How the rich holiday: private islands for rent

No need for a 'do not disturb' sign at these havens, writes Michael Gebicki.

Do the rich have more fun? My own fleeting acquaintance with the species suggests they might, although imagination trumps money every time.

One thing mega-wealth does buy, however, is a private island retreat, customised to your personal specs. Lavishly kitted out with high-brand designer items, silkily arranged with beaches and aquatic toys, these private sanctuaries are also available for hire for that special celebration - a big-bash wedding, a major birthday or an anniversary you might want to share with a select group of family and friends. They also come with an intangible advantage, the privilege of exclusivity. There is no sound that is not made by wind and sea, no boats on the horizon that are not under your command, no prying paparazzi and nobody else may come on board without your say so.

NECKER ISLAND, CARIBBEAN

Sir Richard Branson's personal slice of Caribbean heaven suffered a catastrophic fire in 2011 but rising from the ashes is a new, improved version. Due for completion this month, the rebuilt Great House, the centrepiece of the Necker Island complex, will feature the same open pavilion-style design with Balinese influences and larger, plusher guest suites.

Part of the British Virgin Islands, the 30-hectare island has bleached-blonde beaches, pools and tropical forest, the spectacular backdrop for sailing, kite-surfing, kayaking, water-skiing and tennis.

The island's staff have been selected to fulfil the tastes of Mariah, Mick, Oprah and other assorted stars of the entertainment firmament, with silence guaranteed. The nine bedrooms in the Great House and the six Bali Houses can sleep up to 30 adults, plus six children in the bunk-room. From US$60,000 ($64,000) a night; neckerisland.virgin.com.

TAPROBANE ISLAND, SRI LANKA

Within wading distance off the beach on Sri Lanka's southern coast, Taprobane is almost engulfed by the tropical greenery that invades this one-hectare island. Set on the crest of the island, the airy, five-bedroom house is well provided with verandahs on all sides. Below the house, tangled tropical gardens surround the infinity pool.

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Taprobane comes with a chef, a deferential crew of ancillary staff and an intriguing pedigree.

Built by Count de Mauny Talvande, a descendant of one of Napoleon's generals, the house was later bought by the author Paul Bowles, who lived there during the 1950s.

The house is better suited to those whose taste in tropical hideaways runs to character, rather than clinical sterility, and who are prepared to put up with its shortcomings. Guests should expect some genteel decay in the plumbing and electrical wiring. Beware the wet season, when the roof leaks and mosquitoes come in clouds. From US$1000 a night; taprobaneisland.com.

MOTU TETA, FRENCH POLYNESIA

One of the coral islets that ring the French Polynesian island of Rangiroa, Motu Teta is 3.8 hectares of blinding white sand, broken coral and coconut palms that rise barely a metre above the high-water mark.

Main Villa has two big bedrooms with king-size beds, each with an en-suite bathroom, and another smaller bedroom at the back. In the middle is the lounge/dining room/kitchen and at the front is a big deck with couches and loungers facing the lagoon.

The smaller guest bungalow has two decent-sized bedrooms with queen beds, a lounge room in the middle and a timber deck at the front. It's back-to-nature with a gilt edge. Champagne makes a frequent appearance as a prelude to the seafood dinners that manager Celine Angelie constructs. One of the main activities is snorkelling among the coral bommies that blotch the Listerine-blue of the lagoon. Celine's husband, Ugo, is master of ceremonies. Boatman, naturalist, multilingual guide, brown as nutmeg, with shoulders like a Charolais bull and then some, Ugo is there to do your bidding, in theory. In fact, you're signed up for whatever adventure Ugo has in mind for that day. Since he knows where to fish, where to shelter if the weather bucks up, because he can find coconut crabs, because he will haul you outside at night to show you the stars that he would use to navigate across the oceans, and because he knows the stories of this place, Ugo holds the keys to this world. You're just along for the ride. Hang on tight. From €533 ($770) an adult for a group of six, plus 14 per cent tax; yourdreamisland.com.

