Going (gum) nuts for a bush beauty

Warialda Bungwahl, Image by Good Thanks Media

This article was first published in the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ magazine and online on August 1, 2021. Image courtesy of Good Thanks Media.

‘Warialda’ is a charming A-frame weatherboard house set on 25-acres of scenic bushland in the town of Bungwahl, near Myall Lakes and Seal Rocks. It’s the dreamy holiday home of the Newcastle-based Witter family and a weekender rental.

“My husband [Pat] and I had always dreamed of a country house near the beach, a getaway from the city where we could spend time with family and friends. We wanted something with a bit of land and not too far from Newcastle,” explains Gabrielle Witter of Warialda.

“It wasn’t until we were on a camping trip in Seal Rocks two years ago that I was able to convince my husband to come and see a few properties that I had found online.”

While Gabrielle and Pat didn’t immediately fall in love with the property on their first viewing, they ended up purchasing the property nine months later in November 2020.

The property – which was built in the 1990s – was held by the previous owners for 15 years.

“I often think it was just sitting there waiting for us to find the right time.”

Located an 80-minute drive from the Witter’s home in Newcastle, Warialda consists of a cosy three-bedroom house and a freestanding two-bedroom studio for guests.

Set on 25 acres – 16 of which are untouched bushland – it has two dams, established gardens, fruit and gum trees and endless green space for the Witter’s two daughters, four-year-old Rosie, three-year-old Grace, and their dog Billy.

“Within 15 minutes of the property, there are three national parks (Myall Lakes, Wallingat, and Booti Booti), three lakes (Myall, Smiths, and Wallis Lakes) and, I think, about 13 beaches.”

“The closest beaches are at Seal Rocks and they are all stunning. About 15 minutes away are Blueys, Boomerang, and Elizabeth Beach.”

The family named the property ‘Warialda’ after the small town in northwest New South Wales where Gabrielle’s grandfather, Ray Stehr, grew up.

“Warialda is the indigenous name for ‘the place of native honey’. As part of our commitment to regenerating the land, we’ll be introducing native stingless beehives on the property.”

The local area is also home to various threatened species. This led Gabrielle and Pat to create in Warialda an environment where native flora and fauna can flourish.

“We’ve joined the ‘Land for Wildlife’ program and our plans include installing wildlife nesting boxes in the bushland, replacing weeds and exotic plants with native plants that are indigenous to the area, and repairing the waterways to ensure the frogs and other creatures can thrive.”

Warialda complements the bush setting in which it sits, with the house’s expansive back deck and each room enjoying sweeping views of the bush and garden beyond.

“Internally, the house has a slight Australian farmhouse vibe, full of vintage pieces. We’ve tried to pay homage to the Australian bush where possible with books and artwork – even the shower curtain has gum leaves on it.”

The couple did some work on the property after buying it, including renovating the converted shed into a studio and other small changes, like adding barn doors to the bathroom and toilet, inside the house. They are currently planning a kitchen renovation and hope to eventually install solar panels.

The family get to Warialda at least once a month for a weekend or longer. The rest of the time it operates as a short-term, dog-friendly holiday rental on AirbBnB, Riparide and Stayz.

“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from guests. Outside of COVID restrictions, it has pretty much been fully booked since we started renting it out in February 2020.”

Gabrielle and Pat love the house, property, and local area and the space and freedom that it allows their daughters.

“It’s been wonderful to watch the girls’ confidence and connection with the outdoors flourish since we’ve been there. They didn’t leave the house without us when we first purchased the property.”

“Now they wander the gardens, looking for fairies and mushrooms. They take themselves up to the swing sets. They pick fruit off the trees, play in the dirt, make gunyah-type shelters out of sticks, and love roasting marshmallows over the outdoor fire pit.”

“Our dog Billy appreciates the wide, open space where he is free to roam. He’s always exhausted after a weekend up there.”