Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Weekend Life....Paperbark Camp, Jervis Bay, NSW, Australia

Paperbark Camp, Jervis Bay, NSW, Australia, early May 2015

There is something entirely magical about sleeping in a luxury tent under a canopy of paperbark trees at the aptly named Paperbark Camp. And even more so in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. Tucked under the covers of our wonderfully warm bed, with feet cozying up to hot water bottles, the rhythmic thrum of soaking rain against the canvas tent lulls me into a restful sleep. Waking briefly in the early hours of the morning, the rain heavier than ever, I entertain fleeting thoughts that we might be bobbing along the nearby creek “Noah’s Ark style” by first light.  Thankfully, waking to a chorus of birdsong rather than the patter of rain, I unzip our tent and declare that we are still on terra firma. The luxury Bushtec safari tents have held up brilliantly. Stepping outside onto our veranda, I breathe in the clean, crisp early morning air: it is thick with ozone from the storm, the minty tang of eucalyptus melding with the rich, earthy scent of the Australian bush. Movement to the right catches my eye: a trio of very waterlogged kangaroos emerge from the scrub, their soggy coats almost black from the overnight downpour. Descending the steps of our tent with my camera, I stealthily creep towards them. Clearly not stealthily enough as the kangaroos bound off without a backward glance! Admitting wildlife photography defeat (again!)*, I set out to explore Paperbark Camp.

Situated on 40 hectares of bushland on the banks of Currambene Creek in Jervis Bay on the stunning South Coast of New South Wales, I marvel at the diversity of the native trees and botanicals. Mangrove forests border towering silvery-grey eucalyptus, paperbark trees, with their distinctive thick papery bark, rise from the mossy bush floor while tall spiky grasses and frothy ferns waver in the morning breeze. Navigating the giant puddles of water (I should have packed wellies**!), I make my way past some of the 12 guest tents to the heart of Paperbark Camp, The Gunyah. Aboriginal for meeting place or place of shelter, it is where guests gather each morning for lazy breakfasts over the morning papers, warm up by the log fire (in winter), and enjoy late afternoon drinks on the deck below the canopy of trees before settling in for dinner at the restaurant. Clearly the resident wildlife are schooled in the meaning of Gunyah too: I catch up with my three kangaroo friends underneath the Gunyah verandah. This time I don’t raise my camera but am simply content to stand and watch them graze…. sometimes special moments are best remembered rather than captured on camera.

Back on the veranda of our tent, I curl up on a recliner with a mug of coffee (a thermos of hot water is thoughtfully delivered to the tent every morning) and listen to a duet between two loved-up whipbirds, the distinctive whip crack echoing through the trees and leaving me in no doubt I am in the Aussie bush.  Contemplating our safari tent, it strikes me that Paperbark Camp offers just the right level of laid-back luxury: it still feels like camping (there is no electricity, for example, although there is solar powered lighting and most importantly, a flushing loo) but there are no prone-to-deflation-at-any-moment air mattresses or damp, musty sleeping bags in sight.  Instead, cosy wool doonas and Bambooku bamboo linen on pillowy beds, polished wood floors, beautifully scented Native Australian soaps and lotions, and fabulous free-standing tubs in open-air bathrooms (with plenty of steaming hot water in which to soak). And while Paperbark Camp is all about disconnecting from the outside world in the beautiful Australian bush, wifi and electricity for charging gadgets is available in the Gunyah. So you can choose just how much unwinding you want to do!

To do:

The Jervis Bay area is breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly diverse.  Stay a week at Paperbark Camp and you still won’t feel like you have seen it all. Pristine white beaches (Hyams Beach reputedly has some of the whitest sand in the world, if not the whitest), secret places to swim in clear turquoise water with just dolphins for company, sleepy seaside towns (admittedly these might not feel so sleepy during the Australian summer holidays!), and bushwalking in no less than three National Parks.

