Meet the man who owns a $40m Auckland island.

In a rare interview, Pakatoa Island's owner reveals what it's like to have his own ultimate private, waterfront hideaway, just a few minutes from the city.

Meat mogul John Ramsey, a businessman with considerable primary processing industry interests, has controlled the Hauraki Gulf's precious gem for 23 years.

That might seem like everyone's dream. Not his.


In a strange twist of fate, island ownership is not what Ramsey wants. He's done what he can to move his island along into another pair of hands.

Ramsey has been trying to flog it to the highest bidder since at least 2006. But with no luck so far.

Despite extensive marketing, the island still appears for sale at $40 million on the websites of many prominent real estate agents and easily tops any search for New Zealand's most valuable property for sale.

It comes up first in any internet search, an aerial view showing it set in the clear deep blue waters of the gulf, a sparkling nirvana amongst our other islands, predominantly in the public conservation estate.

"Yes I still own it," the straight-talking Ramsey confirmed when asked last month by the Herald.

John Ramsey, who owns the island. Photo/Derek Flynn
John Ramsey, who owns the island. Photo/Derek Flynn

It's a place, he explains, where he and his family spend about two weeks during the Christmas holidays, enjoying the privacy and astonishing privilege of having their own Auckland island.

In the gulf surrounded by islands under Department of Conservation control, Ramsey knows his is a highly unusual situation.

He's not a formal man and is philosophical about having his own Auckland island for more than two decades.


"We usually spend the Christmas holidays out there," he says, telling of the joy it brings to his family including his fortunate three grown children and six grand children.

Ramsey made his money from his international lamb and mutton exporter business Crusader Meats of Benneydale, 35km southeast of Te Kuiti.

Ramsey's Pakatoa Island has a large number of older buildings and appears from the air almost like a mini-village. The Salvation Army owned it in the early 1900s for an alcohol treatment centre for women, isolated from the army's male rehabilitation base on Rotoroa Island.

So how does a businessman even get out to his island? Fortunately, he's a boatie.

"I've got a boat at Pine Harbour: Double Vision," Ramsey said. "It was named that when I bought it. It's a catamaran. It takes about three quarters of an hour to get over to Pakatoa on that," he says, telling how he recently took diesel out to the caretaker.

Even on the mainland, Ramsey has an eye for waterfront property. He lives in a beachfront home in the quiet but steadily growing south eastern Auckland seaside suburb Maraetai.

"We used to live in Whitford but we moved to Maraetai this year. I've owned a section there for 20 years and decided to build on it."

Some of the many buildings on Pakatoa Island.
Some of the many buildings on Pakatoa Island.

Asked about the island's sale, Ramsey is relaxed, not sounding at all hard up.
"If someone wants to pay that, they can have it, otherwise it stays there!"

Ramsey is sanguine about Government restrictions on foreigners buying sensitive land, which quite obviously includes our precious islands.

"We would have had problems prior to this Government anyway, just because of its iconic nature," he explained.

Ramsey said the corporate vehicle in which he holds the island is the New Zealand-registered company Rainbow Mountain Holdings.

Companies Office records show he is the sole director of that company although the shareholding is split three ways: F J Ramsey Ltd owns 99.9 per cent, Francis John Ramsey has one share and Lila Bernice Ramsey has one share.

"I've owned the island for nearly 25 years," says the man now in his mid-70s.

"I just thought I would own an island. But it's been a terrible winter, wet, wet, so I haven't been out there much lately."

The island has a golf course, swimming pool, squash court and buildings that housed the hundreds of guests when it was run as a major tourist resort.

Ramsey said he paid $4.25m for the island in 1994. So if he does get $40m, he stands to make a gain of about 850 per cent, the equivalent of $1.7m a year, not taking account of the money he has spent on the property.

The island is a real estate agent's dream.

Bayleys' marketing says: "One of the only privately owned islands in New Zealand is still for sale and able to be purchased by a private owner, syndicate, corporate entity or hotel group. Let your mind get carried away with the thought of what could you do with this beautiful piece of real estate."

Bayleys says it is 75 minutes by ferry, or 15 minutes by helicopter.

The island is 24ha with three white sandy beaches, a wharf capable of landing commercial ferries and many existing buildings "held in a time warp but ready for new life".

Gary Taylor of the Environmental Defence Society questions why the public can't access Pakatoa, unlike many other islands in the public estate, such as Rangitoto.

"Ideally it should be in public ownership, especially as Auckland grows and the need for public access and recreation needs grow," Taylor said.

Asked about public access, Ramsey says that is simply not practical.

"We're not registered to take people. It's a private island and with all the rules, you can't have people walking around an island that's not registered for health and safety. If someone falls over and breaks a leg, I get into trouble."

The island has been advertised for sale for many years.
The island has been advertised for sale for many years.

Quotable Value lists Pakatoa as being worth $28m as at July 1, 2017. It classifies the island buildings as having been constructed in the 1960s and commercial-tourist-provincial. QV has nothing to say on comparable sales, saying there is not enough data available.

Ramsey, who does not appear on the NBR Rich List, says he employs a full-time resident caretaker on the island "or all the burglars would be out there pinching everything. Nigel lives with his partner there and maintains things".

When it comes to visitors, Ramsey expressed strong concerns.

"It's a bird sanctuary but people still bring their dogs onto the beach and upset the bird life," he said telling of a big population of the endangered dotterel/tuturiwhatu.

"But there's tui, bell birds, grey warbler — all sorts of birds there. No kiwi."

As for those elusive buyers, Ramsey remains ever hopeful despite more than a decade with no takers.

"I've got people prepared to pay $40m for it now but they're just organising finance and that sort of thing. There's a lot of foreigners calling about it all the time," he said in November, before the Government's new restrictions on foreign buyers.