Thursday 12 May 2011

Paperbark Camp-ing

Picture a tent. Unzip the front flaps and inside there's...a queen-sized bed, made up with eco-linen and a wool doona (Australian for "duvet"), draped in a white mosquito net. Underfoot, a hardwood floor. Behind the bed, an ensuite with a hot shower and a claw-footed bath, open to the surrounding bush.

Last weekend we treated ourselves to a much-needed eco-escape at the lovely Paperbark Camp at Jervis Bay, three hours’ drive south of Sydney. Don't get me wrong, I love pitching my own tent, and making dinner on a portable stove but, with winter drawing near, we thought it'd be nice to try out a camping experience that's a bit more cosy...

Our tent: Kookaburra
Inspired by safari-style tented camps in Africa, Paperbark’s owners Irena and Jeremy Hutchings pioneered the whole “luxury tented camp” experience in 1998. There’s even a rumour that a British writer coined the term “glamping” (short for "glamorous camping") after visiting Paperbark a few years ago. Not that the Hutchings family (son Ben now manages the place) cares about any of that. Which is a good thing: it's still a small, but wonderfully comfortable, bush camp.

Arrived just on dark on Friday night (after having a surf on the way down, at a little seaside town rather uninvitingly named Crookhaven), and settled into one of Paperbark’s 12 tents. Ben told us not to leave any food in our tent overnight – because of small marsupials called antechinus, and possums (returning to our tent later, we did indeed find a young possum on the verandah, a teabag in its paws). There are kangaroos and wallabies around too. And birds galore. In fact that’s one of the best things about Paperbark: waking up to the bird life.

Saturday morning started with a cacophony of kookaburras, followed by all sorts of tweets (the real kind) and a bird that sounded like a typewriter (there I go thinking about work again).

The other "best" thing about Paperbark is its location. Jervis Bay is one of the beauty spots of the NSW coast and still as low-key as when I used to camp there with my family as a kid. 

Dolphin off the port bow!
Saturday morning, we rode a couple of Paperbark’s bikes (trying to minimise driving) to the nearby township of Huskisson for a Dolphin Watch cruise, aboard an 11m catamaran-yacht called "Discover". It's too early in the season to see whales (which sometimes come into the bay) but we did see plenty of the 85 resident bottlenose dolphins: porpoising around our bows (see the video clip here), feeding on a reef off Hyams Beach (rumoured to have the whitest sand in the world) and swimming around us. We swam too, from boat to beach (the water's still 21 degrees, in May!) and rolled in the sand, which is as fine as icing sugar, before returning to the cat for an on-deck hot shower. Mmmm. 

The Gunyah
Back at Paperbark that night, we sat around a campfire before dinner in the fairy-lit restaurant, The Gunyah (Aboriginal for "bush hut"). The chef features organic and local produce wherever possible and that night we had kingfish caught in the bay, local oysters and kangaroo (if you’re not Australian and/or think it's odd to eat one of our national emblems, kangaroo meat has a smaller environmental footprint than beef.) 

Canoeing Currambene Creek
It was pretty chilly in the tent overnight - I can see why they close over winter - though Paperbark's thoughtful staff issued us with a hot water bottle each before we retired. Mmmm again.

Sunday morning we woke at first light and took one of the camp's cheerily orange canoes for a paddle on the creek. So peaceful. Mist rose from the mirror-smooth water, that reflected the world back at itself. Dewdrops sparkled on the banks. The morning’s golden light filtered through tall gum trees. A kingfisher with blue wings flitted down from the branch of a paperbark tree. 

Mel, and her van, post-paddle
Then, breakfast (the best home-made muesli I have ever tasted, followed by locally smoked salmon with poached eggs). Then, back in Huskisson, where we met up with happy Mel from Jervis Bay Stand Up Paddle and rented a couple of paddleboards. The swell was so big over the weekend that there were waves in the bay, which we surfed on the SUPs, for almost three hours. I've never had so much fun getting so much exercise. Surprisingly, given that it was a sunny Sunday morning, there were only half a dozen other surfers and paddleboarders out there, all easy-going and chatty and fine about sharing their waves with a couple of city slickers. 

Home-time came too soon, but two days of aquatic adventures – surfing, sailing, swimming, canoeing and paddleboarding – and the chance to "glamp" was pure, natural heaven. 

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