Curiosity led Australia’s Channel Seven Sunrise presenter Edwina Bartholomew and Neil Varcoe to an idyllic sandstone cottage at a farm in Capertee Valley, NSW. While completing a quiz in the weekend paper, the couple were asked to name the widest canyon in the world and were surprised to find it was located a three-hour drive from their Sydney base. "To be honest, we hadn't really heard of the Capertee Valley before, though Neil was vaguely familiar with the area because he grew up in Lithgow [45 kilometres south]," Edwina, 35, explains.
Coincidentally, Edwina and Neil, 37, who is a digital media executive, had been looking for a rural bolthole where they could gather with friends and family to escape their busy working lives.
Suitably intrigued, they began an online search for properties in the area and soon stumbled across a quaint but neglected farmhouse.
Despite the valley's topographical credentials, Edwina says after driving over the Blue Mountains they were totally unprepared for the impact the landscape would have on them.
"You are surrounded by these incredible escarpments on either side, so we were just blown away by the scenery.
But I think it was the beautiful sandstone house that we fell in love with. We love that it sits in a valley, not on a hill, so you can't see in from the road."
After some real-estate wrangling (there was another buyer in the wings) they purchased the 42-hectare property — which they named Warramba — on Australia Day 2016.
They then began renovation preparations on the farmhouse in earnest: pulling up the old linoleum, removing the curtains and fixtures, and dismantling the fireplace.
"We didn't have flyscreens at this point and we ended up with a bug plague inside!" Edwina says. "We also had a green tree frog living in the loo but he moved on, thankfully."
Having talked to locals about the history of the home — originally a shearer's cottage on a property called Huntingdale, which was once owned by the grandson of pioneer settler Sir John Jamison — Edwina says it was important that the changes were sympathetic to the original structure.
"It needed a bit of TLC but the bones were still wonderful, so we certainly haven't changed anything on the outside. The only real change was to make the bathroom a bit bigger, and we also had to replace all the floors."
Today, the interior of the home is a subtle mix of neutral tones with natural timber, stone and lots of different textures.
"We wanted something reflective of our tastes — quite modern but classic at the same time," Edwina says. "I was determined to have a bookshelf that covered the whole wall and I really wanted a beautiful bath."
The land surrounding the farmhouse has seen major changes, too, with Neil becoming an "accidental farmer" and overseeing the construction of new roads, fences, farm sheds, water tanks and troughs.
"I knew nothing about farming… my father was a coal miner in Lithgow and my mum was a midwife," he says. "We leaned over a lot of fences at the beginning, and sought out experts not opinions.
Now, we have a couple of people we can call on to test ideas and answer the kinds of questions only experience knows."
The renovation took just four months and the couple proudly shared their efforts with 160 guests at their wedding in April last year.
"It was a real country wedding as everyone pitched in," says Edwina. "We had generators running out of petrol and beautiful organised chaos everywhere."
With the nuptials over, the couple now retreat to the property to recharge with their two-year-old blue heeler Mate who "swaggers between city cafés and his country life of chasing kangaroos and doing a very average job of rounding up cattle," Edwina says.
When she's not weeding the garden ("it's very therapeutic"), Edwina can usually be found reading in the living room.
"You can look out the window and see the seasons change. In summer, there is this lush grapevine that creates a beautiful dappled shadow, then in winter the leaves fall off and you can see right through to the mountains."
Meanwhile, Neil's favourite place is a secluded part of the property that took 12 months to find.
"It's different to any other part of the property, it's soft and cool and feels plucked from a children's story," he says. "The cattle found it first. There was an electrical storm and, afterwards, the entire fold was missing. I found them happily in this clearing, wondering what all the fuss was about."
Elsewhere on the property they recently joined forces with a neighbour to plant 4000 native trees that will create a bird habitat for the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater.
Well-known holistic bee keeper, Tim Malfroy of Malfroy's Gold, is also bringing in around 15 natural beehives to encourage pollination.
"We've learnt a lot, but every day is a school day at Warramba, and that's the magic of it," Neil says.
Magic also occurs when the sun dips west.
"Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves," says Edwina. "Come about three or four o'clock the sun reflects off the escarpments and illuminates the whole valley in this amazing sandstone glow. Then the kangaroos start jumping and you think this is just ridiculous scenery to have!"
Text and pictures: Camerapress