Roadtrippin’: A Weekend Of Glamping Just A Few Hours South Of Sydney
Staying cushy in the bush.
We’ve teamed up with AVIS to bring you a series of amazing tried-and-tested roadtrips around Australia and the world.
From the vast outback to our beautiful coastlines, Australia offers some of the greatest drives in the world. We’ve partnered with Avis to bring you a series of tales from the road. This time, we drove three hours south of Sydney to go glamping at Australia’s original luxury eco-camp.
I’m not really a bath person. I’ve never enjoyed them. I never understood why people would want to spend so long soaking in a tepid soup of dead skin cells, unable to turn the page of their book without getting it wet. That has never seemed relaxing to me.
But: I had never had a bath outside. Looking up at the stars, with the warm water rippled by a sea breeze. In a candle-lit, wooden-floored, open-air en suite of a luxury safari tent, hidden by trees in an eco resort right in the middle of the bush.
Paperbark Camp is a luxury safari-style eco-resort – or a “glamping” spot for people who indulge it – which has been run by the Hutchings family since it was opened by Irene and Jeremy in 1999.
Situated on a beautiful plot of bushland in Jervis Bay, fronting right onto a creek, it was a less lavish affair back then: just a handful of sturdy safari tents inspired by the accommodation they’d enjoyed on trips to Africa. Now run by their son Ben, who took it over from first one older sister and then the other, Paperback’s offering has more than doubled: the dozen private tents now increase in poshness and size as they increase in price, dappled around the acclaimed Gunyah Restaurant – which is well worth a visit in itself.
So here’s how you get there.
Saturday morning: The drive begins
According to Google Maps, the drive from Sydney will take you roughly two and a half hours from the conveniently-located World Square Avis pick-up centre. But leave four, because burgers.
The first leg of the drive will take you down the Princes Highway, across the Georges River and past Sutherland, until you’re hugging the Royal National Park on one side and Heathcote National Park on the other. It’s one of those great things about Sydney that you can drive for 45 minutes from the CBD and be right in the middle of the bush; the Toyota Camry that Avis gave us navigated the trip with the kind of ease and comfort that makes getting lost repeatedly a whole lot less stressful.
Stop at Shoalhaven if you want to visit some wineries or Wollongong if you need a coffee (Lee and Me, 87 Crown Street), and then continue for another hour down what is now the M1, until you hit Kiama. Park on Terralong Street and walk a few blocks up Manning Street, to Kabari Bar.
The newly-renovated space is the perfect balance of Sydney foodie café and beachside eatery, with ocean views, a bar upstairs, and a street-facing kiosk out front that serves fish and chips to go, and excellent coffee (The Grounds). Inside, the restaurant menu is modern Australian in the same vein as most inner-city brunch spots (smashed avocado; chai porridge; twice-cooked grain fed duck), but I strongly recommend the wagyu burger with caramelised onion on a soft damper roll. (If you’re feeling revolting, the King Kabari is the same thing but with pulled pork, pineapple, beetroot, bacon and an egg.)
Saturday afternoon: Paperbark Camp
To get to Paperbark Camp, drive past Berry Mountain, through Bomaderry and Nowra, and past the Currambene Forest. Turn left off the Princes Highway onto Jarvis Bay Road, and take a couple more lefts until you’re suddenly deep in the bush, way past the Paperbark Camp sign, and have to turn back to find it.
The first thing you’ll be struck by is a pervading sense of calm. With only 12 tents across the 100 acre property, you’re unlikely to bump into many more holiday-goers anywhere outside of the Gunyah Restaurant, which also doubles as the front desk and bar. After a buggy collected us and our bags, we were shown to our new abode: the Deluxe Safari Tent (from $520pn).
They aren’t really tents, of course. The walls may be canvas, but it’s the resilient kind of canvas; the floors are polished hardwood, the bed is resort-quality, and there’s storage space, an outdoor deck, and an open-air bathroom in which you will inevitably change your mind about baths. (If you want to go super fancy, the King Deluxe goes from as little as $590 pn and can accommodate up to six people.)
Ben Hutchings, the Camp’s current manager, has been at Paperbark for close to seven years. “I was always very proud of my parents and what they’d achieved,” he tells me. “Their friends thought they were crazy leaving their safe, secure jobs to start a safari camp – it was the first of its kind in Australia. No one really understood the whole proposition.”
The Paperbark site encompasses a variety of walking trails through mangrove, gum and paperbark forests that house way more kangaroos than I have ever seen up close. The land is looked after by a permaculturist and groundsman, who have taken care to interpret and respond to the native, natural environment – it’s meticulously manicured but somehow still has the wonderful chaos that Aussie bushland does so well – with crafted walks that seem like they’ve been part of the land forever.
“Hospitality is always about controlling the environment, so you can deliver a consistent experience,” Ben says. “And we’re trying to provide a luxury experience in an environment which can be completely unpredictable – from bushfires and extreme heat to two-metre-deep floods. Operating Paperbark Camp is challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun … That’s just life here on the coast.”
Saturday evening: Gunyah Restaurant
Designed by acclaimed Sydney architects Nettleton Tribe, the Gunyah Restaurant is an incredible structure, all wood everything, nestled high off the ground and wrapped by a verandah like some kind of enormous and well-catered treehouse. The Chillean-born chef, Emilio Erazo, trained with some of the best chefs in the world, including Ferran Adria of el Bulli in Spain; he’s known for unique takes on modern Australian staples, with a South American twist. The set menus range from $55-70, with $30 for paired wines, but we were there on a Sunday which was paella night – and boy does he know his way around seafood.
After that, go back to your camp. Light the candles. Run the bath. Make it bubbly. Lie in it for an hour, listening to the birds and looking at the stars. Retire.
Sunday morning: Breakfast
After a breakfast buffet of seasonal fruits, granola, toast and eggs cooked-to-order, take another of the walks down to the water.
Your accommodation comes with free paddleboard-, canoe- and kayak-hire. If you’re fit enough, you can canoe all the way to the neighbouring town of Huskisson – but we made it about as far as some ducks before losing all feeling in our arms and deciding it was much more peaceful to just sit in the boat and look at the sky until it was time to check out.
Sunday afternoon: Drive home
The drive back to Sydney should be all about the beaches.
Culburra is a half hour drive from the camp, through the Currambene State Forest; it’s good for swimming, surfing and fishing and close to the coastal Lake Wollumboola, for sailing, wind surfing and water skiing.
But if your arms still hurt from the canoeing and all you want is a feed, get on to the Princes Highway, drive all the way up to Wollongong, and sit on the grassy knoll looking over the beach, eating fish and chips and salad from Levendi.
(The writer was a guest of Paperbark Camp.)
Avis car hire is the perfect way to make more of your holiday. Roadtrips give you the opportunity to see different sides of your destination. With such freedom, the possibilities are truly limitless.