood issues in the area.

He explained locals generally had three days’ notice before Clarence River floods arrived.

The recent floods hadn’t inundated Little Yargai either, although a one-in-100-year flood would see its house in the river.

“Flood insurance is optional and in my particular instance, I don’t have flood insurance as I don’t need it,” he said.

While it may not be for everyone, Mr Vanhoff there wasn’t much that could be said against owning an island.

“I get a lot of people asking about them – and it’s only their capacity to pay that’s in question,” he said.

“They just have a desire to own an island.”