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Buying into the Berry Islands

Buying into the Berry Islands

Island chain blessed with excellent fishing, spectacular diving and unspoiled beauty

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2011
July 13, 2011
Catherine Boal

“In the ’60s and the ’70s, it was the Hollywood of The Bahamas,” says Larry Roberts, chief executive officer of Bahamas Realty, referring to Great Harbour Cay, the largest of the Berry Islands. “The biggest draw has always been the sheer natural beauty of the Berry Island chain.”

First settled in 1836 by William Colebrooke –governor of The Bahamas for two years 1835-37–the Berry Islands are a chain of around 30 small islands just 30 miles northwest of New Providence. The islands are sparsely populated with just under 1,000 inhabitants, most of whom live in Bullocks Harbour on Great Harbour Cay.

The Berry Islands gained a reputation as an exclusive hideaway for the wealthy elite in the 1960s when actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr took an interest in Great Harbour Cay. The Great Harbour Cay Club was born and celebrities such as Cary Grant and Brigitte Bardot flocked to the previously little-known island. By the 1970s, however, its popularity had waned and “the Berrys” entered a period of minimal development.

Location, location, location
Today this lack of development is very much an asset for the island chain whose unspoiled beauty is giving it new popularity as a secluded retreat. Several of the Berry Islands are now privately owned by wealthy investors, some are available to rent, and others are on the market with multi-million-dollar price tags.

“We get a fair number of clients interested in their own private island,” says Roberts. “I think the Berry Islands are popular because of their location. That is key.

“It is very convenient for those persons coming from the United States to The Bahamas. You can fly across to Bimini, which is only 55 miles, and then on to the Berry Islands. If you are boating, once you get to Bimini it is just shallow water all the way across. You cannot beat the location.”

Most visitors arriving by plane land on either Great Harbour Cay or the second largest and most southern island Chub Cay, where the islands’ two international airports are located, with customs and immigration facilities.

Chub Cay was badly hit by hurricane Andrew in 1992, but little evidence of the devastation remains. It is now privately owned and home to the Chub Cay Club fishing resort and marina, which includes waterfront condominiums, a restaurant and marina village. In 2009, the Cay went into receivership and is now seeking a buyer.

Great Harbour Cay has also seen some development with a marina, a nine-hole golf course, several hotels and restaurants.

Unique natural assets
The Berry Islands, like many of those in The Bahamas, dazzle visitors with clear turquoise waters and beautiful beaches. “The Berrys are one of the most breathtaking chains of islands in The Bahamas,” says Jeritzan Edwards-Outten, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation’s (MOTA) senior director for the Northern Bahama Islands. “It is not difficult to focus on its charm and utter natural beauty.”

But there is more to this curved strip of cays and inlets than meets the eye–namely its diverse underwater world, a remarkable feature of which is its proximity to the Tongue of the Ocean.

The Tongue of the Ocean is a deep oceanic trench separating Andros and New Providence. It drops from around 115 feet to over 6,000 feet in a 100 mile long scar running up the east coast of Andros, severing it from New Providence and, at the north end, the Berry Islands. This geological feature, caused by erosion during periods of low sea levels, means that the Berry Islands have uniquely rich fishing grounds where big game fish such as marlin are plentiful.

“The natural and main attraction of the Berrys is its big game fishing–thus, its reputation as the ‘fish bowl’ of The Bahamas,” explains Outten. “The Berry Islands represent one of the largest expanses of fishing banks and flats in the country.”

Chub Cay is also known among fishing aficionados as “the billfish capital of The Bahamas.” Its prime location bordering the Tongue of the Ocean makes the cay an important destination for sportfisherman from around the world. Several high-profile international fishing tournaments have taken place in the Berry Islands and records have been smashed including those for catches of tuna, blue and white marlin and sailfish.

And it’s not just the big game fish attracting anglers: shoals of wily bonefish frequently congregate in the shallow waters of the Berry Island flats as well.

The area is also a diver’s paradise, with a deep-water canyon at Chub Cay where swimmers can view extensive reefs and explore the Canyon’s myriad tunnels and intricate coral formations.

“The diving is just superb,” enthuses Roberts, who knows the area well and is a keen diver. “The waters are amazing. I’ve seen hammerhead sharks and Caribbean reef sharks.”

Attracting the second-home market
With excellent fishing opportunities, stunning dive spots, beautiful scenery and good transport links, it is not surprising that many investors have chosen the Berry Islands when building or buying their dream holiday home.

According to figures from MOTA, there are 300 second homes in the island chain and over 10,000 visitors arrived in 2008.

“The Berry Islands have become a popular destination for international visitors throughout the year, with the winter months drawing a larger crowd of second-home residents,” says Outten. “The islands boast a significant number from North America and Europe, with many of them owning their own aircraft and boats and making frequent trips or having guests visit periodically.”

The tourist dollar
It’s not just second-home owners and investors that are taking advantage of the island chain. Cruise companies have long been using its charm to lure tourists on board their Caribbean itineraries.

Little Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands is leased by one of the largest cruise companies in the world, Royal Caribbean International (RCI), who renamed it Coco Cay and now use it as a regular stop on their Caribbean tour, taking thousands of visitors to the island up to five times a week. RCI’s competitor, Norwegian Cruise Lines owns Great Stirrup Cay.

These cays are a hive of tourist activity and a prime employer for many locals. “These ports inject significant revenue into the public purse and account for many quality jobs for local residents,” says Edwards-Outten, who estimates that as many as 400,000 cruise passengers visited both Great and Little Stirrup Cay between 2004 and 2008.

Easily accessible from Florida and boasting some of the most beautiful scenery in The Bahamas, the Berry Islands are a perfect haven for nature lovers, water sports enthusiasts and those simply escaping the rat race.

Would-be developers, investors and private island owners are all keen to make the chain their home. For Roberts, the attraction is obvious. “The beaches and the waters are amazing,” he says. “It is really as good as it gets in The Bahamas.”

Sidebar: Cays on the market

  • There are many attractive properties available in the Berry Islands ranging from secluded private islands to beautiful beachfront homes.
  • Cistern Cay
    Cistern Cay is a partially developed cay nestled in the northern section of the Berrys, just 2.2 miles from Bullocks Harbour. The island, which is on the market for just under $3 million, was originally laid out for development by its owner 20 years ago. The land was divided into lots and a runway was constructed. The cay boasts cove beaches and protected waterfront lots that would support docking.
  • Goat Cay
    Smaller than most of the cays on offer, 21.96-acre Goat Cay is the ideal location for a private home. The $1-million island has beautiful views thanks to its elevation, which rises to just under 50 ft in the centre of the Cay, and is just 4.6 miles away from the chain’s most populated town Bullocks Harbour.
  • Lignum Vitae Cay
    Lignum Vitae Cay is a developer’s dream. The cay is an unspoiled 121-acre, 1.3-mile long strip in the north with small, sheltered beaches and a protected coastline. Already divided into 160 lots by the owner, it is ripe for future development and available for $3.5 million.
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