Owning a Private Island Isn’t Just for Billionaires

Owning a Private Island Isn’t Just for BillionairesOwning a Private Island Isn’t Just for Billionaires

Obtaining whale’s teeth to give to island chieftains for a ritualistic offering was just one of the hurdles faced by Australian couple Tracey and Jim Johnston when they bought their own island in Fiji’s Mamanuca Chain in 2003.

Seeking a quieter life -but also income- the couple quit their jobs and sold their family home in Brisbane to purchase Wadigi Island for just over $2 million. They now own and operate a five-star resort on the island, BBC News website reported.

Despite other drawbacks, that include paying as much as $21 per kilo for snow peas (something they could get for a few dollars per kilo at home) and the occasional cyclone, the couple said they are happy with their decision to buy the three-acre island. They rent a three-bedroom luxury property to customers who pay upwards of $2,459 per night to get the private island experience sans ownership.

“The transition was really complicated, but we wanted to run a business that would provide us a relaxed income and get my husband out of the corporate life,” Tracey Johnston said.

Owning a private island isn’t just for billionaires like Richard Branson, who actually only paid $180,000 for Necker Island. Price tags for islands range from $80,000 to $600 million.

Why buy an island in the first place? For some people, it’s a level of prestige. For others, it’s about new business opportunities. Still others acquire the land as investment property, to build a second home, or for corporate development.

  Finding Paradise

Asia is one of the most expensive regions to buy in, since there is fierce competition for few properties in that region. Some of the most reasonably priced islands can be found in Central American countries like Belize.

Chris Krolow, chief executive officer of Private Islands Online, said buying or selling island property is a precarious business. Short selling seasons, lack of precedents for price setting and other complications such as obtaining building permits can hinder deals. It can take two to three years to sell a property on the international market and six months to a year on the local market, he said.

“You can’t just put up a for-sale sign on an island and have an open house,” Krolow said. “There’s a lot more play in this business than a lot of people think.”


In Fiji, the Johnstons have a 99-year lease under a local family clan called the Mataqali.

Fortunately for them, Wadigi’s proximity to the mainland provides easy transport, fast shipping, and readily available evacuation if need be during storms. Regular barges, ferries, and water taxis pass by, a valuable convenience since many other island owners must charter private barges and seaplanes to their properties.

Accessibility is a major factor for many prospective island buyers. Often, the most affordable islands are in remote locations that require long travel hours and multiple forms of transportation to reach.