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Travel & Holiday

Isle of mine

Hiring your own private paradise in an island getaway complete with staff in waiting is not just for the super-rich
The Straits Times - September 27, 2011
By: Huang Huifen
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Isle of mine Nikoi Island which is located just off Bintan is a two-hour-plus journey from Singapore. -- PHOTO: NIKOI ISLAND

Picture this: no tourists, no touts, no traffic, and no one to fight for space on the beach with. Just you, a few of your closest friends, and an entire island all to yourself.

Not to mention your own dedicated team of service staff waiting on you to serve snacks and cocktails, organise a snorkelling expedition, or perhaps set off fireworks for a special occasion.

The best part? It does not have to cost an arm and a leg.

Life! found at least five private islands in the region that can be rented out for about $1,400 to $12,000 a day. Ranging in size from 1ha to more than 50ha, these islands can accommodate between eight and 42 people. This works out to between $94 and $500 a person.

For most of the islands, the cost includes accommodation, meals, transport to the island and most activities.

Depending on which island you go to, accommodation ranges from luxurious traditional Javanese joglos (a traditional Javanese house with a distinctive roof design) to driftwood huts located right at the edge of the sea.

They are equipped with modern amenities such as electricity and fresh water, but most do not have air-conditioning as they are designed with an open concept to let in the sea breeze.

The lure of having their own private retreat is proving popular among Singaporeans and expatriates, who rent islands for family celebrations, milestone birthdays and weddings.

Mr Andrew Dixon, a co-owner of Nikoi Island, a 15ha private island off the east coast of Bintan, says that more Singaporeans started to rent the island two years ago, usually for weddings and corporate retreats.

The island, developed in 2007, has 15 beachfront houses and can accommodate up to 42 people in total. The houses are also available for individual bookings when the island is not booked by an entire group.

'Singaporeans now make up 50 per cent of the clients who rent my island, while the rest are made up of expatriates based in Asia or tourists from Europe, North America and Australia,' says the Australian expatriate who quit his job as a banker in 2009 to focus on his private island business.

He bought the 15ha island in 2004 for an undisclosed amount with a group of expatriates in Singapore because he was disappointed with the holiday options in Bintan, which were either too shabby or commercialised.

Other island owners such as British property developer Charles McCulloch, 55, saw the opportunity to turn a deserted island in the Calamian Islands in the Philippines into an exclusive destination for adventure travellers such as himself. As for safety concerns, he said that he has not heard of pirate attacks in the islands.

Likewise for Indonesian-born American Roderick des Tombe, 32, who took over Pulau Macan in Indonesia to develop an eco-friendly resort because he saw a gap in the market for such private getaways. Privacy is indeed a selling point among guests who book these islands.

In June, remisier Gerard Yeo, 31 and housewife Yang Wenhao, 30, booked Nikoi Island for the weekend for their wedding celebrations. They were joined by 40 guests, who watched them say their 'I dos' on the beach at sunset, and partied late into the night around a campfire, against a backdrop of fireworks.

The island's 70-strong staff took care of the food and set-up.

Ms Yang says: 'Because we had the whole island to ourselves, we could party late into the night without fearing that other people would complain about the noise. We could also arrange for fireworks. All this made my wedding a very special experience.'

She paid $12,000 to rent the island, $4,000 for the food and another $1,000 for the fireworks display on the first day. She estimates that she would have spent the same amount if she had held her wedding in a hotel in Singapore.

Most of her guests paid for their own ferry transport to Bintan and the accommodation and food for the second day.

The extra day on the island provided time for the couple to relax and spend time with their friends. Ms Yang chilled out by the beach while Mr Yeo played soccer with his friends.

'The island holds such a special place in my heart that I may perhaps rent it again to celebrate my husband's 50th birthday in future,' she says.

Another Singaporean, shipping director Sebastian Lee, 57, booked Pulau Joyo for his daughter's post-wedding celebration.

She got married in Singapore on Sept 1, and Mr Lee invited about 30 family and friends who helped out with the wedding to spend that weekend in Pulau Joyo.

He had initially planned to fly everyone to Bali but opted for Pulau Joyo instead.

Mr Lee says: 'Pulau Joyo was good because it provided the exclusivity and seclusion for the group to bond.'

Mr Lee paid about $20,000 to rent the island for two days, and about $3,000 for the cost of the ferry from Singapore to Bintan. From Bintan, the resort arranged for transportation to the island.

Mr Lee's daughter, Clare, loved the post-wedding trip.

'My relatives called it a 'bondingmoon'. It was a novelty to have everyone on the island spending time together. I also felt like a queen that weekend, surrounded by all my friends and family on our own island,' says the finance manager.



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