Kiwi buys Mediterranean island for $4.8m

New Zealand businessman Michael Harte has just bought his own Mediterranean island, but he won't be partying on its beach with his mates.

"For one thing, I'm not allowed to," he said.

Mr Harte paid $4.8 million at auction for the pristine Budelli Island - an Italian national park considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean.

Budelli is part of the La Maddalena island group which lies between Sardinia and Corsica and is renowned for its "Pink" beach at the south-eastern part of the island.

Mr Harte, the chief information officer for Australia's Commonwealth Bank, said he liked the idea of being involved with a conservation project in Europe.

"My first and most important objective is to preserve the ecology, so both the land-based and the marine-based flora and fauna.

"There are so many parts of the world that are being exploited that there's few opportunities to take a practical and deliberate step to help protect some of these very fragile environments."

The former owner of the island was a Swiss Corporation which had gone bankrupt, he said.

However, the island paradise might not stay in Mr Harte's hands for long as the Ministry of Environment and the Park Authority has the right to enforce the "right of pre-emption", which allows them to buy the property within 90 days for the same price paid at auction.

Mr Harte said he was in discussions with the Italian Government to establish he was "bona fide" as someone who would protect the environment.

"Hopefully they see that a private person can be as responsible as a public institution - and I'll protect it in the same way that the national park ideals were set up."

Members of the public would continue to be able to visit the island, he said.

"There's a lot of leisure crafts that go there for swimming. It's a lovely spot for people to go for a day trip and that's what we would continue its use for."

The entrepreneur had been working on buying the island for the past three years, "so it's not exactly a flight of fancy".

He had attempted to buy it from the previous owner before it went to auction, but they were never able to settle the deal.

Mr Harte would not be drawn on whether he got a bargain price for the island and said he did not know how much islands would normally sell for. "It's not a conventional sale".

"But I think we'll look forward in many generations time and say 'it's okay for private people to own unique parts of the world so long as they are responsible and they do have values and they are going to protect and respect these very scarce and fragile ecosystems'."

Budelli is an unspoilt island of 1.6 square kilometres where construction is banned and access is only permitted alongside a member of staff from the park's authority.


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