Hong Kong businessman Benny Wu stripped of lease on luxury Aussie resort Double Island after he failed to reopen it for tourism

A tropical north Queensland island has been returned to Australian ownership after a Hong Kong businessman was stripped of the lease for letting it fall into disrepair.

Double Island off the Cairns coast was formerly home to a luxury resort that once drew in Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston but it was shut down a decade ago.

Queensland resources minister Scott Stewart spent years trying to get leaseholder Benny Wu to rebuild the ruins of the five-star facility and reopen the island until he eventually took the case to the state’s land court.

It ruled in May that the lease which had been granted until 2099 could be forfeited because its conditions – specifically the operation of a tourist facility or resort on the island – had not been met.

Mr Stewart revoked the tourism lease this week after Wu’s legal team failed to lodge an appeal by the due date.

Mr Wu’s Fortune Island Holding Company paid $5.68m for the lease in 2013.

Mr Wu was involved in mining and is the chairman of the private Hong Kong import and export business Chang Yuang Group.

The island (pictured) was once a tourist hotspot located between Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

Luxurious glamping tents were once a feature but are now derelict (pictured)

Luxurious glamping tents were once a feature but are now derelict (pictured) 

Crab nets and remnants from the resort's heyday litter the beach

Crab nets and remnants from the resort’s heyday litter the beach 

Mr Stewart said Double Island was officially back under ownership by the state of Queensland.

He said the outcome put island resort operators on the Great Barrier Reef on notice to comply with their leases or risk losing them.

‘The community and the local members want to see Double Island open, thriving and available to use, as do I, which is why I took this action,’ Mr Stewart said on Friday.

The news was welcomed by the local MP, Craig Crawford, who said the outcome was ‘bloody brilliant’.

‘It is now back in the hands of Queenslanders,’ he said. 

‘This is the day we’ve all been waiting for after six long years.

‘Many in the community did not think this day would come, but I knew if we stuck to our guns, we would win.’

The government will now assess the island’s infrastructure and consult with locals over the next few months to form a plan to reopen the resort.

‘We want to see Double Island restored to its former glory and accessible to locals and visitors,’ the tourism minister, Michael Healy, said.

‘Queensland’s island resorts are the jewels in the crown of our state’s tourism industry.’

The opposition natural resources spokesperson, Dale Last, said the Liberal National party would preserve Double Island as an ecotourism asset if it won the October state election.

In the meantime, people have been warned to steer clear of the island.

Double Island Resort has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair (pictured) in recent years

Double Island Resort has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair (pictured) in recent years

Double Island Resort was once a popular holiday spot in Far North Queensland (pictured)

Double Island Resort was once a popular holiday spot in Far North Queensland (pictured) 

One of the dilapidated safari shacks that has been left in a state of disrepair, covered with overgrown shrubbery

One of the dilapidated safari shacks that has been left in a state of disrepair, covered with overgrown shrubbery

‘During this time, people should stay away from the former resort while action is taken to assess and address any hazards,’ Mr Stewart said.

‘The resort hasn’t operated for many years and is in a state of disrepair and isn’t safe to the general public.’

Along with the resort being re-opened, the lease required vegetation to be managed, facilities on the island to be kept in good repair, and mooring facilities provided in good condition for the general public’s use.

When the deal for Double Island was struck in 2012, Mr Wu said he planned to spend $10million upgrading the resort to cater to the ‘top end of the market’ in wealthy Chinese holidaymakers and businessmen.

In its heyday, the island was a luxury destination featuring Polynesian inspired villas, eco-tourism glamping tents, and luxury apartments.

Hollywood A-lister Keanu Reeves leased the island back in 2001 when he was in Australia filming The Matrix and had a gym built especially for him.

Friends star Jennifer Aniston and her then husband Brad Pitt were his guests when the actor threw a lavish and infamous New Year’s Eve party there.

The bash reportedly cost $200,000 (US$150,000) and was also attended by a host of famous faces including Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore and Kiefer Sutherland.

The celebrity party featured a huge firework display on New Year’s Eve which shocked locals, who had no idea the island was packed with Hollywood stars.

A visitor to the island who had paddled there on a kayak with a friend previously told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Staying there would be more like a ”Survivor” challenge than a luxury getaway.’

Safari-style tents intended for eco-friendly ‘glamping’ stays are covered in mould and moss, while detritus including fuel containers, washing paraphernalia, dirty towels and abandoned tools litter the area. 

Visitors to the island are warned not to intrude on the land beyond where the tide reaches and told cameras are in use.

But it is still possible to see one apparently abandoned home where rainforest plants are beginning to encroach into its once-pristine garden; its plunge pool is drained of water and a bedroom balcony is unfit without a guard rail.

A gym lies abandoned and apparently unused but appears to be in good condition, even though the equipment appears to be dated.

Outdoor dining areas, meant to be where guests enjoy a ‘sublime culinary experience’, are strewn with a mishmash of old furniture.

In contrast, a Cairns mansion Mr Wu bought in 2020 is stunningly luxurious.

Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio’s work inspired the home, which features five-metre-high ceilings, 1441sqm of living space, four ensuite bedrooms and views over the city. 

The  palatial Italian-style mansion (pictured above) in Cairns, far north Queensland, was sold to the Hong Kong businessman in 2020

The  palatial Italian-style mansion (pictured above) in Cairns, far north Queensland, was sold to the Hong Kong businessman in 2020

It has an uninterrupted view of the Cairns CBD (pictured above) from multiple terraces and the 17m blue mosaic pool

It has an uninterrupted view of the Cairns CBD (pictured above) from multiple terraces and the 17m blue mosaic pool 

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