Escape the concrete jungle for the Australian bush: Paperbark Camp eco-retreat, only two hours from Sydney, awaits. Glamp it up in tree-fringed tents toting indulgent comfort and take advantage of all that Mother Nature has to offer – bush walking, creek kayaking, swimming, snorkelling and surfing; or simply lounging on a day-bed spotting kangaroos.
11am; check-in, 2pm, but both are flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from £289.45 (AU$525), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include breakfast and use of canoes, kayaks and bikes.
Tents are named after local wildlife and intriguing in-room guides give lots of info about your namesake animal. No need to worry about insect encounters, though; full screens and mozzie repellant keeps unwelcome guests at bay. Paperbark Camp is closed during winter from the Monday of the June long weekend and reopens on the first weekend of September.
Paperbark Camp is closed during winter from mid July to mid August each year.
At the hotel
Free WiFi in communal areas, library, canoes, kayaks and bikes for exploring the local area. In rooms: bespoke organic Out of Eden products. In-room spa and beauty treatments on request.
Our favourite rooms
Surrounded by soaring eucalyptus and paperbark trees, all 12 canvas-clad tents offer laid-back luxury, with comfy beds, ensuite showers (with a freestanding bath in Deluxe rooms) and cool sea breezes thanks to raised hardwood decking and wraparound verandas. Roll-up walls allow you to dictate just how much of the great outdoors you let in (leave tent flaps open to wake up with the sunrise). We love Kookaburra for its privacy and prime creekside location for dawn kayak forays from your doorstep.
There’s no pool at Paperbark, but who needs one when the jaw-dropping beaches of Jervis Bay are just four kilometres away?
Warm layers for evening, a stack of great reads and a notepad for penning masterpieces en plein air. As well as amplifying the back-to-nature experience, packing light gives you more room in your tent. While a luxury camp stay is the perfect excuse to tune out to the cyber world (we say the only things tweeting out here should be the myna birds), digital devotees are catered for with free WiFi and plug sockets in communal areas.
A minimum two-night stay applies at peak periods or weekends if including a Saturday night. Over Australia Day and Easter long weekends, there's a four-night minimum stay. Smoking is allowed on outdoor decks, but be aware of bushfire risks.
Paperbark Camp is suitable for kids aged six or over, who’ll go mad for creature-spotting and outdoor activities galore. Extra beds for kids sharing your tent cost AU$70 a child a night; teens aged 13 or over are charged as adults.
Outdoor-enthusiastic kids aged six or over (the camp only accepts younger children by special arrangement).
All tents are the same size inside and can fit a maximum of four (ideally, two adults and two kids, or three children at the most). Opt for a Deluxe for a larger veranda and a bath.
Paperbark is the stuff of children’s dreams, with possums, kookaburra and other native animals in the trees around your tent and kangaroo sightings at dawn and dusk. Active kids will love the free guest bikes for trail rides, easy walks on forest tracks from the camp, and canoeing and swimming in Currambene Creek and Jervis Bay. Snorkelling sessions beckon in the ocean, too, along with whale-watching in season or diving for older teens. Relaxing beach time and picnics also beckon.
There’s no pool on site, but kids won’t miss one – head to postcard-pretty Jervis Bay nearby for clear waters and expanses of sand-castle-worthy white beach.
The Gunyah has a fresh and tasty children’s menu, featuring dishes such as grilled local fish, spaghetti Bolognese, and sausages and mash, and serves kids until 6.30pm. Picnic lunches can also be ordered the night before.
No need to pack
High chairs; board games – the games cupboard in the Gunyah has plenty.
Rates for children sharing with two full-paying adults are AU$70 for a six- to 12-year old, including bed and breakfast (teens age 13 or over are charged as adults).
With advanced accreditation from the Ecotourism Association of Australia, Paperbark Camp is committed to eco-tourism. Produce not grown on-site is locally sourced, and all food served at Paperbark is organic, fair trade and free-range. Local hardwood timber has been used to construct the rooms, which are solar powered, and the hotel uses eco-friendly cleaning products and light bulbs. As part of Paperbark's own conservation programme, the team also removes foreign plant species from the grounds. Local flora and fauna guided tours can be arranged on request.
Settle back at a candlelit table out on the deck, where sugar gliders (think cute mini possums) fly through the trees around you.
No need to dig out that vintage safari suit! Carry daytime relaxation on into the evening, with casual layers for keeping warm once the sun goes down.
