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A Federal NSW stay at Woollybutts eco cottage

As I slowly wake up in my lovely soft linen sheets I feel like I could still be in a dream. The calls of whip birds, bellbirds and other feathered friends are layered over the sound of gentle rain on the tin roof creating a blissful meditation soundtrack that I wish I could travel with for years to come.

As I pop the kettle on I step out onto the front porch and watch the light start to change with the sunrise. And as I smile at the mist and the trees in the valley below I can feel the last tendrils of tension leaving my body and a sense of peace settling into my cells.

While I’ve known about the charms of Federal NSW for years and have loved visiting when I’ve been in the Byron Hinterland this is the first time I’ve woken up here. After connecting with the Woollybutts eco cottage through my @sustainable_getaways Instagram I was invited to come and experience it for myself and was quickly packing my bags and heading for one of my favourite parts of Australia.

After passing through the tiny village of Federal I turn onto a dirt road and drive through a beautiful high tree archway before passing some of the neighbours and arriving at the Woollybutts gate. From the road there’s no hint of what lies below but after driving down and around a few bends I’m soon pulling up at the main house where owner Nicola comes to greet me and walk me over to my cottage home for the next few nights.

Woollybutts Cottage, Federal NSW

Once the only building on the property, the cottage went on to become the base for the previous owners as they built their new home alongside it. When Nicola and Ivan moved in four years ago turning the cottage into a guest house was high on their to do list and they quickly got onto the renovations and restorations needed to turn it into the Federal retreat guests can enjoy today.

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Set on 12 acres of lush rainforest land Woollybutts is a cottage made for two, or in my case, a very happy one. While it does occasionally dip into mains power, Woollybutts is almost entirely off grid relying mostly on solar power for energy and collecting rainwater in 100,000 litre capacity tanks for all of your watery needs.

There’s an 18-metre magnesium pool with a large deck to lounge on as well as floating bean bags to float around on, when you’re not enjoying the feel of that lovely water on your skin.

Woollybutts Cottage magnesium pool

As the pool is directly in front of the main house at first I feel a little like I’ve snuck over into the neighbour’s pool, but Nicola assures me that the pool is for guests only when they have someone to stay, and as they’re working most days it’s not as if they’re just sitting there and watching you splash around.  In fact, apart from meeting me when I arrive I don’t see or hear anything from the other house until I go to find Nicola on the final morning to say goodbye.

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While I manage to get a dip in on my first afternoon as I watch the storm clouds roll in, for the next few days it’s rain, rain, rain. As much as it would have been nice to have some more pool time I’m still in the happiest of places and can see how beautiful it would be to have a winter stay here too.

“In the summer you have the pool and in the winter it’s super cosy inside and you have a fire pit outside, so it works on multiple levels depending on the season.” Nicola says. “In summer people can go to the beach, and in winter there are lots of cute villages, so there’s always something to do.”

To make things nice and easy for guests, Nicola has put together a great compendium full of things to do around the area, including Ten Things To Do On A Rainy Day. I smile when I see some of my favourite things to do in the area on the list, along with a recipe for making banana pudding in a cup with ingredients you can find in the cottage.

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As well as providing eco friendly cleaning products and toiletries, in the kitchen there are some local supplies to enjoy, all sourced from within 30km of Woollybutts. There are fresh eggs and bananas, Brookfarm muesli, organic sourdough from The Bread Social, Norco butter, and a strawberry and rosella jam with lemon myrtle from Wattle Tree Creek. As for the coffee, that’s roasted right here in Federal at the Moonshine Roastery and Espresso Bar.

If you’d like to make dinner at home there’s an induction hob and microwave to whip a little something up. Or you could always order in with Table Under a Tree offering hand made gourmet meals made from some of the region’s finest ingredients, with free delivery to Woollybutts. You can also arrange to go on a food tour with them to explore some of the farm gates, road side stalls and other foodie highlights in the area.

When you want to stretch your legs you can walk on down to the creek that’s just out of sight behind the trees, and that I occasionally hear when the rain stops for a while. I confess I opted to stay closer to home in the wet weather so didn’t see any of the platypus, echidnas or koalas that live in the area though I did have the occasional bunny and bush turkey come past the cottage. And while I may have recognised some of the birds including black cockatoos and kookaburras, I couldn’t tell you all of the twenty plus species that can be spotted in that big backyard.

Then there was another animal that I didn’t see, but could sometimes hear at night. Those wonderful mosquito slayers, micro bats, also call the Woollybutts cottage home. As someone mozzies always go for I loved knowing these guys were around, catching and eating up to 500 mosquitoes an hour. And when I heard a little scratching in the roof one night I just smiled as I snuggled up in bed and imagined them going out to slay.

