Tucked away at the very edge of the Clutha District, nestled
in the Catlins forest, is a holiday-maker's dream getaway,
run by Paul and Lynn Bridson.
The couple run the McLean Falls Eco Motel and Holiday Park,
and the Whistling Frog Cafe and Bar, in the Chaslands, about
an hour's drive south of Balclutha.
The complex in the Catlins Forest Park has the beautiful
McLean Falls at its doorstep. The 22m on the Tautuku River
descend a number of steep dropoffs and terraces. They are
often described as the most spectacular in the region.
The complex is now in its sixth year, but the going was never
easy, Mr Bridson said.
Twelve years ago, the Bridsons bought a farm in the
Chaslands, and spent three years toying with the idea of
creating a holiday park.
Work began on the project in 2006, when the couple began
buying old buildings from around Otago and Southland.
''Everyone thought we were off our rocker. They said it would
never work,'' Mr Bridson said.
The couple bought Bellbird cottage from Wyndham, 12 shacks
from Te Anau, and the ablution block from Karitane.
''We wanted to recycle old buildings, and it became a bit of
a theme for the park,'' he said.
The buildings showed evidence they had been through all types
of weather, and had clearly seen better days.
It took a year for the Bridsons to build the holiday park -
restoring the buildings, and putting the infrastructure in
''There's a lot of infrastructure involved with a holiday
park. Having the farm gave us the room for expansion.''
The Bridsons own about 350ha, but 100ha of that is native
bush, and the holiday park and cafe only take up 6ha.
The park provides a range of accommodation, from camper van
sites to basic one-roomed cabins, motel rooms, and chalets.
The couple live nearby on the farm, and employ 10 staff -
including three full-time chefs working at the cafe.
Head chef Robin Martin, of Methven, is in his fourth season
at the Whistling Frog Cafe and Bar.
He said the isolated location did not faze him, but offered a
''I like the surroundings, the beauty, and the team here. The
location just means I have to be creative.''
The holiday park is commonly known as the Whistling Frog,
taking on the same name as the cafe.
The idea for the ''Whistling Frog'' brand came from the small
brown frogs found living around the area.
The couple were searching for a name for their business, and
looked up the internet for information on the frogs.
''I found they were called the brown frog, but it also said
they were commonly known as the whistling frog, and I
thought: 'Bingo! we have our name','' Mr Bridson said.
The business mascot, Whistlewood, might be green, but also
features an orange belly - just like that of the brown frog.
The couple have embraced the frog theme, having a pond filled
with tadpoles at the entrance to the cafe, and various
frog-themed signs and artwork dotted both inside and out.
They worked hard to give the park a relaxed feel, and
visitors are welcome to bring their dogs with them - joining
the Bridson's Maltese terrier Sonic.
Mrs Bridson said several visitors had returned to the park
after several years and remarked on how far things had come.
''They are amazed with what we have here,'' she said.
''This little space here is so unique, so special. There's
bush on all sides, very few neighbours, and so many
The entrance to the area's biggest attraction - the McLean
Falls River Walk - is 3km from the Whistling Frog. The 2km
walk follows an easy grade along the Tautuku River valley
with views of the river and bush.
The walk car park and track ares maintained by the Department
of Conservation (Doc), and were recently upgraded.
Doc Coastal Otago visitor and historic assets programme
manager Dave Winterburn said the ageing toilet block was
replaced, and sections of the track were repaired.
The McLean Falls River Walk was closed for several months
last year, after rockfall damaged parts of the track. It
reopened just before Christmas.
Mr Winterburn said between 25,000 and 30,000 people visited
McLean Falls each year.
Mr Bridson said Doc maintained the McLean Falls area well,
and the recent work was fantastic.
While McLean Falls is the nearest tourist attraction, the
holiday park is also close to the popular Cathedral Caves,
Lake Wilkie, Tautuku Bay, and is about 15 minutes from the
seaside township of Papatowai.
Mrs Bridson said many of their guests used the park as a hub
for their sightseeing in the Catlins, spending several days
based there while they explored the surrounding area's
The couple still have plans for the Whistling Frog, and hope
to clear access on their farm to allow guests to walk to the
Tautuku River and enjoy the swimming holes there.
The park is proving to be very popular, and was booked solid
over Christmas and New Year.
Mr Bridson said the business had reached a point where it was
no longer trying to establish itself.
Last year he set up high-speed internet access on site, also
offering free internet access to neighbouring farms.
''Five years is the critical point. You have to get through
these very serious milestones. The business is now viable and
the community is right on board with us.
''I don't want to get too much bigger. This is about right.''