Check all notions of camping fare at the canvas door: you’ll find no straight-from-the-tin spaghetti or singed sausages here. Hotel restaurant the Gunyah is a treetop testament to gourmet dining. Chilean chef Emilio Erazo (formerly of Melbourne hot spot Mamasita) uses local produce to create a modern Australian menu with a Central American accent. Must-try dishes include yellowfin tuna tartare, the Wobbly Knees (mixed beer-based jellies finished with sabayon) and five-texture chocolate cake. Be sure to sample the gob-smackingly good granola at breakfast (so popular Paperbark now provides printed-out copies so you can recreate bush breakfasts back home) and book for dinner, as the restaurant opens to non-guests come evening and is a hit with locals.
The Gunyah (an aboriginal word meaning 'meeting place' or 'place of shelter') is the social heart of the camp and home to the restaurant, bar, communal kitchen and lounge. Savour a glass of local wine on a comfy sofa in the outdoor area or perched on a bar stool on a nearby deck (perfectly placed for pre-supper wildlife-spotting).
Breakfast is served from 8am until 10am; dinner from 6pm until 9pm. Afterwards, take a nightcap to the campfire and cosy up under the stars.
Paperbark Camp is located around 180 kilometres south of Sydney in Jervis Bay. This safari-style retreat sits on the Currambene Creek, flanked by the Booderee National Park, Jervis Bay National Park and Jervis Bay Marine Park.
The closest international airport is Sydney's Kingsford Smith (www.sydneyairport.com.au). Paperback Camp can arrange airport transfers on request. Alternatively, take a domestic flight to Canberra Airport (www.canberraairport.com.au), connected to most of Australia's state capitals and around 240 kilometres away.
Taking in sweeping views of the New South Wales South Coast, the train ride from Sydney is gorgeous. City Rail (http://www.cityrail.info) operates the South Coast Line service from Central Station to Bomaderry (Nowra), 25 minutes from Paperbark Camp. Paperbark staff are happy to arrange transfers from Bomaderry Station to the hotel on request.
The easiest way to get to Paperbark Camp is by car (although Paperbark encourages guests to use more eco-friendly transport). The scenic two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney takes you along the Grand Pacific Drive, dotted with dreamy spots for lunch or a swim along the way. If you're coming from Canberra, you can either head through Goulburn, Moss Vale and Kangaroo Valley (just under three hours' drive) or take the Kings Highway via Batemans Bay. The camp has free on-site parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
It’s easy (and encouraged) to do absolutely nothing but indulge in lost sleep and a long reading list at Paperbark Camp. You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your room for a massage or beauty treatment set to the soundtrack of the bush.
To appreciate everything on offer at the camp, take a bush trail from the hotel through the paperback forest and mangroves. Go for an early-morning walk to spot kangaroos or rug up for an after-dinner stroll by torchlight to see possums in their natural habitat.
The free guests bikes, canoes and kayaks are a fun, eco-friendly way to explore the local area. If you’re feeling game, take up the ‘Paperbark Challenge’ and canoe to nearby town Huskisson on the shores of Jervis Bay and back, then chalk up your efforts on the communal blackboard that lists the record time (currently set at one hour 20 minutes). Let the Paperbark staff pack you a basket filled with locally-sourced treats so you can stop off for a picnic and a swim on the return journey.
You've got three national parks on your doorstep, including Booderee, Jervis Bay and the Jervis Bay Marine Park, offering pristine bush and ocean habitats. Booderee sports kilometres of walking trails, the Botanic Gardens, aboriginal bushtucker tours, and oodles of kangaroos and birdlife. For the best local beaches, make for Caves Beach (a rated surf spot), Murrays Beach (for spectacular blue water when you burst from the bush), Green Patch (for wildlife by the shore) and Hyams (famous for its super-pale sand, best approached via the White Sands Walk from Huskisson).
En route from or to Sydney, the nearby town of Berry makes a good stopping-off point for antiqueing, interiors boutiques and stylish delis and cafés.
Rick Stein’s restaurant Bannisters is in Mollymook, less than an hour’s drive south along the coast. Make the trip for a lunch celebrating local seafood and shellfish. The restaurant is open for lunch Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and for dinner every day except Sundays. Booking is essential.
Pick up picnic supplies from the well-stocked deli at Hyams Beach Store and Cafe before exploring famous Hyams Beach. Wharf Rd in Nowra offers a simple and scrummy menu from the seaside (try the beer-battered fish, hand-cut chips and aji panca mayonnaise). The café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Stop by for a laid-back lunch at theScarborough Hotel on the drive from Sydney. Just south of the Seacliff Bridge on the Grand Pacific Drive, the pub offers local ales, a casual menu and a beer garden with cool coastal vistas. For a late afternoon sundowner with sparkling sea views, grab an outdoor table at theHuskisson on Jervis Bay, aka the Husky Pub.
