Getaways for the Snorkeling Set: Luxury Homes in Bali, Tahiti and Australia

Water lovers are heading to Asia-Pacific resort areas and buying luxury homes near surfing, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and other world-class water sports.

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By Alyssa Abkowitz
The Wall Street Journal
May 26, 2016 10:54 a.m. ET

When Bill LeMass gets the itch to hit the waves, he tucks his surfboard under his arm and walks out the front door, where in 50 steps he’s at the water’s edge.

“It has a beautiful beach and clean, warm water,” says Mr. LeMass, who surfs every day when the conditions are good.

In December, Mr. LeMass and his wife, Jo, purchased a $2.2 million, three-bedroom home on Sunshine Beach near Noosa Heads in Australia. “I’ve been going there since I was a child,” Mr. LeMass, 55, says. His wife, told him, “If you really like it, fine, but it has to have a view.”


Fortunately, the home has two large decks ideally situated for sunrise views of the water and headlands. Mr. LeMass, a semiretired judge from Brisbane, Australia, and his wife now spend Thursday through Monday at their beachfront home.


Water lovers around the world are heading to resort areas in the Asia-Pacific for an amphibious lifestyle: buying luxury homes near surfing, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and other world-class water sports. In many areas, real-estate prices haven’t fully recovered from the global financial crisis that started in 2008, so some high-end homes are available for about $500,000.

Getting to the most exotic locales will pose some challenges—some are only accessible by boat or sea plane; some can be susceptible to extreme weather or coral bleaching. And some countries have complex ownership rules that will require the expertise of local real-estate agents. But for those who can surmount the difficulties, great waves await.

The view from the deck of Bill and Jo LeMass’ vacation home on Sunshine Beach, in Australia’s Noosa shire. The couple enjoys sunrise views. 

Tammy Law for The Wall Street Journal 


The living room of the LeMass home, which the couple bought for about $2.5 million in December. 
Tammy Law for The Wall Street Journal 
Noosa also has waterways that allow homeowners to buy property on the beach or on rivers. Shown here is the mouth of Noosa River. 
Tammy Law for The Wall Street Journal 

Here are some select areas for buyers in search of the best surf.

The Bukit Peninsula, Bali

While artisans prefer Ubud in Bali’s central foothills, serious surfers turn to “the Bukit” to find the waves. Here on Bali’s southern tip, cliffside homes overlooking the ocean go for $3 million to $8 million. It’s only minutes from some of the island’s most famous surfing spots: Dreamland, Uluwatu and Padang-Padang, which is especially trendy since the filming of “Eat Pray Love” there.

While prices have been rising steadily since 2004, the real-estate market is in the midst of a correction, as fewer properties have sold since the speculative market rush that ended in 2014, says Eugene Shivnan, a local real-estate agent at Exotiq Property. Upscale homes start at $500,000, though smaller condos can be purchased for around $200,000.

Currently on the market for $5.5 million: a cliffside, six-bedroom property that overlooks the Indian Ocean and includes an infinity-edge pool, a large living and dining room and marble floors. “Now it’s become a buyers’ market and there are too many listings,” says Neil Power, owner of real-estate firm Xclusive Property.

Also for sale is Villa Dara, located in the Hidden Hills Resort on the Bukit Peninsula. The owners are European entertainer Max Loong and his mother, Beatrice Loong-Sammar, who are asking $1.35 million for Villa Dara.

Some buyers avoid Bali because Indonesian law doesn’t allow non-Indonesians to own property outright. Foreigners can enter into an agreement with an Indonesian citizen, who then purchases the property and leases it back to the expat.

To get their house near the Bukit Peninsula, Andrew and Lisa Cook bought out a lease held by its foreign owners for $170,000. The home has three bedrooms, a pool, gardens and an indoor/outdoor living area.

Four years ago the couple, whose primary home is in Sydney, made an offer on a different Balinese home, but ultimately walked away because the owners “wanted too much money,” says Mr. Cook, the 55-year-old owner of a custom-made curtains and blinds business.

Tahiti, French Polynesia

For water-sports enthusiasts who value their privacy, Tahiti and the hundred or so islands of French Polynesia are a big draw. Only 280,000 people live there full time, says Jacques Menahem, owner of French Polynesia Sotheby’s International Realty. Tahiti remains under French law, which doesn’t restrict foreigners from owning property there.

Prices on Tahiti range from $200,000 for condos to upward of $10 million for private islands. Mr. Menachem says he expects the luxury market to pick up as more travelers, particularly from China and the U.S., come to the islands.

Currently on the market for $50 million is a private island with 13 luxury wooden bungalows with hardwood floors and Polynesian-style furniture. The compound includes a media room, library and gardens.

François Nars, founder of an eponymous French cosmetics company, bought the 10-acre, undeveloped island near Bora Bora and Tahiti more than a decade ago after a family vacation there. “It was very spontaneous,” Mr. Nars says. “You don’t buy an island if you think too much.”

With the help of French designer Christian Liaigre, Mr. Nars built the luxury compound for his family and friends. “When you arrive by boat you can’t see any of the homes because of the forest of coconut trees,” says Mr. Nars, who is 57.

He and his guests used the lagoon for jet skiing and snorkeling, and they boated in the Pacific for fishing and scuba diving. Mr. Nars says he’s selling the island because he doesn’t get there as often as he used to. “It’s incredibly remote.”

Teahupo’o, a village on the southwest coast of Tahiti, is the best-known surfing locale in French Polynesia, with its intense surf breaks and heavy waves. The sporting set also goes kite surfing, parasailing and fishing, both in lagoons and the deep sea, in the islands.


Noosa, Australia
Located on the continent’s east coast, Noosa is a shire known for its abundant national parkland and numerous waterways that lend themselves to kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and kitesurfing. Beachfront lovers go for properties on Sunshine Beach, on the east side of the shire, where homes can go from $3 million to upward of $11 million. Those who want to be on water—but not necessarily the beach—choose Noosa Sound and Noosa Waters, where there is often more space, says Karen Harman, a real-estate agent at Zinc Properties Noosa.

Local building codes prohibit high-rise construction, which protects the water views but limits the possibilities for new construction. Noosa Heads and Sunshine Beach are seeing real-estate prices bounce back after dropping about 25% during the global financial crisis. “This has been the strongest summer since 2007,” Ms. Harman says.

Real-estate demand comes from retired or semiretired residents of Melbourne and Sydney, where prices continue to rise, as well as foreign buyers taking advantage of Australia’s weak dollar. Foreigners can buy land and build and sometimes redevelop, but all purchases must be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Beachfront homeowners in the area include former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who owns a home at Castaways Beach, and former No. 1-ranked tennis star Pat Rafter. Mr. Rafter is currently selling his 10,800-square-foot home for more than $13 million to move closer to his wife’s family.

This cosmopolitan influence has reshaped the landscape somewhat, with more designer boutiques and upscale restaurants hitting the scene. But the big draw remains the water.

“There’s nowhere else where you can find dogs surfing next to people during a surf festival,” says Noosa homeowner Doug McDougall, referring to the annual Noosa Festival of Surfing. “The quirky people, the lifestyle, the water. It’s not like the Gold Coast.”