Paperbark Camp, in the pristine bush of Jervis Bay, NSW, was the one place that raised eyebrows when people asked where I was headed on my Sydney trip. It was also the one place the majority of people were jealous of! I had never heard of it, but it seems it’s super-popular and everyone I talked to was dying to go, or had been and wanted to go back.
And with good reason.
I love something a bit unusual, I love being in the bush,and I love luxury accommodation. Paperbark Camp appeared to have everything I wanted (and stuff I didn’t, you can’t tell me you enjoy peeing outdoors in cold weather), and I couldn’t wait to get there.
I wasted no time making myself at home, and poking around at all the bits and pieces. Rio, the restaurant manager, whizzed me around to my room in a golf buggy after checking me in, and showed me where everything was before leaving me to settle in and inspect very closely the very open divider between bathroom and bush.
I was staying in one of the Original Safari Tents (image from their website) which was actually quite large, with a king-sized bed, couch, and other bits and pieces. I was told in no uncertain terms to use the clip on the tent zipper to lock up at night, or I’d wake up to find a possum eating my makeup, among other things. They were NOT WRONG.
With only solar-powered lights and no electricity in the tents, I was really looking forward to just sitting on that big bed and reading. I quickly made myself a little nest and settled in for the few hours before dinner, sending my husband and a friend a selfie of me later sitting under a pile of all the blankets I could find and my jumper wrapped around my face as the afternoon cooled down into night. I may have been slightly exaggerating, but with the open tent and zero heating in almost-winter, you have to be resourceful!
I did see the next day that everyone had put their canvas window-coverings down, which may have been smart, but I really wanted to wake up in the trees. Also, I was travelling alone and everyone else was in loved-up couplet sooooooo …. probs a good idea to close the blinds.
I had a dinner booking for 7pm, although the restaurant is open 24/7 for warmth, wood fire, electricity, company, cups of tea/coffee, card games and newspapers. I grabbed my key, which helpfully comes with a little torch, and set off (wrong turn included) in search of sustenance.
Dinner is not without adventure.
I took a book and several layers of clothing to the restaurant, but spent so much of my time eating and groaning I barely paid attention to either. This was the famous unbutton-the-pants-by-entree endeavour, and I earned every single bit of that food baby.
First up was a quinoa bread with rose glaze served with butter and … chilli sauce.
Sounds weird, tastes amazing – although after my first bite I sat there blinking stupidly for a bit while my brain made sense of what was in my mouth. It was incredible. I can’t describe why or how it works, I only know it does.
(ps the menu changes depending on the day, which you can see here.)
Entree was three-textured Mittagong mushrooms, which was nice, but I have a thing about mushroom texture. I kind of feel like I need some kind of bread or something crunchy to eat them with, but adding them to the rose/chilli concoction of earlier seemed a bridge too far. I did eat it all though, so it couldn’t have been too bad!
I definitely then had pretty much a second entree of baby leeks with saffron and macadamia crumbs. I made a bloody good dent in them but I was worried about fitting in my main, side, and dessert, so I stopped before my time.
I’m so sorry about those annoying phone shadows, but you get the point. My main was something I’ve never eaten in 10 years of vegetarian dining (which is a feat in itself! The same sort of stuff tends to get rotated) – a selection of grilled vegetables in potato cream with a crumbly topping of coffee and cocoa. Yes, coffee and cocoa, another odd combination my brain tried desperately to make sense of and then gave up and just enjoyed it.
Gutso me chased that up with a plate of salted dutch cream potatoes in more potato cream. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same!
Dessert I didn’t get a picture of as I was charging my poor phone but it was good and it had chai ice cream in there somewhere but I couldn’t really concentrate as I was on the verge of bursting, and bursting into tears. I don’t think I’ve ever been so full. My waitress also told me straight up that she had to google the name of the dessert as she was Irish and common and had never heard of it, let alone know how to say it.
In that moment, I’d never wanted to be Irish and common so bad in my whole life.
I think I’d make a great Irish gal, although I tend to think Scottish suits me better. Because obviously these are important things to ponder.
I was packed off to my room after eating half the restaurant with a hot water bottle and a flask of hot water so I could have a soothing digestif tea and warm my tootsies. I went to bed in pyjamas, a cardigan, and an alpaca poncho I’d packed just in case. I had a cup of tea and read my book before ducking out to brush my teeth. I slept like a baby until I was very suddenly woken by someone trying to get into my tent.
I’d like to say “just joking!” but no, I’m not. There was the distinct sound of someone attempting to unzip the tent zip but being thwarted by the zip clip (thank you zip clip! the last thing I needed was a possum facial). To add to the fun, something ran screaming through the camp right about then that sounded 97% like a female human. While I was busy trying to figure out what that was, there was something on my verandah inches from my head (no canvas window flaps down here, people!) that was banging about and making a sound that I can only describe as the sound Predator made when he stalked Arnold Schwarzenegger in the jungle. Basically EXACTLY like this.
Predator possums aside, I slept and woke up to this:
And in record time, a little delivery of this:
While I was quietly looking at this:
I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed, surprised myself by braving the outdoor shower (which wasn’t so bad in the frosty early morn!) and replied to everyone inquiring as to how I’d survived the low-temperature night outside in the elements. I think most people were half jealous, half glad it wasn’t them! Really though, it was great.
I flew in for breakfast as I had another early morning place to be a few hours’ north, so I scarfed down my food, fixed my hair in their bathrooms with their electricity, and shoved everything I owned into my suitcase in a hurried frenzy. Not before I quickly glimpsed the bikes, the kayaks, the creek, and this (which is where you’ll find me next time):
It also happens to be right next to the outdoor fire pit, where the night before people had gathered with some fairy lights and drinks and conversation and laughter. It looked and sounded rad, so I’ll definitely hang out there next time as well. I’d have loved to go for a bushwalk and a little cycle around the area (I’m crazy but I’m not so crazy to canoe in winter), as there’s so much to see.
Ack. It was so pretty. I was definitely sad to be leaving before I was ready. So sad.
You can find Paperbark Camp 2.5 hours south of Sydney, and 15 minutes’ bike ride to the beach (or you can walk!). Paperbark is an ecologically sustainable endeavour, and aims to merge with the surrounding natural environment as seamlessly as possible. They have earned the Advanced Eco Accreditation from Eco Tourism Australia, and is a member of the Eco Lodges Australia Group. They source local products and services wherever they can in addition to growing their own, and are operating with minimal impact, which you can read more about here, and enquire about a booking here.
And if you go – let me know! I’d love to hear your experiences!
I travelled as a guest of Paperbark Camp and Destination NSW. Thanks, folks!