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Forest, frogs and film stars… renowned southern nature resort goes up for sale

Tags: Commercial

A South Island resort on a world-renowned scenic highway, whose guests include TV stars and international film crews, has been put up for sale.


A South Island resort on a world-renowned scenic highway, whose guests include TV stars and international film crews, has been put up for sale.

The Whistling Frog restaurant and accommodation complex lies in the heart of one of New Zealand’s top nature-tourism destinations, the 56,000-hectare Catlins Conservation Park.

Famous guests have included British comedian Bill Bailey, Neil Oliver from the BBC Coast Series and Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords.

The resort has hosted secret filming for big-budget international car adverts and a Japanese milk commercial backed by spectacular coastal scenery. The area’s attractions also starred when the Whistling Frog was the base for filming the 2012 hit Kiwi comedy Two little boys.

The profitable resort is located at 9 Rewcastle Road in South Otago, at the intersection with the ‘Southern Scenic Route’ linking Queenstown, Fiordland, the Catlins and Dunedin – named by Australia’s Traveller magazine as one of the 10 most scenic drives in the world.

Named after a frog species found locally, The Whistling Frog is set amid lush coastal native forest and farmland. It was developed over more than 15 years by its current owners, who are now selling due to retirement. The owners have established diverse income streams from multiple dining, camping and lodging options within easy reach of the Catlins’ top attractions.

The sale comes as Kiwis’ growing focus on domestic travel is boosting demand for holiday parks. Data from Holiday Parks New Zealand (HAPNZ) revealed an 11 percent leap in guest nights in August, to nearly 360,000, compared with August last year. Advance bookings point to heavy demand over the peak summer period.

The land, buildings and business sustaining the Whistling Frog are being marketed for sale as a going concern with an indicative fixed price of $5,750,000 plus GST (if any) through Bayleys Frankton.

Salesperson Warwick Kerr said the sale included all infrastructure, plant, buildings, chattels and no goodwill payable. The property consisted of multiple accommodation and support buildings with a total floor area of some 1,643 square metres on approximately 6.9 hectares of freehold land, allowing for future expansion.

“The purpose-built, licensed café/bar building generates all-day income from park guests and passing trade. It has indoor and outdoor seating for up to 140, serviced with a modern commercial kitchen. The menu is a blend of seafood, lamb, beef, local dishes, BBQ smoked ribs and wood-fired pizzas, complemented with guest beers and in-house micro-brews. Guest reception and an excursions booking desk share this building,” said Mr Kerr.

The accommodation complex can sleep around 90 guests in beds, in many configurations for different budgets.

“The development of a complex of this size and diversity in such a strategic position in the heart of the conservation park could probably never be repeated,” Mr Kerr said.

“There is no comparable competition in the area. As such, it presents a unique opportunity for a lifestyle business investor to capitalise on years of development and – if they wish – further expand the operation over time.

“Thanks to the owners’ heavy investment in construction and infrastructure, income is growing.”

He said gross income from all operations was consistently in the seven figures, with strong forward bookings and café revenue.

“The business recovered after the Covid-19 lockdown with better-than-usual revenue from winter accommodation and camping, and busy forward bookings for summer holiday and corporate activity. With international travel restricted, there is unprecedented domestic demand as Kiwis explore their own backyard.”

Detailed financial and occupancy figures are available to potential investors upon signing a confidentiality agreement.

Mr Kerr said the resort benefited from a strategic location near the Catlins’ biggest attractions. “Bounded by the increasingly busy Southern Scenic Route and Rewcastle Road leading to McLean Falls, this site enjoys constant through traffic.

“It’s three kilometres from the 55-metre McLean Falls, which in 2018 graced the cover of Lonely Planet’s South Island guide book. It also lies just 600 metres from the access to Cathedral Caves, one of the world’s largest sea cave complexes.

“The Catlins’ rugged coastline, forests and wildlife such as rare Hectors Dolphins and Yellow-eyed Penguins are attracting growing attention – which promises to grow further with the area mooted as a new national park,” Mr Kerr said.

“The Whistling Frog is a little over three hours from Queenstown, two hours from Dunedin and just over an hour from Invercargill – with proximity to international airports at Dunedin and Queenstown an advantage once international visits resume.

“This facility has been developed for the long haul. It can be run with a management team or by the new owners, with knowledgeable long-term staff in place. It is scalable to whatever level is desired,” Mr Kerr said.

For example, autumn and winter operations could be scaled up to meet visitor demand for Aurora Australis (‘southern lights’) and black sky stargazing opportunities.

“This is a rare opportunity to secure an established, multi-use accommodation complex and licensed restaurant in a world-class nature tourism destination. The Whistling Frog has been developed and diversified to a point where it offers excellent turnover and the potential to further grow the business.

“The global pandemic has shown that being ‘off the beaten track’ can be a valuable asset. The Whistling Frog will appeal to investors who seek to combine business with an adventurous rural lifestyle. This could include returning expats or corporate investors.”

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