Privacy is the pull, but that’s hardly the only draw to a private island. There’s something about the prospect of having a world within the world to yourself – and the people you choose to have along with you there – that takes you back to the intense childhood fun of creating a secret hideaway. A den, a clubhouse, a place that feels like it belongs outside the usual parameters of space and time, of rules and regulations; it thrilled us then and can thrill us again now. Ice cream for breakfast, movies at midnight, a dip into the ocean before the crack of dawn? No eyebrows are raised at any of that when the island setting is temporarily, but absolutely, one’s own. But these special places, which you can take over in their entirety, also serve a greater good than just rewarding the search for novelty and fun, privacy and prestige, and the ultimate in luxury. They have a strange purity. Marooned willingly on one of the most beautiful outcrops on our beautiful but troubled planet, sitting out under the stars, it is easier to think more clearly, talk more honestly and, hopefully, feel more keenly our responsibilities, obligations and potential.
One&Only Hayman Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
A camera-ready world of white linen and infinity pools, Hayman Island was named after the navigator Thomas Hayman, who charted the Great Barrier Reef in the 1770s. The island has been famous in Australia as the continent’s most beautiful bolthole since the aviation pioneer Reginald Ansett bought it in 1947 and built a hotel. In those days, visitors arrived by flying boat. Now fans such as Johnny Depp and Oprah come by on helicopter or yacht. When One&Only (founded by “blow-the-customer-away” hotelier Sol Kerzner) took over in 2013, the group instigated a multimillion-dollar facelift. The island is now a 160-room home to the biggest pool in the southern hemisphere – equal to seven Olympic-sized pools – and five restaurants. Basking year-round in tropical warmth, with daytime temperatures hovering at about 27°C, it’s a good base for gathering the workforce or one’s extended family to contemplate one’s good fortune and future direction, before diving into the planet’s most dazzling underwater world.
• The One&Only Hayman Island sleeps 320 people and costs from 400,000 Australian dollars (Dh1.1 million) per night; oneandonlyhaymanisland.com
Velaa, The Maldives
The newest of the ultra-luxe islands in the Maldives is the seven-bedroom, five-acre Voavah, off the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, which comes with the use of a 62-foot yacht. But for maximum boys’-toys-type super-glamour, nowhere outdoes Velaa. Owned by a Czech billionaire, the little island even squeezes in a nine-hole golf course and enchanting playground, but it’s the water-sports centre that sets the heart racing. Adventurous guests favour the hoverboard, which can make you feel like you’re skateboarding on water. Terrifying and wonderful this may be, yet it’s still nothing compared to using the aquatic jetpack or the flyboard, which can send you almost 30 feet in the air. Afterwards, stories can be swapped in the Bond-movie-worthy glass-floored restaurant. A well-stocked library provides a hideout for the non-aquatic. And of the 43 villas, four are four-bedroom residences, with the master residence reachable only by boat, just to remind everyone who’s who and what’s what.
• The Velaa Private Island sleeps 80 and costs from US$1.18 million (Dh4.3m) per night; velaprivateisland.com
Necker island, British Virgin Islands, Caribbean
Thirty minutes by speedboat from Tortola, the world’s most famous private island sleeps 30, not including owner Richard Branson. He decamps to neighbouring Moskito when Necker is rented out, but a sense of his eager energy permeates the lush, hilly 74 acres he usually calls home. Party central, where Bill Gates and Nelson Mandela have stayed, and Kate Moss celebrated her 40th birthday, is the 10-bedroom Great House, with a wrap-around terrace arranged with hammocks and sofas, a spa, snooker room and, as you’d expect, a Jacuzzi on the roof. Six Balinese villas are also dotted around the island, each sleeping two. The island teems with wildlife: flamingos, endangered lemurs, giant tortoises and iguanas. Young staff – 80 in all – will teach you to kite-surf and wakeboard, or point you to the zip-wire connecting the hilltop and beach. Sushi is served from an ice-filled kayak pushed by swimming chefs. A quiet retreat this is not. Fun, fun, fun, though.
• Necker Island sleeps 30 and costs from US$60,000 (Dh220,375) per night; virginlimitededition.com/en/necker-island
A 50-minute flight by private jet from Nadi, the remote Laucala island is a billionaire’s fantasy, owned by Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz. Privacy is totally guaranteed, which is probably why model Elle Macpherson and billionaire Jeffrey Soffer chose it for their wedding three years ago. A large volcanic island of 3,500 acres, it comes with pale pristine beaches, a rainforest where the trees are strung with wild orchids, and a vibe that will delight the most insanely, restlessly demanding lover of super-slick seven-star surrounds. Each of the 25 villas has its own pool, beach or garden. The island is 85 per cent self-sustaining, with its farm supplying fruit, vegetables, chicken and eggs for the four restaurants. The 350 staff means a staff-guest ratio of 5:1. Service is impeccable. And if the lure of the beach, horse riding, playing golf, jet-skiing, sailing or hiking wanes, there’s a two-person submarine for exploring under the waves.
• Laucala sleeps 70 and costs US$150,000 (Dh550,950) per night; laucala.com
Amanpulo, The Philippines
An hour’s flight by private plane from Manila, surrounded by clear, warm waters heaving with tropical fish and sea turtles, this little island has 62 pool villas, dotted across jungly hillsides or strung along beaches so soft and white that trudging down to the water feels like walking through flour. Each villa comes with a golf buggy and bikes to get around. A smart water-sports centre can arrange all things aquatic. Tennis courts, yoga, Pilates and meditation pavilions, and a spa can occupy those who’d rather stay on dry land. The heart of the resort is a 30-metre pool by the Clubhouse. The culinary choices here are delectably confusing: pizza at the Windsurf Hut? Tapas? Vietnamese cuisine served on a table set up on the sandbar, surrounded by bamboo torches and wicker lanterns? Picnic on a deserted neighbouring island? They’re all yours for the picking.
