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Real Estate investment in Australia: Guide on purchasing property in the Great Barrier Reef

Palace magazine explores the Great Barrier Reef to see why Whitsunday Islands could be the next Caribbean

Mar 05, 2017 | By Bruce Maxwell

The Great Barrier Reef is an extensive marine park that begins at Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, and continues for over 1,500 nautical miles north beyond Queensland to Papua New Guinea. Along the way are Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay-Whitsunday Islands, Townsville and Cairns. These seven are among Australia’s largest 30 cities.

Local and overseas developers have focused on Mackay-Whitsundays and Cairns-Port Douglas, in particular, the Whitsunday Islands, named by the English explorer Captain James Cook during a voyage in 1770. These are the most popular gateways to the World Heritage Listed coral reef offshore, and to many of its related adventure activities.

Look back 40 years and the Whitsundays, an island group inside the reef, was in its infancy. Then again, so was post-Mao modern Shanghai. Small sailboats were offered for charter, and an island resort pioneer, Keith Williams, found out how difficult it could be constructing facilities offshore. His far-sighted Hamilton Island and later Port Hinchinbrook projects both eventually went bust, but the groundwork was done, and a new wave of Japanese investment in the 1980s took the Whitsundays to a more luxurious level.

After a hiatus due to the 1990s Japanese recession, Chinese developers have gradually taken over in the last decade or two. First came the Malaysian Chinese conglomerate Mulpha, which bought the iconic but incomplete Gold Coast resort Sanctuary Cove. Then, they acquired Hayman Island in the Whitsundays, upgrading its facilities to reopen as Australia’s landmark One & Only resort.

Hamilton Island, which has an airstrip for private and commercial aircraft, was meanwhile bought by the wine, yachting and entrepreneurial Oatley family, whose commanding patriarch Bob Oatley passed away last year. He created the six-star Qualia resort, and there are many other residences of the rich and famous dotted about the foreshores.

In late 2012, Lindeman Island, which had hosted a Club Med resort, was bought by William Han of China’s White Horse media and marketing group and his partner Mao Jiangfeng, who has designed resorts in Hainan and Zhejiang.

Christie Leet, principal of PRD Realty in the Whitsundays, says the State Government “recently declared special project status for an AUD 600 million (approx. USD 447 million) redevelopment at Lindeman which will include a marina, six-star spa resort, five-star eco resort, golf course and retail facilities”. The island’s airstrip is also to be upgraded. However, four years still seems a fairly long gestation period.

In 2015, China Capital Investment Group bought Daydream Island for AUD 32 million (approx. USD 23.9 million) from Nature’s Own health supplements founder Vaughan Bullivant, which is AUD 7 million (approx. USD 5.23 million) more than he paid for it in 2000. Then in August 2016 they snapped up nearby South Molle Island for AUD 24 million (approx. USD 17.9 million). This came with the existing 188-room resort and amenities, plus 12 hectares of developable beachfront land and a 15-hectare parcel surrounded by National Park, says Ms Leet in her wide-ranging report. The sale was negotiated by Peter Harper and Tate Stubbs of JLL Hotels and Hospitality.

Laguna Quays, a once Japanese-owned five-star golf resort on the mainland south of Whitsundays central city Airlie Beach (Mackay is further south again) has now been bought by the Fullshare Group, with plans to restore it to its former glory as Heart Reef Cove. Fullshare also owns Mirage, overlooking superyacht capable Abell Point Marina at Airlie Beach, as well as Mirage Port Douglas, an hour’s drive north of Cairns.

Says Abell Point Marina owner Paul Darrouzet: “Coastal villas are now being offered for AUD 20 million (approx. USD 14.9 million). Suddenly, superyacht owners and captains are realising that the 74-island Whitsundays Group is increasingly like parts of the Caribbean, if you pick your private places”.

Whitsunday Airport at Proserpine is Australia’s fastest growing regional facility, according to latest figures. However, it still offers nowhere near the international services available at Cairns, which is why many Asian investors are still drawn to Cairns-Port Douglas and Brisbane-Gold Coast.

In Cairns, Hong Kong‘s Tony Fung proposed an AUD 8.2 billion (approx. USD 6.1 billion) hotel and casino at Yorkey’s Knob, although the casino element seems to have stalled. Luxury private developments are mostly north of the city, toward Port Douglas’ beaches and the Daintree Rainforest.

Higher tier prices there have dropped in recent years. The Australian Financial Review cites two properties designed by noted architect Charles Wright. One, a UFO-shaped concrete house called Alkira, was listed at AUD 14 million (approx. USD 10.4 million) but reduced to AUD 8.8 million (approx. USD 6.56 million), while another, The Edge, with 180-degree ocean views, had an AUD 7.4 million (approx USD 5.52 million) tag which was cut to “offers over AUD 5 million (approx. USD 3.73 million)”. Lower prices are more robust.



This Whitsundays island is a lifestyle choice for the international elite. It is an ideal area for boating, exploring, swimming, diving, snorkelling, fishing and wining and dining. The property, Solis, boasts an artistically crafted three-bedroom residence, and was designed by Renato D’Ettorre for idyllic coastal living. Stunning Coral Sea views.
PRICE: On Application, CONTACT: Queensland Sotheby’s


This rainforest estate is located 15 minutes from Port Douglas and 60 minutes from Cairns International Airport. It features majestic mountain vistas, extensive indoor and outdoor entertaining areas, a solar- heated swimming pool, gourmet kitchen, separate self-contained guest pavilion, and a helicopter pad. Where rainforest meets the reef.

PRICE: AUD 3.25 million (approx. USD 2.44 million), CONTACT: Unique Estates

This article was first published under Special Report in Palace 18. 

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