It’s 7am and I have just watched the sun rise over the water from the seat of my kayak. The early morning light filters through the trees and reflects off the water’s smooth surface, creating a perfect mirror image of the surrounding forest. In the distance I hear the warble of a magpie, the creak of a branch, before silence settles over the air once again. I stop paddling and let my kayak glide with the current, basking in the stillness of the morning. It is hard to believe that less than 12 hours ago I was battling through Sydney’s Friday night rush hour, amid blaring horns, gridlock traffic and the acrid smell of burning rubber.
It’s the first week of winter and I am glamping at Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay, a two and a half hour drive south of Sydney. The camp’s 100 acres of bushland is within easy reach of three national parks, with the sleepy beach town of Huskisson just around the corner and a private creek a moment’s walk away.
Feeling the brisk morning air, I follow the winding bush track back to my accommodation. My Deluxe Safari Tent sits on a raised polished-timber deck; inside is a king-sized bed, a small tea trolley and private open-air ensuite bathroom, complete with freestanding bath, separate shower and flushing toilet. I contemplate the shower for a moment, admiring the view of the native flora, before conceding that I am not yet brave enough to remove my many layers of clothing in the bracing cold of the bathroom – or in the main tent, for that matter. The lack of electricity and the tent’s canvas walls mean that the winter chill is just as present inside the tent as it is outside. Thinking of the fireplace and breakfast buffet waiting in the main building, I forgo the shower and head out of my tent, closing it securely to keep the possums out.
The view from the balcony
The communal space of the Gunyah (an aboriginal word meaning ‘place of shelter’) provides a welcome retreat from the elements, with a roaring open fire, a 24-hour tea station and a selection of board games on offer. The walls are panelled with raw wood and decorated with sketches of local wildlife, while tall windows reveal the soaring eucalypt and paperbark trees outside.
Perhaps it’s the cool weather, or the communal spirit of camping, but during my stay the lounges around the fireplace become a social hub, with guests swapping stories, playing games and recounting the day’s discoveries with one another. Although the Gunyah is the only place in the camp with WiFi and electricity, I rarely see anybody on their phone during my stay. In fact, the electronic devices sit idly at the charging station, metres away from their owners, removing the temptation to scroll though social media feeds or check work emails.
The Gunyah Restaurant serves hearty, well executed dishes featuring fresh local produce, some of which is sourced from the camp’s own gardens. On my first morning I devour a coconut-chia pudding, a fruit salad and a plate of mixed mushrooms and eggs drizzled with blue cheese sauce (necessary fuel for a long day of biking and hiking through the national park). The seasonal dinner menu has just three choices for each course and although I initially plan to sample the majority of these during my two-night stay, the baked lamb rump and the poached pear with salted caramel cream are so good I order them two nights in a row.
After dinner each night, I fill up a hot water bottle, make a cup of tea and head to the outdoor fire pit to prepare myself for the cold of my tent. I find out what my fellow campers are up to the following day: some plan to take it easy with a massage in their tent and a picnic lunch on the beach, while others have packed schedules including a whale watching cruise in the morning before a hike through one of the national parks. Personally, I savour the luxury of having no plans at all, knowing that I will wake up with nature at my doorstep and a full day stretching out ahead of me.
When my head finally hits the pillow I fall asleep instantly, my hair smoky from the fire, my muscles tired from the day’s exertions and no sound except the gentle rustling of the paperbarks outside.