|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 23, 2015
July 23, 2015
Just four miles and a short boat ride from Nassau and Paradise Island lies a relatively untouched tropical idyll, popular with locals and tourists. Isolated, uninhabited and picturesque, Rose Island is the ideal day-away for Bahamians escaping the hurly burly of Nassau, visitors seeking the Family Island experience, and the yachting set eager to take to The Bahamas’ famous turquoise shallow seas. Even James Bond fans can follow in their hero’s footsteps as he famously came ashore on a Rose Island beach in the 1965 film Thunderball.
Like many Bahamians, realtor Jason McCarroll has been going to Rose Island since he was a child and still regularly makes the 15-20 minute boat ride with his family. He says one of the best things about the island is that it has remained pristine and tranquil. “I’ve been going [to Rose Island] since before I could swim. It hasn’t changed since then. You have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Part of the enjoyment of going to Rose Island is the getting there. When you hop in the boat you can unplug; it is all left behind and the busyness of your day goes away. We love it.”
The island is 11 miles long and just 400m across at its widest point, making it easy to navigate. The landscape is varied with white sand beaches, dense bush and low hills. “What is really attractive about Rose Island is that it is so narrow that you have the best of both worlds,” says McCarroll. “There are beautiful beaches on one side, and relatively deep water access on the other. There is also great elevation.”
Most day trippers will stop off at the popular MacTaggart’s Beach or Lower Harbour where the island’s only business, Sandy Toes beach bar and restaurant, is located. Sandy Toes also runs day excursions to and from Nassau four times a week and hosts corporate events and weddings on the island. It is a family run business, explains groups and accounts manager Iola Saunders-Knowles, who, along with her brothers, took over her father’s Robinson Crusoe tour company five years ago, changing the name, restructuring the business and shifting the focus to include Bahamians and expat residents.
The Sandy Toes excursion includes beach massages, a buffet lunch and snorkelling trips where swimmers can encounter stingrays, turtles, nurse sharks and an array of tropical fish. Saunders-Knowles says the facilities on Rose Island are completely self-sufficient, with Sandy Toes operating its own power source, through generators and solar power, and water supply. She admits that operating a business in such an isolated spot has its challenges saying: “It is a labour of love, but we have seen it blossom and grow. We love it and enjoy it, but it is not easy work.”
Saunders-Knowles, whose father Scott Saunders acquired 10 acres on Rose Island 35 years ago, says her family has a long history with the island and is thrilled to be introducing such a beautiful spot to visitors.
“We grew up going to Rose Island,” she says. “I remember going boating and camping on family weekends. We saw my Dad grow the business with his blood, sweat and tears and now we are doing the same.
“It is a very unique island, people are usually absolutely taken aback by its beauty. They love the rustic feel. You can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of Nassau. Visitors come back refreshed, relaxed and with a big smile. Once people experience it they tell others and want to come back themselves. We get a lot of repeat visitors.”
Potential for development
Rose Island is more than just a beautiful destination for a day trip, however, according to McCarroll, senior partner at real estate firm Seaview Properties, who believes Rose Island represents a great opportunity and a lucrative investment for the right buyer.
“It is just waiting for a big investor to come and do their thing,” he says. “It would take a substantial investment and some intrepid people, but it could be idyllic.”
Rumours of development have hovered around Rose Island for decades, the most high-profile involving Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co, which, in 2006, announced plans for a 230-acre resort on the western side of the island. The $1-billion development was slated to open in 2009 and plans included a hotel, private residences, a marina, a restaurant and a spa. The project stalled a year shy of its opening when their financial backers, the Lehman Brothers investment bank, filed for bankruptcy.
In 2011, Tourism & Leisure Development International, a Miami-based project management firm, collaborated with Florida architects Leisure and Hospitality Design International to design the Rose Island Marina, Resort and Residences project. Originally envisioned as a 16.65-acre resort featuring a boutique hotel, private residences, a 90-slip marina and a health spa, the project went on hold in 2013 and remains in limbo.
McCarroll believes the time is right for a rejuvenation of Rose Island, citing falling land prices and the trend towards “green” resorts that have all the amenities guests expect, but in a beautiful, rustic, environmentally conscious setting.
“You could build a lot less expensively over there. Prices have gone down and, compared with the price of waterfront property in Florida, Rose Island is very cheap,” he says.
Saunders-Knowles says Sandy Toes is ready for competition if other businesses do spring up, but cautions that any development would need to be in tune with the island’s ecology saying: “With development there is always the opportunity to improve yourself, but anyone looking to invest on Rose Island has to have a keen eye for the environment and protect the things people go there for. The idea is not to inhibit development, but to structure it in such a way that it is for the benefit of the island.”
Seaview Properties is currently selling parcels of land on the island and McCarroll says he has seen some interest from buyers both in The Bahamas and abroad. He believes the island is suitable not just for a large scale resort-type development, but also for private residences, such as summer or weekend homes for Bahamians or tropical getaways for foreign buyers. “It would suit someone who is fed up with the daily grind and who wants a little bit of isolation. Someone who is a boat lover and can think outside the box. Someone marching to his own drum,” he says. “It would be a glorious lifestyle.”