Jan 06

Print this Post

Final Frontiers

For modern-day pioneers, five remote locales across the globe offer both beauty and solitude; how to weigh the challenges, costs—and hungry crocodiles—before building a homestead.

Frontier Retreats


Richard Costin/Kimberley MediaReva Falls in the Kimberley Region of Australia is shown. Four-wheelers are the norm for the rugged territory–and a wet season that can wash out roads. See more photos of frontier properties in the slideshow.

To get to his vacation home, Bruce Porter charters a plane for $50 per person, one way, to land on a remote island’s grassy airstrip. He then walks half a mile to get to his cabin, about a quarter-mile away from his closest neighbor. There is no cell service—or even a paved road, for that matter. But the six weeks he and his family spend at a tiny island off the coast of Maine every year are some of his best, he says.

Like Mr. Porter, modern-day pioneers are in search of a place where they can truly get away from email, cellphones and social obligations. While it’s getting more difficult to find pockets of land that are both beautiful and largely undeveloped, Mansion scoured the globe for these final frontiers. Be warned: It’s not exactly the easy life. Settlers here may face challenges in finding transportation, reliable electricity and even clean water—not to mention a decent cup of coffee.

But for those willing to stake their claim, a private haven awaits.

Along the Kafue River and the Banks of Lake Kariba, Zambia

Siavonga District Snapshot

Siavonga district population: 89,787

Foreign eligibility: To buy land, foreigners typically become minority shareholders in a company incorporated in Zambia that has 75% of its shares owned by Zambians.

Infrastructure: In remote areas, it’s fairly challenging to hook up electricity, so most homes run on solar power and a generator. Most people drill a borehole for water and dig a septic system for sewers.



Michael Newhouse

Zambia is one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa, fueled by an influx of Chinese investors in the mining sector and the country’s push to upgrade its infrastructure, repairing and building almost 5,000 miles of roads outside of major cities. What’s more, Zambia’s relatively stable democracy and English-speaking population make it attractive to foreigners.
The western bank of Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake, is lined with unspoiled forests and small villages. (Zambia and Zimbabwe split the lake, with the eastern bank located in Zimbabwe.) A growing number of wealthy residents who live in Lusaka, the country’s capital, are driving the 2½ hours to Lake Kariba for weekend getaways.
Visitors enjoy going on safari in many of the nearby national parks and seeing lions, antelope, elephants and hipposor traveling to Victoria Falls.
Higher-end homes in Zambia cost between $74 and $186 per square foot to build. Homes typically are constructed of cinder block, with porcelain floor tiles, tiled roofs and granite countertops. While the standards are fairly high, the quality of finishes is not up to U.S. standards, says Inutu Zaloumis, a managing director of Pam Golding Properties Zambia in Lusaka.
Of course, slick finishes aren’t the biggest worries when living along the river or on the banks of Lake Kariba. Pollution is a significant problem, with runoff from the copper industry flowing into the Kafue River and contaminating the water supply. (Lake Kariba’s local leaders are seeking government approval to sink more boreholes.) Also, there have been crocodile-related deaths on the shores of Lake Kariba. Still, the area is a draw for houseboat enthusiasts, who gather in Siavonga, one of the larger towns on the lake, says Janet Irwin, director of real-estate firm Homenet Zambia.
The Kimberley Region, Australia

Broome Snapshot

Population of Broome: 16,031

Foreign eligibility: Foreigners can buy land, but they must apply and meet certain criteria set by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Infrastructure: Four-wheelers are the norm for this rugged territory where there’s one main highway—and a wet season that can wash out roads. Power comes from diesel generators, solar power and some hydroelectric power. Many residents draw water from boreholes.



Michael Newhouse

Located in northwestern Australia, the Kimberley is one of the most exotic habitable areas in the world, with its vibrant red soil, sweeping gorges and abundant flora and fauna. “When you’re walking around in some areas it feels like no one has ever walked here before,” says Don Hodgson, who moved to the area about five years ago.
Mr. Hodgson and his wife, Jan, used to live in Sydney, where they ran a culinary business. They vacationed in the Kimberley before purchasing property there. They now live in Coconut Well, an area that’s about 12 miles away from Broome, the town considered to be the gateway to the Kimberley. They’re fairly self-sufficient when it comes to meals, eating freshly caught barramundi and mud crabs and growing lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes in their garden. They draw their own water from a borehole and use solar panels for most of their electricity.
Development is quite restricted because much of the land is reserved for natives. As a result, the average lot costs $305,000, and building costs run around $240 a square foot, says Tony Hutchinson, managing director of Hutchinson Real Estate in Broome. That doesn’t include installing a solar-power system, drilling a borehole and transporting building materials.
Note: Be prepared to visit Broome once a week to pick up mail, because the residents voted against mail delivery. “It’s such a social thing,” Mr. Hodgson says. “Everybody meets up at the post office.”



Eirik JohnsonMAINE: Bruce Porter’s aluminum-clad home on 1 acre is located on a small island in the Gulf of Maine and cost about $225,000 to build.

Coastal Islands Of Maine

Isle au Haut Snapshot

Population of Isle au Haut: 73

Population of Matinicus Isle: 74

Infrastructure: On Isle au Haut, there’s a town dock, island store and community center. Electricity comes through a submarine cable and there’s one loop road, a third of which is paved. Water is drilled or dug from wells, and oil is used to heat 85% of year-round island homes.



