Pack Your Designer Bags for an Australian Safari
June 17, 2015
If you’re after a peaceful break, but have an adventurous streak, love the outdoors, but dislike the discomforts that are often associated with the wilderness and want to try something different, but tried and tested, I’ve found the destination for you. It’s called Paperbark Camp and it’s a 2-hour drive south of Sydney Airport, in Australia’s pristine Jervis Bay.
LET’S GO CAMPING.
When an opportunity to review a camping experience in Australia arose, I won’t hide the fact that I was reluctant to go. Not only is it winter in Australia, but I also have an aversion to camping. Can you blame me? Stones underneath the mattress, burnt camping food, cold nights and heavy bags are ingredients for increasing rather than relieving stress. And why would anyone willingly select a holiday that leaves them more sleep deprived and less relaxed than when they arrived?
While this sentiment may have been fitting for traditional camping, it demonstrated my ignorance of glamorous camping, commonly known as “glamping.”Glamping, as its name suggests, combines the comforts of a luxurious abode with the beauty of nature. It’s the ultimate luxury retreat. And it’s catching on like an Australian bushfire. So much so that usage of the word “glamping” increased by 98% in global social media last year. ( ref: Salesforce Marketing Cloud).
As popularity for glamping grows, specialist glamping agencies are rising to meet the demand. Glamping Hub is one of the most prominent, listing 64 “glamps” in Australia alone. As you would expect, the key visual on the Australian page features one of the country’s most sought after glamps, the pioneers of glamping in Australia: Paperbark Camp.
The drive down from Sydney to Paperbark Camp is a scenic trip, weaving through farmlands, with views of majestic coastlines. Hiring a car from Sydney Airport will give you the flexibility to enjoy the journey at your own pace. Alternatively, if convenience and efficiency is what you’re after, Paperbark can organise a shuttle when you book your stay.
If you spend most of your time in a city, like me, you’ll be struck by the clean air, clear skies and quiet environment, as soon as you step foot on Paperbark’s grounds. We arrived at night and were overwhelmed by the dazzling expansive canvas of stars overhead. The rustling eucalypts, Australian cicadas and wide open bush soon made us forget the artificial lights, sounds and general mayhem of city life.
Upon entering reception, we met our hosts, who treated us like family members for the duration of our stay. The first words they uttered were “make yourselves at home” and their departing words, upon checking out, were “you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.” If we could have, we would have taken them up on the offer and stayed for the rest of the week. But then we may have never returned to the city.
After checking in, we were offered an electric-powered buggy ride to our tent. This was one of the features, which demonstrated Paperbark’s effective marriage of eco-friendliness with luxury. Another feature was the elegant electric lighting inside the tent, powered exclusively by solar energy.
The tents themselves are large canvas fixtures with permanent wooden decking installments. There are several options available, including 8 Original Safari tents and 4 Deluxe Safari tents. The latter boast freestanding baths and large extended verandahs. We also discovered that there is one King-Size Deluxe tent, which sleeps 6 people and can be arranged, upon request, for a couple. According to manager Ben Hutchings, whose parents opened Paperback Camp in 1998, this tent is for “Those couples who are looking for something a little extra. It’s also a great option for honeymooners.”
Upon probing further, I discovered that the entire campsite is also available for exclusive use. Ben informed me that Paperbark has “Sole-use rates available upon request and can cater menus to the specific groups, host parties for them and generally put on an ultra-special weekend for them.” It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate place for a luxurious birthday bush bash.
Despite the ultra-luxurious options available, our Deluxe tent was more than adequate. The large canvas tent offered all of the comforts and privacy that you would expect at a hotel, with a quality Queen bed and mattress, luxury cotton linen and towels, bathrobes, a bathroom en suite and, of course, hot water. Admittedly, the tent was not as luxurious as some five-star hotels, but the living and sleeping spaces were very comfortable and that was more than I expected. Besides, Paperbark’s primary charm is the unique, stylish camping experience that it offers. Picture yourself lying in a large candle-lit bath in the middle of the Australian bush, while listening to the sounds of nature outside. Five-star hotels pale in comparison.
WHERE ARE THE ANIMALS?
Having lived in South Africa for many years, the first thing I think when I read the word “safari” is: what animals will I see?
I can assure you that even if you have explored the best safaris on the planet, you’ll be impressed with Paparbark’s offerings. The first animals of note that we saw were a family of kangaroos, which came up to our verandah in the morning. We watched them eat, groom and play several feet in front of us; something that you’ll never see in Africa.
We also explored the outskirts of the camp on the bikes and canoes available for guests. Our adventure revealed an even greater diversity of fauna, from parrots flying above the trees to possums scurrying along the ground.
Once we had explored our glamping grounds, we set off by car to Jervis Bay National Park, which is only 15 minutes away from Paperbark. One of the beaches in the bay, Hyams Beach, has the whitest sand in the world according to the Guinness World Records. It was near this beach that we were lucky enough to spot whales passing by the coast. We were also informed that whale and dolphin cruises are available in the area, offering a more intimate sea life experience.
This time, I’ve saved best for last.
My expectations of camping cuisine were not exactly high, but I am convinced that The Gunyah Restaurant at Paperbark Camp would have exceeded the highest expectation I have had for any restaurant. Not only is the space inviting, with the fire radiating heat and the restaurant perched above the trees, but the food is truly exceptional.
Breakfast is included in your stay and you can expect to be spoilt with an assortment of delectable delicacies. We started with the buffet, which offered poached pears infused with cinnamon and cloves, rhubarb compote, yoghurt, a fresh selection of fruit and Paperbark’s mouthwatering, pecan, date and coconut muesli mix. When I asked the manager whether the muesli was made in-house, his reply was “Yes it is and everyone asks us this. We’re happy to offer the recipe to our guests if they’d like.” He went on to explain that almost everything is made in-house, including jams, marmalades and sauces.
The buffet is impressive enough but that’s not all that a breakfast at The Gunyah Restaurant entails. There are also hot breakfasts available. The special that we chose was a savory pancake with chorizo sausages, a poached egg and diced avocado and tomato, all presented with the elegance and flair that you would expect at a leading international restaurant.
Dinner at The Gunyah Restaurant was equally outstanding. The menu is inspired by “modern European” cuisine and, consistent with the camps eco-driven vision, the food is sourced and prepared locally. With both of us being duck lovers we settled on two orders of the duck breast, marinated in apricot pureé and served on a bed of cous cous. A poached quince crumble followed, with ginger, cinnamon and clove flavours, accompanied by a generous scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
The cuisine is truly the cherry on the top of the Paperbark experience. The homemade touch, local ingredients and creative dishes are a recipe for overall sensory delight. Being particularly fond of food, I would happily visit the camp just for a meal at The Gunyah Restaurant.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT.
According to Ben, “Our favourite time of year is May. The area is peaceful, the days are warm and at night, when you’re not huddled around the campfire with a glass of red, you’ll look into the sky and the galaxy feels so close you can touch it!”
Indeed, it was like this in June, but I imagine every time of the year has its own charm, bar July and August, when the camp is closed for midwinter.
My recommendation is to make the trip as soon as possible. It’s an exceptional experience and one that would be unwise to postpone. Besides, the sooner you glamp, the less bitter you’ll be when you realise what you’ve been missing out on!