Family fractured by sale of Slipper Island

Slipper Island, off the Coromandel coast, is one of NZ's few privately owned islands

Slipper Island, off the Coromandel coast, is one of NZ's few privately owned islands

A family of top pilots has clashed over the pending sale of one of New Zealand's most exclusive private islands to a millionaire developer.

Slipper Island, 4 kilometres off the Coromandel coast at Pauanui, has been in the Needham family for 45 years and is one of this country's few privately owned islands.

However, it is understood several siblings who share ownership are upset about the sale to Remuera-based property developer Wendy Weimei Wu.

There are 13 siblings in the Needham family, most of whom are pilots, and many of them are shareholders in Slipper Island Resort Ltd.

It's understood Liz Needham, a 61 per cent shareholder, supports the sale.

Needham, an Ardmore Flying School instructor and one of the country's most experienced female aviators, refused to comment and referred inquiries to Brian Brakenridge of Sotheby's Realty.

He confirmed "an agreement for sale and purchase has now been signed". The parties were now in the process of doing due diligence, which would take about a month. It is understood an offer of $7.5m was made.

But one sibling, who asked not to be named, said they were heartbroken to be losing "the family legacy" - and a place where some family ashes lay.

Another called it the sad loss of "the family's gathering place".

They had hoped a conservation-focused buyer, or equity partner, might purchase the island.

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Maori elder Reremoana Jones said Needham family members had spoken to her and told her they were distraught over the sale of the island but felt there was nothing they could do.

The sale involves about 217 hectares on the island, including six houses, stunning beaches and an airstrip.

Just a 15-minute boat ride from Tairua or Pauanui, the island was described as "the best bach in the world" because it is such a private hideaway. The island's remaining 7ha had already been subdivided and sold privately.

The island is currently enjoyed by day-trippers, boaties and school camp users. Anyone can hire out the farmhouse villa, or chalets, there from between $250-$750 nightly, according to the Slipper Island Resort website.

According to the Companies Office, the purchaser, Wendy Weimei Wu, has a string of directorships including some for property investment companies.

She lists her occupation as "housewife", and made headlines after she spent $15 million buying historic Fairholm mansion in the Auckland suburb of Remuera - New Zealand's biggest private home sale of the year in 2010.

Her daughter, Vivienne Zhuo, a Barfoot and Thompson real estate agent, said she had helped with negotiations for Slipper Island. She said her mother "just loves the island" and "it's a toy for her". She remarked their lawyer was now handling things.

Zhou said they were still deciding what to do with the island.

Iwi are concerned about development on the island.

Jones, who is from a sub-tribe of Ngati Maru, said there were eight pa sites and historic graves on the island, and some areas are "sacred".

She called the island "an important part of NZ history" and wants assurances these would continue to be treasured.

 - Sunday Star Times


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