Becoming castaways: how to rent a private island

Become a latter-day Robinson Crusoe by renting an island, writes Louise Southerden.

The world's islands have a long history of castaways, from Icelandic slave-traders to Portuguese pirates, but Robinson Crusoe really ignited the modern yearning for our own piece of paradise surrounded by water - or rather Alexander Selkirk, the shipwrecked sailor who inspired Daniel Defoe's famous novel by spending four years and four months in perfect isolation on a tiny South Pacific island until rescued in 1709.

More recently, in 1983, Lucy Irvine wrote Castaway after answering an ad that read "writer seeks 'wife' for a year on a tropical island" (in the Torres Strait), then in 2000, Tom Hanks and "Wilson" rekindled our island fantasies (and fears) all over again in the movie of the same name.

Now would-be castaways can take their pick of islands for rent around the world. There are islands in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, off the coast of Canada and Africa - offering experiences ranging from the humble to the hedonistic, from rustic to "rock star".

There are lighthouse islands in Norway - such as Myken Fyr, where you can stay in a three-bedroom guesthouse with a small light station on its roof. There are castle islands in Brittany - such as Costaeres, built in 1885, which even has a "hall of knights", spiral staircases and secret stone passageways. Some are wild and windswept, such as Breakwater Island in British Columbia, a 30-hectare pine-forested island with two log cabins, kayaks and a small fishing boat; and Inishturkbeg off the west coast of Ireland, which is just about as far from a postcard-perfect idyll as you can get.

There are tiny islands with big price tags: Bonefish Cay in the Bahamas, for instance, is a mere five hectares but can be rented for €50,000 ($75,000) a week, including gourmet meals and watersports (for 14 people). And there are big islands with tiny price tags: the 706-hectare Forsyth Island in New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds is one of the largest privately owned islands in the Pacific and costs €1000 a night for up to eight guests. Three Hummock Island in Bass Strait is a 10,000-hectare nature reserve with a homestead that costs $120 per person per night and sleeps up to 14 people.

The islands are not always in the middle of nowhere. Ile de Chantemesle is in the middle of the Seine, 50 kilometres north-west of Paris; Tagomago is a stiletto's throw from the Spanish party island of Ibiza; and East Brother Island (with a lighthouse keeper's cottage that has become an elegant B&B) is 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco.

Some islands are eco-friendly, such as Chumbe, off the coast of Tanzania, not far from Zanzibar, which has been created in consultation with the island conservation organisation Seacology and claims to have the world's first privately managed marine sanctuary.

Others are celebrity-friendly. At the Mayan-themed Nygard Cay in the Bahamas, famous guests have included Sean Connery, Robert De Niro and Oprah Winfrey and the nightly rate of $US42,000 ($46,000) includes Hummer or limo transfers from Nassau.

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There's no shortage of islands that charge a princely sum for the privacy and privilege of having one all to yourself, of course. Musha Cay in the Bahamas, owned by magician David Copperfield, will make $US325,000 disappear in a week (with accommodation for up to 20 guests and 30 staff to satisfy their every whim). And Sir Richard Branson's Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands, accommodates up to 28 guests for a mere $US350,000 a week.

The world's most expensive island, however, according to Private Islands magazine, is Six Senses Soneva Gili Resort in the Maldives. For a lazy $US1 million, you and 99 of your closest friends can live for a week in the way to which you are sure to become accustomed: in 44 thatched over-water bungalows, dining on gourmet feasts and indulging your senses with massages in the glass-floor spa.

No man is an island but just about anybody, on any budget, can rent one. Try these for size:

- Wilson Island on the Great Barrier Reef is a small coral cay 40 minutes from Heron Island, with six luxuriously appointed purpose-built tents on a secluded beach, close to nesting turtles and seabirds. Island rental rates: $4134 per night for 12 people. See wilsonisland.com.

- Wadigi Island, in Fiji's Mamanuca group of islands, has three five-star suites with ocean views, a boat and boat captain at your disposal. Island rental rates: $US6697 per night, for six people. See wadigi.com.

- Cayo Espanto, in Belize, offers a personal butler service and has six luxury villas, including the sublime one-bedroom, over-the-water Casa Ventanas, at the end of a 50-metre timber dock. Island rental rates: $US11,000 a night for 18 people. See aprivateisland.com.

For more information, see privateislandsonline.com, vladi-private-islands.de, privateislandsmag.com.

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