At Paperbark Camp, canoes and SUP’s are available for guests wanting an aquatic adventure on Currambene Creek, while bikes can be borrowed to cycle into the pretty seaside village of Huskisson (stop for a restorative drink at the “Husky” pub before grabbing your treadly to head back home to camp).

We had booked a Eco Hidden Secrets boat trip with Dolphin Watch Jervis Bay but the blustery, wet weather conspired against us and we decided against going. It is always nice to save something lovely for next time anyway!

Further afield, the verdant farming land of Kangaroo Valley is a delight to drive through: rolling mist, lush pasture, the pretty namesake town of Kangaroo Valley (don’t miss taking a walk over historic Hampden Bridge – we spied some teenagers having fun with surfboards in the wake of the weir***) and beautiful rainforests.  If you are driving from Sydney as we did, take the atmospheric Grand Pacific Drive on the way down (the Royal National Park is spectacular in the early morning – we were lucky enough to see a lyrebird scurrying across the road) and, on the way back, take the Kangaroo Valley route.

Eat + Drink

One of the big draws of Paperbark Camp (apart from the unique location) is the food. Skillfully prepared by Chilean chef Emilio Erazo, dinners in the Gunyah Restaurant are sophisticated and innovative. Emilio draws on the zippy flavors of his native South America (citrus, chilli, coriander) pairing them with fresh Australian produce, sourcing local ingredients as much as possible (vegetables and herbs come from Paperbark Camp’s own vegetable and herb garden which is nestled at the base of a eucalypt forest). Standout dishes included a slow-cooked alpaca rack with lemon myrtle and sea spray (I wimped out on the alpaca and had the lamb substitute but was told the alpaca was delicious!), crispy skin kingfish with chilli reduction, seaweed emulsion and finger lime, and a beautifully balanced coconut rice pudding with pineapple sorbet.

Breakfasts (included in the nightly tariff) are wonderfully indulgent….and a chance for early morning kangaroo peeping from the windows of the Gunyah restaurant. Fresh fruit, homemade granola with poached pears and tart rhubarb compote, thick creamy yoghurt, runny, floral-y comb honey, pots of chia seed pudding, followed by a cooked-to-order hot dish (poached eggs, sautéed mixed mushrooms, wilted spinach and goats cheese on toasted sourdough was a highlight).

Hyams Beach Cafe & General Store.  After a dip at Hyams Beach, grab a coffee, lunch or sweet afternoon pick-me-up at this breezy cafe. We only stopped in for a quick coffee but the food going to the tables looked delicious. 

Berry Sourdough Café & Milkwood Bakery. A must-stop for brekky or lunch if you are driving down from Sydney to Paperbark Camp. The Sourdough Café is set in a pretty whitewashed building with a dreamy magnolia tree right outside (in full bloom when we visited). We had the best eggs benedict I think I have ever eaten, excellent flat whites, and purchased a sourdough loaf for a picnic lunch at Paperbark Camp the next day.  Tucked just behind the café is a very sweet homewares store called The Picnic Shed, run by the owners of The Sourdough Café and Bakery. A beautiful space with lots of lovely things to browse (and buy!).

The Famous Berry Donut Van, Berry. Another must-stop in Berry for hot, sugary cinnamon donut-y sustenance for the drive south.  A Berry institution that shouldn’t be missed, paleo diets be damned for the day!

Grab a take-away coffee (Allpress beans) from Little Rae General Store, a gorgeous café and homewares store on the main street of Berry. Shelves are stocked with In Bed Store’s fabulous washed linen (I have been coveting these for some time now), beautiful, simple ceramics, Australian hardwood “stump” stools (perfect for a relaxed bedside table or side table in the lounge), jams by Lynwood Preserves and lovely big leather-handled woven baskets.

A couple of shops along from Little Rae, is the pretty Moss Nest florist. I picked up some little glass bottle vases, florist scissors and wooden handled secateurs to bring back to London.

* Recurring theme. See my past kangaroo photographing attempts here.

**There were murmurs that we had brought the British weather with us to Australia!

***Probably really dangerous but they seemed to know what they were doing!

We were guests of Paperbark Camp.