Widi Reserve: These uninhabited Indonesian islands are up for auction


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(CNN) — A group of Indonesian islands known as the Widi Reserve is about to go up for auction in what could be one of the most eye-popping real estate sales to ever take place in Asia.

The 100-plus islands in east Indonesia’s “Coral Triangle” are spread out over 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres), roughly the same size as Bora Bora.

Indonesian law states that non-Indonesians cannot officially buy islands in the country. The Widi Reserve gets around that by having the eventual owner acquire interest in PT. Leadership Islands Indonesia (LII), a holding company.

From there, the owner will be free to develop the island as they wish.

However, should they feel a bit overwhelmed by the prospect, several experts — chosen by Sotheby’s, the auction house overseeing the sale — are already waiting in the wings to support building a resort in the Widi Reserve. The lineup includes Bill Bensley, the star designer behind some of Asia’s most exclusive hotels and resorts.

Charlie Smith, executive vice president for EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) at Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions, clearly expects the bids for this archipelago to be significant.

“Every billionaire can own a private island, but only one can own this exclusive opportunity spread across 100-plus islands,” he said in a press statement.

The Widi Reserve comprises multiple coral atolls like this one.

Courtesy Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions

While the eventual buyer of the Widi Reserve is under no obligation to work with Bensley, the Thailand-based designer has already worked on some design concepts for a hypothetical island resort, and a Sotheby’s representative tells CNN that the architect is “an advocate for the responsible development of the reserve.”

No matter what ends up happening to the Widi Reserve, it contains some of Indonesia’s most beautiful landscapes, including coral reefs, mangroves and some 150 kilometers (93 miles) of beachfront.

The Reserve is only accessible by private plane. Bali’s Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport is a 2.5-hour flight away.

The auction kicks off on December 8 and will last until December 14. There is no reserve price, but bidders are asked to put down a $100,000 deposit to prove they’re serious.

Private island sales have boomed during the past few years.

Already a popular option for ultra-wealthy individuals (Shakira and Leonardo DiCaprio each reportedly own one), the desire for privacy and safe distancing made them an even more covetable asset during the pandemic.

Some islands, though, are deceptively cheap.

As Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, president of the high-end travel company Fischer Travel Enterprises, explained to CNN, it’s the cost of maintenance and infrastructure that really makes owning an island pricey.

Many islands don’t have existing structures, and some owners not only have to build houses but get plumbing, electricity and other infrastructure set up if they want to live there.

Add to that transportation, the cost of flying food and staff in and out, and owning an island can get very expensive very quickly.

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