Showy businessman Richard Branson, never one to follow the pack, bought a little gift to thank his employees: a 25-acre island off Australia's Sunshine Coast, a popular vacation destination in the Queensland territory. Virgin Group (www.virgin.com) is developing Makepeace Island into an ecotourism retreat for the company's staff, their families, partners, and friends.

The $3.3 million investment will encompass a campground, training facilities, tree house lodging, and tennis courts on the heart-shaped parcel. The island will offer fishing, sailing, nature walks, and other leisure activities.

Branson announced the purchase in appreciation for the performance of Virgin employees, particularly those at Virgin Blue Airlines, a domestic carrier in Australia. Non-Aussie staffers will be able to reach the retreat via Virgin Atlantic Airways, which plans to introduce a London-Sydney route in the coming year.

Specific parameters for visits to Makepeace, which should be ready for guests next spring, are still up in the air.