It may well be the bargain of the century: a private island in the Whitsundays bought for just $1.35 million.
That’s the price paid for Camp Island by its current owners, a consortium of three Brisbane couples who’d heard that the island was up for sale through business contacts in the cotton-trading industry.
Located three kilometres off the coastline at Guthalungra, halfway between Airlie Beach and Townsville, Camp is the second-most northerly of the 74 Whitsundays islands. The 17.5-hectare island comprises 15 hectares of national park and 2.4 hectares of leasehold property.
Its previous owners had held the island since the 1990s as a family getaway, but it was time to pass it on with the kids grown up. Camp Island debuted on the market at $4 million, was reduced to $3 million and eventually changed hands for just $1.35 million in September, 2017.
“The sale price was just the beginning of the spend,” cautions co-owner Catherine Ball, who describes the three husbands in the consortium as “real dreamers”. “It was really tired; it needed new roofs, a new jetty, rewiring – they’re not glamorous things, but they’re essential.”
With nothing but the waters of Abbott Bay around the island and 80 per cent of it part of Cape Upstart National Park, Camp Island can be reached only by boat or helicopter. It is the dictionary definition of social distancing.
“COVID-19 has sharpened the appetite for private island sales, particularly amongst buyers living down south,” says Richard Vanhoff, owner of specialist island real estate company Private Islands. “One client looking at an island in the Whitsundays says he can do business from the Whitsundays or the top of a flagpole, but he doesn’t want to do business in Melbourne anymore. Melbourne has lost its charm.”
“And if you consider that you’re going to pay millions for a waterfront house in Sydney or Brisbane, this is acres of waterfront all ’round,” Mr Vanhoff added. He concentrates on selling Queensland islands, although his current stock includes Ninth Island in Tasmania, as well as Stone Island in Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay and Elizabeth Island in nearby Western Port.
“I really thought COVID-19 was the end of our business for a while, but it was the reverse. It went nuts; it just went nuts. We sold three islands last year,” he said.
Barbara Wolveridge of Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty agrees. “The market’s very buoyant,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of money – IT people and plenty of young people, too.”
The hottest property on her books is another Whitsunday isle much further south, Victor Island, which is 20 minutes by boat from Mackay. “It’s had a huge amount of interest,” says the Cairns-based realtor, whose books also include Pumpkin Island and luxury wellness resort Elysian, on Long Island in the Whitsundays, and Zuna Island in the Torres Strait. “All the serious buyers are Australians – no one else can get here, and they’re not going to buy an island sight unseen.”
According to Mr Vanhoff, 90 per cent of Whitsunday island property is on leasehold from 20 to 99 years. The lease on this section of Camp Island runs until 2038, with the option for renewal, which can be applied for up to 10 years before expiration.
“We weren’t shopping for a private island,” says co-owner and major shareholder Rob Siganto, who is a keen fisherman, CEO of Scottsdale Construction Systems and the owner of the South Pacific II fishing charters, along the Queensland coast. The day the six investors inspected the property, the weather was sublime, with whales breaching 20 metres off the beach. “We jackpotted it,” says Mr Siganto. “It was like selling a farm after three months of rain.
“Our initial calculations for the renovations were real back-of-the-envelope stuff, made while standing on the peak of the island,” he added. The group has spent over $1 million in infrastructure and front-of-house fit-out and expects to spend the same again over the next few years in a master plan for continuous improvement.
The other dealmaker was that the property also came with a permit to run as a commercial operation, and the owners are now taking the first steps to offer the private island to tourists for exclusive use.
Those who cannot buy their own island can now rent Camp Island from $1800 a day for eight people accommodated in its four pavilions, which are connected to the communal lodge looking out to Abbott Bay.
Since purchase, the consortium has learned to work with the logistics of distance and tides, with all sleepers, decking and even construction machinery brought in by barge, while the roofing was helicoptered across the short stretch of water from the mainland. There’s a newer, bigger boat on delivery capable of trips to the nearby reefs and plans for an infinity pool in front of the communal lodge, where guests meet for meals and time in the hammocks, being rocked by gentle sea breezes.
“There’ll always be projects underway,” says Ms Ball, “but we’ve got to stop and allow guests in before the next stage of getting things done on the island.”
To date, most people who have stayed on the island have been family or close contacts, but the next chapter of Camp Island is about to be written as Queensland’s newest island retreat.
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.