Last time I went camping I took my sons to a site my father used to take me. But much had changed. No more could we just find a patch of bushland, stake our tent and spark up the fire. Licenses were required, campfires were banned, and signs warned campers of the threat from ‘overhanging branches’. When I ignored these new-age directives, rangers fined me $350 for ‘endangering a national park’. So much for the ‘great outdoors’…
Now I’m going bush again. This time in the name of romance and recreation… the recreation of romance, that is. As such, this is far from an ordinary camping trip. It’s ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) and ‘the wilds’ are 150 minutes south of Sydney in the hamlet of Jervis Bay. Moreover, I’m ‘roughing it’ in a tent furnished with crisp linen, a king-size bed, balcony and claw-foot bath… hence Mrs Smith, who has never endangered a national park in her life, zealously pitching up to join me.
From the moment we turn off the tarmac road onto the dirt track to Paperback Camp, we’re relaxed. Kangaroos bound through the tawny scrub beside us. Magpies issue their waddle-giggle-gargle carol from on high. And glimmering through the eucalypts we can see the slow flow of Currambene Creek. We’re within cooee of the national park named Booderee, meaning ‘bay of plenty’. From the bush to the bays to the beaches that enfold what has been acclaimed as the whitest sand in the world, this is Dhurga country, and one of just three national parks still in the custody of its Aboriginal inhabitants.
We set down our swags at ‘Echidna’, one of eight Original and four Deluxe safari tents Paperbark has had wired up and glowing on solar power since 1998. It’s a large set-up on stilts, with a wide balcony overlooking the bushland and water with an elegant floor-boarded bedroom and en suite. Adjacent is a wetland path so we set stroll, watched by a mob of ’roos, one with tiny joey on board. I feel a flicker of guilt at leaving the kids at home but it passes fast as Mrs Smith and I exult in the quiet. That guilt returns when kangaroo fillet is on the menu that night but hey, it bounds across the palate with such panache we find it hard to rue the roo.
Paperbark hibernates in the winter for repairs and sprucing. It’s a fortnight into the new season when we visit but all tents are full and booked out six weeks in advance. Most of the clientele are couples, although the Camp has become a favourite retreat for corporate teams craving off-site pow-wows. The herb garden was established by Jamie Durie on just such a team-building jaunt. Campfire gatherings, cultural performances, outdoor cinemas, drum circles and bush-tucker tours can be arranged, likewise fishing charters, whale watching trips and horse-riding in Jervis Bay.
Mrs Smith and I are happy to hang at the ranch at first, reading on the balcony, soaking in the tub or watching pygmy possums scurry through the scrub. But as the weekend unfurls we grab a canoe from the flotilla available free to guests. Lazily paddling up the Creek, watching the mangrove birds dry their wings in the warm spring air, we daydream about all the pioneering adventures had in this area since Captain Cook sighted these lands aboard the Endeavour in May 1770.
Our own adventuring is considerably more refined. We borrow a couple of Camp bikes and cycle to nearby Greenfields Beach with one of Paperbark’s signature picnic hampers strapped on the back fender. With pelicans wheeling overhead and a family of kookaburras watching on, we unfold the rug and graze on chicken sandwiches, frittatas, fresh juices and friands, all packed in camping tins and wrapped in brown paper tied with string. It’s unpretentious and delicious. So too the sundowner cocktails and nibbles we enjoy aboard a cruise on the creek that night.
Paperbark’s acclaimed treetop diner the Gunyah, with its ochre inlay, is a fine place to contemplate the simple things in life. There’s a fire roaring for chilly nights, a wraparound balcony for sunny mornings and a fairy-lights-lit arena of tables and sofas where Chilean chef Emilio and young protégé Maximilano artfully bang pans for guests and public alike. Paella nights are particularly famous hereabouts. Appetites are whet with a fresh plump oyster and a sublimely zesty ceviche of prawn, salmon and kingfish before the big pan sparks up from the corner of the dining room and the chefs dole out delicious smoky portions of slow-cooked chorizo, shellfish and chicken with snap peas strewn throughout and salads on the side.
Perched at the Gunyah, a pisco sour at hand and the southern stars overhead, the calming balm of the wilderness and its gentle, untameable rhythms wrap us up and hold us close. Even though phone reception and WiFi exist at Paperbark, it seems obscene to break the spell. For Mrs Smith and I, it’s great not to have a phone in our pockets, an email pressing or even a watch on our wrists. Instead we read, write by hand, talk, kiss and think. Paperbark is that sort of place. Its secret history is written in the waters and stones, the flora and fauna. By camping out, treading lightly and breathing deeply, we take a leaf out of the Paperbark book and feel the great outdoors for all its greatness.