Your Own Private Island (Forbes.com)
Got stress? Get your own private island—online. By Angelo Ragaza
Cynthia Park is raving about Antigua—namely, a friend's winter home perched on a peninsula so remote, it might be the edge of the earth. "It was right on the beach and literally so isolated, you might not see another soul for days," she says. But Park thinks her ultimate getaway would be surrounded by water on all sides. On her island—a one-woman retreat-slash-Banana Republic, "I would make the rules," laughs the New York ad exec. "And I would get to decide who comes on shore and who'll just peer from the boat."
Given the ever-accelerating rat race, it's easy to see the allure of island living. Writers from Herman Melville to Margaret Mead have immortalized the idyllic, back-to-nature style of life in the South Pacific. And Hollywood has played no small part in inflating the fantasy. From Riccardo Montalban's Fantasy Island to Dr. No's Crab Key, private islands are exactly that—private. You can do almost anything you want: sleep late, walk around in your underwear or plot to take over the world.
These days, all Park has to do is log on to the Web site of the world's foremost private island dealership, Vladi Private Islands in Hamburg, Germany. There, she'll find a selection of lush personal Edens to excite the imagination of even the weariest urbanite. Up for sale: Therese Island, an emerald paradise among the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Or for those with more northern inclinations, Cloncaird Castle, a 15th-century stronghold in the middle of a pristine Scotland lake, might do the trick.
Farhad Vladi, who has sold more than 800 islands in his 25 years of business, says the biggest misconception about buying an island is that you need a pirate's booty in cash. "A small studio apartment in London is more expensive than a 100-acre island in Scotland," he argues. "If I buy a one-acre property in one of the German or Swiss lakes, I'll pay up to $2 million. For that money, I can buy a 1,000-acre island with 4 miles of sandy beach in the Pacific." Vladi estimates that a decent private island getaway can be had for a rock-bottom $200,000: $50,000 to buy the island and $150,000 to build a house on it. Add another $10,000 per year to visit and maintain it.
When Vladi started his business in 1975, selecting and outfitting an island for human habitation was no mean task. Transportation, communication, electricity and fresh water were all complicated concerns. "Today, these are nonissues," he shrugs. Thanks to technology and the proliferation of low-cost tourism, direct flights are available to practically every corner of the world.
Where island residents once had to communicate with crude radiophones, wireless technology now enables them to talk and work as well as if they never left the office. A $20,000 desalination unit will provide enough fresh water for a household of four. And 25 years ago, Vladi says solar energy and wind generators were considered "dream projects." Today, they're viable and inexpensive energy sources. To set up a roof with solar cells will cost less than $10,000; a wind generator between $20,000 and $25,000.
Vladi says islands are priced according to a number of factors, including acreage, climate, distance from the mainland and the political stability of the area. But while a quarter-mil may put you in digs a little cushier than those of say, Tom Hanks in Cast Away, it won't get you far in the world's priciest island markets: the Caribbean (around countries like the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands), the Mediterranean (off the coasts of France and Italy), the Georgian Bay (north of Toronto) and, believe it or not, the region around New York and New England, especially off the coasts of Long Island, Maine and Massachusetts. The area off the Southern Coast of Ireland, too, "is very, very hot right now," Vladi says.
But even if you don't have the time or wherewithal to get through a permanent setup, private islands are available for rental through companies like Rex Travel. They'll rent you Cayo Espanto off the coast of Belize for $8,500 per night (it has four villas and a staff of 33). For something less lavish, Vladi will rent you Forsyth Island, a remote wilderness in the Marlborough Sound of New Zealand, for $650 per day.
David Campbell, the Blenham, New Zealand-based contractor who built Forsyth Island's Swiss-style chalet, says European visitors sometimes feel apprehensive when they're wheeled down the middle of the island's dirt roads by four-wheel motorbike. "They'll say, 'Won't there be cars coming the other way?'" he laughs. "It's an island! There's no one else here!" (Return to Samples of My Writing.)