Lulu Island ... closed to the public, sort of

Visitors are not officially allowed on the man-made island just off the coast of the Corniche, but it has become a weekend paradise.

Lulu Island in Abu Dhabi on December 16, 2011. Three years ago the public ferry to the island stopped regular service and since has become littered with rubbish from people failing to pick up after themselves. Photos by Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // The master development planned for Lulu Island has yet to take shape, but the island is already home to its own form of community.

Despite being technically closed to the public, on an average Friday night as many as 20 boats can be seen docked on the shores of the man-made island, and campfires and tents are visible from the Corniche beach.

Wakeboarders, paddlers and watersports enthusiasts enjoy the calm waters of the bay created by a breakwater on the ocean side of the island, and families can charter boats to Lulu for an afternoon getaway.

"Over the last several years there have been more boats going out on to the water, and people are attracted to Lulu because it's quiet and less crowded," said Capt Berend Lens van Rijn, the founder of the Abu Dhabi leisure and hospitality company Belevari Marine.

"The nice thing about Lulu is the shaded areas on the beach. Every 50 metres or so there are shaded tents. They're perfect for picnics and camping."

Since the municipality suspended a ferry service to the island in January 2009, access is limited.

Private boats dock at the island, which is 500 metres off the coast of the Corniche, and Belevari Marine regularly drops off passengers on Friday nights for overnight camping trips.

The jet-ski rental company Super Jet will even deliver there for riders.

"A lot of people take their jet skis there," said Sahar Khalifa, the owner of Super Jet. "It's very clean and beautiful, and there are not as many families there who will be bothered by the jet skis."

The nearly 500-hectare island is co-owned by Sorouh Real Estate and Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

The master plan for the island, revealed last year, calls for a "low-density, low-rise, mixed-use development" featuring 15 neighbourhoods.

More than 40 per cent of the island is planned as open space and more than 70 per cent of the shoreline is to be open to the public.

Up to 33,000 people are expected to live on Lulu. About 80 per cent of development is expected to be residential, with amenities including schools, mosques, police stations and shops.

But development on the island has stalled and construction stopped. The most recent project update from Sorouh was in summer last year.

"The development planning work is still ongoing for Lulu Island to ensure that the development plan is in line with future infrastructure planning and market demand, and this is seen as prudent given the current state of the market," a Sorouh spokesman said.

Sorouh said the island was closed to the public, but regular beach users said the Coast Guard was well aware of the activity and no one prevented visitors from going ashore.

"It is one of those great little islands that's secluded but is still part of the city," said Jessica Zapiain, a stand-up paddler who went to Lulu Island with other paddlers three times last year.

"From what we've been told it's closed off to the public, but you're allowed to go there."

Ms Zapiain, who called the island "a little oasis", and her fellow paddlers this week performed a clean-up on the coast, where much of the ocean's rubbish ends up.

Sue-Ellen Hilgemann has been visiting the island almost every weekend for three years. She and her husband Michael even joke that their daughter, Isabella, 2, was raised there.

"It's so peaceful," Mrs Hilgemann said. "You can sit back and enjoy a meal or just read a book. We just take out the boat and make an afternoon of it."

Mrs Hilgemann and Ms Zapiain said they feared development would spoil the island's beauty.

"It's a shame to take a quaint island and ruin it with another building," Ms Zapiain said. "I don't think there's a strong desire to build there."

This year, the Department of Transport awarded the consultancy contract for the Lulu Road Project - an 8-kilometre, six-lane road that will pass across Lulu Island and connect Port Zayed with the marina near Marina Mall.

The island development was initially expected to be completed by 2025, with the first phase of development becoming available to residents in 2015.