Destination: Paperbark Camp

Veer off of the beaten path and you might find yourself “glamping” in the Australian bush…

This post comes to us from our Australian contributor, Natalie Shukur.

One of the most glorious things about the Australian coast is that, if you have a propensity for veering a little off the beaten path, you can find stretches of white sand and expanses of aqua ocean all to yourself. The beaches here are endless and plentiful. Of course, the iconic city spots such as Sydney’s Bondi beach, when viewed from above, are covered with colorful specks of people in their bathing suits soaking up the sun, and surfers in the water that appear like a swarm of ants in their black wetsuits. Yet there’s always a little cove or bay not too far around the corner where you can feel like you’re marooned in your own private paradise.

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If you want to truly experience Australia’s rugged, untapped coastline and intoxicating bush land, jump in the car and drive out to the city’s sleepy surrounds, which I decided to do on a spontaneous Monday in March. Armed with a block of raw chocolate and kombucha for the ride (plus a motley playlist that jumped from Ethiopian rhythms to Iggy Pop), my friend Laura-May and I road-tripped two and-a-half hours south of Sydney towards Jervis Bay for a night of luxury in the Australian bush at Paperbark Camp.

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The term “glamping” has become a bit of an exhausted expression, and to dismiss the vibe at Paperbark Camp as something so frivolous would be doing it a disservice. The tented bush encampment in a tranquil, cozy setting is located in the Shoalhaven region, with a multitude of pristine beaches, national parks (three, no less) and nature trails to discover along the way. African safari tents are perched up on platforms amongst the eponymous paperbark trees, and the family-run business is an eco-tourism pioneer with architecture and sustainable practices in sympathy with the surrounding wildlife and landscape. Everything from the bush essence-infused soaps in the bathroom to homemade gluten-free bread baked by a woman who lives down the road, are all sourced locally. There’s barely any electric lighting and zero air-conditioning, which afforded a peaceful and rejuvenating slumber with nothing but the sounds of the adjacent river to lull us to sleep and the chirps of the kookaburra to wake us up.

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We kicked off our shoes the minute we arrived and hopped into a canoe, paddling through the wetlands as the sun went down, not another soul in sight. Paperbark’s restaurant, Gunyah (aboriginal for meeting place or shelter), is lauded for its use of native ingredients and indigenous-inspired dishes. We, however, opted to go full bush baby and brought our own picnic to eat by the campfire, with a bounty of snacks that keep well on longer journeys: seeded raw crackers, crispy toasted seaweed, tahini and cilantro dip, and chopped organic veggies. Paperbark is not about roughing it, though, and we happily enjoyed glasses of pinot noir from the bar. The rest of the evening was spent back at our tent on the outdoor deck drinking herbal tea out of tin mugs, gazing at the stars, and embracing the chance to completely unplug (no wifi in the tents makes this mandatory). It’s amazing how even a momentary disconnection from technology feels like a vacation in itself these days, only enhanced by the mystical stillness out in the bush. We awoke to more tea, with a hot flask of water placed outside our tent, and a hot shower overlooking the trees in our semi-alfresco bathroom. The serene deck beckoned for a few yoga asana and a meditation, before pottering across to base camp for a hot breakfast of local veggies, eggs and toast. I happily luxuriated in a perfectly made almond milk flat white, which (who am I kidding?) was totally glamping.

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Before we hit the road, we rode the camp’s cruiser bikes down to Husskisson beach, where we took a dip in the bracing blue waters before heading back to the city, content and reset, marveling at what just one night in nature can do for the body and soul, and how lucky Australians are to have it all on their doorstep.

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