DOLPHIN ISLAND, FIJI

Recently expanded and uplifted under the stewardship of New Zealand's acclaimed Huka Retreats, this coral-ringed castaway paradise sits just off the north-east coast of Viti Levu. The four guest bures blend into the coconut palms and each is a sumptuous enclave accented with pastels and sliding glass doors that open to green-blue views.

The style throughout is tropical gloss. Stylist Virginia Fisher, the interior designer behind some of New Zealand's swankiest lodges, has hyped the romance factor

with dark, woodsy interiors, filmy nets around the beds, tapa cloth, shell-crusted mirrors and perfumed candles on every non-wobbly surface.

At the front of the main bure, an infinity pool steps into lawns shaded by coconut palms and frangipani. The effect is sleek and tailored, and ideal for those who prefer their tropical idyll well manicured. The activities include snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking and sailing, with massages and facials as an option.

Island host Dawn Simpson brings a generous serving of warmth to Dolphin Island life, orchestrating feasts in palmy locations and delivering impromptu treats to your sun bed. Go with the flow. NZ$3750 ($3330) a person for two guests sharing one bure, NZ$1500 a person for eight guests sharing four bures, plus 15 per cent GST and 5 per cent Fijian service turnover tax; dolphinislandfiji.com.

MUSHA CAY, BAHAMAS

Magic man David Copperfield conjures up an experience that ticks every last box on the lotus- eater's wish list. Set on the modestly self-titled Copperfield Bay, Musha Cay and its 10 outlying islands offer gold-plated accommodation for up to 24 guests. This is the full Montezuma of tropic island getaways - jet-skis, little thatch-roof hideaways for playing Robinson Crusoe, a beachfront airconditioned gym, sailing boats, a 37-foot Midnight Express torpedo boat and an amphibious catamaran to save you from wetting your feet. Every suite has his-and-hers bathrooms and a private beach.

A drive-in sized outdoor screen by the beach provides night-time entertainment. Among the fringing islands are commas of blinding white sand stroked by a sibilant blue sea. Highview, the seigneurial, plantation-style mansion that caps the island, is almost 1000 square metres of ultra-luxury, with a private sauna and two grandmaster suites, each with its own kitchen. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem were hitched here and Johnny Depp, Bill Gates, Jim Carrey and Google co-founder Sergey Brin are just some who have stayed. Note the price tag does not include international phone calls. From US$37,500 a night for up to 12 guests; mushacay.com.

LIGHTHOUSE GREBENI, CROATIA

Just off the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, the former lighthouse-keeper's residence perched on this rocky little isle offers bare-bones but charming accommodation for up to seven. The 140-year-old stone cottage has three double bedrooms and one single room, each done out in a soft blue and white colour scheme, a fully equipped kitchen and lounge room with satellite television. Water comes from a tank and power from solar panels.

Activities favour the more intrepid traveller unfazed by isolation with few creature comforts. Swimming is off steep rocks and divers can explore the wartime wreck of the Italian vessel Taranto, which sank barely 20 metres off the island. An outstanding feature of Grebeni is the outdoor area, which features two spacious terraces with deckchairs, sunbeds and parasols.

The Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, which manages the lighthouse, provides a daily maid service. For an additional fee, the hotel can also organise a chef and butler. From €159 a night; lighthouses-croatia.com.

MAKEPEACE ISLAND, QUEENSLAND

This heart-shaped island in the Noosa River on Queensland's Sunshine Coast is yet another barefoot getaway from Sir Richard Branson.

Despite the resort-style free-form pool and the plushly engineered suites, intimacy is key here. Many guests describe the experience as like staying in the holiday home of a rich friend who happens to have a dynamite chef in the form of Nick Jones and a taste for high jinks. The 15-person spa, the Island Bar, tennis court and Relaxation Wantilan head the amenities list. Balinese accents dominate, from the dark-wood floors throughout the shaggy thatched roofs to the furnishings.

Guest accommodation includes three luxury villas, each with two bedrooms, a shared bathroom and a separate lounge area, while the Bali House has four bedrooms, each with a private bathroom. From $3800 a night; makepeaceisland.com.

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