Woollybutts Cottage bedroom

The cottage has books to read and games to play and Netflix to watch. And one of the many things I loved is the way it feels like a home that’s actually loved. When I ask Nicola about the pictures on the walls she explains that she collects photography on her travels. On one wall Namibia desert images by Ben McRae are serenely beautiful. On another, some of Andy Levin’s photos of New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina draw me in, and I can’t look away from the person riding a bike through the devastated streets in a bunny suit after partying through the night.

While Woollybutts cottage has been welcoming guests for a few years now, as of early December 2021 (yes, a few days ago as I write this) there’s also a new way to stay. In its own section of the property, out of sight of the cottage and the main house, there’s now a glamping option called Howling Wolf.

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Keeping it local, the Howling Wolf tent was made just two fields away by one of Nicola and Ivan’s neighbours. Who just happens to provide tents to more than 5,000 customers around the world including actress Bridget Fonda and MaryJane Butters, the woman who coined the term glamping.

As well as having a beautiful 4m tent by Lotus Belle, Howling Wolf has an undercover kitchen, en suite bathroom with hot water for the shower and a composting toilet, and it all runs on solar power and harvests its own rainwater.

I’m already thinking of how wonderful it would be to stay with two friends in the cottage and two friends in the tent. With a possible swap over one night. And somehow I don’t think I’ll be the only one hatching that plan.  

The village of Federal NSW and beyond

When you manage to drag yourself away from the cottage, there’s a whole lot to discover around the area.

Highlights include the tiny village of Federal itself, where you can have breakfast or lunch at Doma, the café that serves up such excellent Japanese and Aussie fare that it earned a write up in the New York Times.  

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Federal is also where you can treat yourself to a delicious coffee that’s been roasted on site at Moonshine, and have a chat to Beni at his Benilato gelato cart.  Made with recipes that have been passed down through four generations of his family and served from a traditional gelato cart that was made in Italy before getting a bit of a Tiki twist in the Byron hinterland, this is a sweet treat you shouldn’t miss.

The gelato cart serves nine flavours at a time, and Beni also includes vegan and gluten free options in the mix. While the cart can sometimes be found at markets and events around Byron, it’s usually found right here in Federal from 11am to 5pm daily.

At the Federal General Store you can pick up some groceries, grab something to drink from the bottle shop, or send a Wish You Were Here postcard on its way from the post office corner, while at the Hills Emporium you’ll find a tempting selection of clothing, home wares, jewellery and more to take home. 

If you’re ready to lace up your hiking boots, Federal is nice and close to World Heritage rainforests and national parks including Minyon Falls, the Nightcap National Park, Mt Warning and the Coolamon Scenic Drive.

Crystal lovers will want to set aside a morning or afternoon to wander around the Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens, which are just 14 minutes drive away. As well as standing between two of the tallest crystals on earth you can sit inside a massive amethyst geode and see other incredible crystals. And if you like to embrace the woo woo you can also get an aura photo reading and join in a crystal sound healing session.

Crystal Castle Byron Bay image Amanda Woods

For a cracker of a pub lunch it’s only an 18-minute drive to the Eltham Hotel, which has been lovingly restored and recently welcomed a new chef from Melbourne.

If you feel like getting pampered during your stay book ahead for the Kiva Spa in Mullumbimby. While public hot tubs aren’t really my thing, and the sauna was way too hot for this gal, I still enjoyed having some time in the garden hanging out with a frilled neck lizard and chatting to the cat. And when it was time for my massage I was in heaven. My therapist Isabella has magic hands, and while you can only make bookings online, once you’ve made a booking you can then request someone by name. Which is what I’ll be doing to get Isabella again when I go back.

Kiva Spa Mullumbimby

And then there’s that other town you may have heard of, Byron Bay.

It’s a lovely 25 minute drive from Woollybutts into town when I decide to go in to catch up with some friends and a long lunch at Barrio Eatery & Bar is definitely worth travelling for. There’s a whole lot of deliciousness coming out of that wood-fired oven and open-flame grill kitchen, including my favourite dish that doesn’t get cooked in either. The humble sounding tuna salad is a moreish mix of raw yellowfin tuna, pickled broad beans, sumac and flying fish roe that gets my taste buds dancing.

And as for our ‘we’ll just share it and have a bite or two’ apple and walnut cake with whey caramel to finish we quickly go from just wanting a taste to wanting to lick the plate.

It’s the perfect lunch out and about. But as soon as it’s over I want to go home. Sure, I could explore Byron Bay, do some shopping, walk along the beach, do a little people watching. Instead I just want to be back on my Woollybutts deck looking out at the trees and listening to those birds.

So I hop in the car and head on back for a beautifully indulgent afternoon of doing absolutely nothing but being happy.

Woollybutts Cottage deck

Amanda Woods stayed as a guest of Woollybutts but as usual all opinions remain her own.

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  1. Well done Amanda.
    I love your story.

    Look forward to seeing you soon.
    With love

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