Michael Newhouse

Maine is home to more than 4,000 islands that offer both scenery and serenity. Two options with unspoiled territory are Isle au Haut, a 6-mile-long island that’s a 45-minute boat ride from the mainland, and Matinicus Isle, which is about two hours away.
The scenery and remoteness spurred Bruce Porter, a retired Columbia University journalism professor, to build a modest, $225,000 vacation home on another small island nearby. (The family didn’t want to identify the island to keep it as undiscovered as possible.) Unlike Isle au Haut and Matinicus, Mr. Porter’s island has no plumbing, power lines or paved roads. His daughter, Manhattan architect Alex Scott Porter, designed an aluminum-clad home with solar panels, a composting toilet and a gravity-driven cistern for the 1-acre property. “It needed to be self-sufficient,” Ms. Porter says of the home. The family also installed a solar-powered refrigerator, a propane-fueled stove and an outdoor shower.
They spend their days cooking with the wild rhubarb that grows outside the cabin, swimming in wetsuits off the rocky shore, collecting beach glass and watching sunsets.
Shipping the building materials to the island proved to be a challenge, costing $2,500 for an amphibious boat to transport lumber and other items.
Currently, there are 15 islands that are habitable year-round and a number of private summer retreats where people can develop, according to the Island Institute, an organization that focuses on islands in the Gulf of Maine.

MALAYSIA: A view of the water on Langkawi Island.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi Snapshot

Population of Langkawi: 64,792

Foreign eligibility: Foreigners can purchase land or homes so long as they spend a minimum of 500,000 ringgit, or about $160,684. For information on navigating the rules of Malay land, contact a real-estate agent in Malaysia.

Infrastructure: Locals say phone calls that last more than 20 minutes are iffy, as service frequently gets cut off. But the road system is in fairly good shape, as are electricity, water and sewage services.



Michael Newhouse

Langkawi, an archipelago of Malaysian islands in the Andaman Sea, is the most inhabited of our picks, attracting yachters and an increasing number of tourists. But local real-estate agents and homeowners say parts of Langkawi still offer seclusion among the rain-forest-like hillsides.
Malaysia is also one of the few Asian countries where foreigners can pay for land and build on it, says Shirley-Ann Joseph, a real-estate agent at Zerin Properties in Kuala Lumpur—though restrictions on some land may require foreigners to get creative about finding ways to build. “In America and the U.K., it’s black and white,” says Nicholas Holt, research director at Knight Frank Asia Pacific, of laws concerning land ownership. “But here there’s a lot of gray.”
Finding a lot can be a challenge. It took Gavin Welman, U.K.-born chairman of an investment-holding company in Singapore, three years to find a suitable plot of land with a clear title. Then, because the lot was on Malay Reserve land, he needed to ask the Malay owner to enter an agreement in which he could use the land and build on it, but not own it.
On the plot, he built a 5,800-square-foot home, where he enjoys yachting, dining at local restaurants and listening to tropical birds, such as hornbills, kingfishers and drongos.
Once Mr. Welman secured land and found a suitable architect (which took another year), he was able to build three separate three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes for about $2 million in all. Labor cost him about $17 a day, and materials, he estimates, cost about $150 a square foot because some of the luxury finishes he chose required shipment from abroad. One of those homes is now for sale for about $1 million.
These days, his biggest challenge, he says, is dealing with the incursions of nature: He enjoys watching his cat catch lizards that often scamper into his home.

Francisco del CastilloECUADOR: Along the northern coast, the Jama Campay development offers 125 lots for between $5 and $20 a square foot.

The Northern Coast of Ecuador

Away from the hubbub of the Galápagos Islands, a lone road snakes up the northern coast of Ecuador from the small town of Jama to the northern post of Cojimies. The area boasts the best of land and sea: white-sand beaches, quaint fishing villages and whale-watching opportunities. Minutes away are lush dry tropical forests that are home to vibrant orchids, lizards and frogs, howler monkeys and big waterfalls.


Francisco del CastilloOne of the existing homes in the development is shown.

Cojimies Snapshot

Population of Cojimies: 15,000

Foreign eligibility: U.S. citizens don’t need to be residents to purchase property.

Infrastructure: Finding good water in Jama requires digging a well, and electricity there is “very bad” according to locals, who say residents should install backup generators. Most roads are made of dirt or sand and are vulnerable to flooding.



Michael Newhouse

In 2010, a new bridge was built over the Chone River, which cut down the time it takes to travel to the white-sand beaches here. Still, “it takes three hours to get to a grocery that resembles an American one,” says Gary Phillips, an Ecuadorean real-estate agent.
Real estate is a word-of-mouth business in Ecuador. There is no multiple-listing service, and many parcels are for sale by owner and not readily advertised. Developers own many of the available lots along the beach, while land on the other side of E-15, the main road, primarily belongs to families.
Buying family-owned land may involve multiple negotiations, since acreage may be co-owned by numerous relatives. As a result, Mr. Phillips says transactions can take eight to nine months to complete.
Alternatively, local developers can sell small parcels of land in areas that are still relatively unpopulated. Francisco del Castillo, for example, is offering 125 lots ranging from 1/3 of an acre to more than 5 acres for between $5 and $10 a square foot, depending on location. Building costs range between $65 and $85 per square foot, meaning a 4,000-square-foot home could cost as little as $260,000, not including the price of the land.
By Alyssa Abkowitz of online.wsj.com

A version of this article appeared January 4, 2013, on page M1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Final Frontiers.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.mfanni.com/final-frontiers/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>