• The Amanpulo island-resort by the Aman group sleeps 222, including the privately owned villas, which can also be rented, and costs from US$230,000 (Dh844,780) per night; aman.com/resorts/amanpulo
North Island, The Seychelles
Six Senses has opened a 28-villa resort on Felicite Isand, Oetker has taken over the exquisite 16-villa Frégate Island, and the newly revamped six-villa on Cousine Island is also available for private hire. But the island that still represents the barefoot beauty, exclusivity, privacy and expensiveness of the Seychelles remains this hilly, granite outcrop spread over two kilometres. A 20-minute helicopter ride from Mahé, it has 11 sprawling timber villas, each with 6,000 square feet of private space. Ten are two-bedroomed while Villa 11 is a one-bedroom enclave designed for maximum privacy and romance. Prince William and Kate Middleton, and George Cooney and Amal Alamuddin have honeymooned here. The chef is on hand to cook whatever guests fancy, and besides diving, kayaking, exploring with the resident nature guide by buggy or mountain bike, and lolling in the spa, there’s absolutely nothing to do but lap up the utter loveliness.
• North Island sleeps 22 and costs from €60,000 (Dh241,650) per night; north-island.com
Song Saa, Cambodia
Until its two Australian owners opened the remote, glamorously minimalist Song Saa in 2012, Cambodia had no five-star beach resort. This meant that after marvelling at the 11th-century temple of Angkor Wat, wealthy visitors usually disappeared to neighbouring Thailand. Now a one-hour flight from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville and a 30-minute bounce over crystal-clear water in the hotel’s speedboat brings one to Song Saa, a beautifully conceived little world with 27 rustic villas – all driftwood and draped muslin, with a private plunge pool, shaded deck where the scent of frangipani hangs on the breeze, and vast ocean views. Days can be spent at the hilltop spa, kayaking through mangroves and snorkelling over the coral reef. At night in the overwater restaurant, a talented chef magics up spicy dishes by lamplight, which can be followed by a swim in bioluminescent waters.
• Song Saa sleeps 50 and costs from US$22,500 (Dh82,640) per night, including all meals; songsaa.com
Musha Cay, The Bahamas
Arriving in the Bahamas, the effect of unfiltered sunshine on blinding white sands and pristine ocean is dazzling enough. Add the private opulence of Musha Cay, 135 kilometres off Nassau, and one can feel quite overwhelmed. Illusionist David Copperfield bought the four-island, 500-acre resort in 2006 after drawing lines between spots he considered magical – Stonehenge, Easter Island, the pyramids of Giza and Yucatán – and discovering that Musha Cay was where they intersected. Five plantation-style villas sit on the 150-acre Musha, with the ocean-side Landings providing a clubhouse and Dave’s Drive-In offering movies on the beach. A fleet of boats and water toys, including jet skis, kayaks, a banana boat, a catamaran and a 23-foot cruiser, lets one explore the little archipelago. A fireworks display costs an extra US$25,000 (Dh91,800), while a pirate-themed treasure hunt is for $20,000 (Dh73,450) – and apparently 60 per cent of hosts book both.
• Musha Cay sleeps 24 and costs from $39,000 (Dh143,245) per night; mushacay.com
Isla de sa Ferradura, Ibiza
A pirate hideout in the 17th century, this is now the most luxurious private-party destination in the Mediterranean. Located in the bay of Sant Miquel, and actually attached to Ibiza by a 100-metre-long path, the 14-acre island sold a few years ago for €33 million (Dh133m) and reopened in May this year. Its seven suites are in the central hacienda, 130,000 square feet of white-marbled extravagance where there’s a surprise around every corner, from the rooftop dance floor and cinema arranged with two massive daybeds, to the big seating area arranged around a circular fireplace and a terrarium stocked with tropical plants and coy carp. The cave, which was once used by pirates, has been turned into a spa with a Turkish bath, sauna, solarium and massage area. A wander about the island reveals all sorts of little spots for a private lunch or tea: terraces, bowers, even an Arabian-style tent.
• Isla de sa Ferradura sleeps 14 and costs from €150,000 (Dh604,700) a week; privateislandsonline.com
Menmba Island, Tanzania
Were he fast-forwarded into the 21st century, Robinson Crusoe might have built these 10 rustically thatched, open-sided lodges scattered under the casuarina trees. Positioned to look out over the ocean, each bed is a wood-framed four-poster, draped in mosquito nets. A carved chest supports a rattan-shaded lamp, a rattan picture frame hangs from the roof, wittily framing nothing but the surrounding vegetation, and the bathroom is Fred Flintstone – basic but spacious. Ultra-luxe Mnemba is not. But its barefoot simplicity makes for a relaxing retreat. Local fishermen and mainland farmers supply the kitchens. The diversions the water-sports centre can arrange – fly or deep-sea fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and diving – all really thrill, since Mnemba (20 minutes by speedboat from Zanzibar) is surrounded by a marine nature reserve that’s home to 600 species of reef fish, dolphins and, from July to September, humpback whales.
• Mnemba Island sleeps 20 and costs US$64,900 (Dh238,375) a night, including all meals; andbeyond.com/mnemba