I’m going to say it straight out. I’m not much of a camper. That’s not to say I haven’t been camping. I have two children, of course I’ve been dragged out into the Aussie bush and made to pitch tents and sit in the hot sun with no shade while the kids rolled around in dirt and then brought it back inside the tent to sleep as we ate an appetising dinner of charred lumps of meat.
The bit that bothers me the most, is the bit nobody wants to talk about - the toilet situation. For some reason every time we’ve been camping it hasn’t been to a site with a block of toilets. The toilet is always a port-a-loo (and we know how utterly fun they are to use) or a compost toilet which by the end of one particularly long weekend of 30 people using it, I simply refused to go and held on until we drove the half hour to the nearest petrol station. Precious? No. Just clean. And okay, not exactly a good camper.
But a glamper? I’m mildly intrigued. It’s because I like the idea of camping - open skies, quiet bushland and no digital reception really does bring out the best in everybody. It’s the reality of the dirty tent floor because I’ve forgotten a broom and the fact that our tent is boiling hot with no outdoor shade and the mattresses we bought at the camping store do not blow up to feel like regular mattresses no matter what the sales guy promised. It’s all of that - and the toilets - that really bug me.
So when the opportunity came up to visit Paperbark Camp, the original glamping destination on the dreamy NSW South Coast, I wanted to try it. Could this be the camping I was looking for?
Arriving in style
It started out with a drive in the new Kia Sportage down to Jervis Bay. The drive was great - smooth and effortless. I felt confident driving it all the way down from Sydney because it handles so well, and also has new safety features like lane departure alerts which are particularly helpful on a long drive. With Apple CarPlay we listened to podcasts the whole way down. Our bags fit easily into the boot which is plenty big enough for a family of four or more, and is a good height off the ground to get luggage in and out of. The kids had loads of room in the backseat which really helps when you’re on a long drive and you want to avoid that bickering which comes when children are in each other’s space. They liked having their own cupholders to pop water bottles in and appreciated the storage in the doors as well - it was a good place to stash their My Little Ponys.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Paperbark, but I did get a pleasant surprise. Elevated tents on a cabin-like structure with a porch at the front and shade, glorious shade, over two day beds. This is instantly about a thousand times better than regular camping. Look inside the oversized tent and you’ll see a bed. Did I say that enthusiastically enough? A BED! Behind the bed and a wall of privacy is an actual bath, a TOILET! And a shower. Yes, really. They’re open to the bush surrounding the tent and you feel like you’re bathing outdoors which is a nice touch. The kids can sleep on a mattress on the floor which is also a step up from the actual ground on a regular camping trip.
There are 11 tents at Paperbark and all are far enough apart to feel like you’re alone. To be able to have the quiet of the bush, but not have to sleep on the ground on a dodgy camping mattress that gives you four hours sleep if you’re lucky, is an excellent experience. You still get what you came for: the silence, the digital detox, the sounds of the bush, the open air, the stars, bathing outside and all of the escapism that comes with it. But you also get a large, comfortable bed, shade from the hot sun and a spot to relax, plus the cleanliness of your own bathroom.
Camp cuisine with no washing up
Oh, and someone to cook for you. Breakfast and dinner is on site at the Gunyah restaurant where a cook has actually made delicious meals rather than you cranking up the portable stove to pop on a few snags and then be left with cold sausage fat to clean with cold water (it’s as joyous as it sounds). Then you can hang out with other campers in front of the fire and relax while the kids get social.
Something for everyone
Activities can be as quiet as a canoe in the on-site creek or a bike ride around the bush while you spot the local wallabies - the children really enjoyed the wildlife spotting and we even had an adventurous squirrel come and visit our tent.
Or you can get in the car (I had the trusty and stylish Kia Sportage) and drive to one of the many beaches the South Coast has to offer. Hyams Beach is only 20 minutes away and we stopped for lunch at the very good Hyams Beach Store and Cafe. Even in winter the beach is beautiful and it’s such a nice thing to have some thoughtful downtime on the whitest sand in the world. Parking is easy back at Paperbark, with only 11 other families ever there at the one time, you could never call it busy.
The kids love camping, so I’m glad I don’t have to be the wet blanket of the family anymore. But it definitely makes a difference when you don’t have to pitch your own tent and trek with the kids to the toilet in the middle of the night. I’ve finally found a camp that I actually want to go to.