Across the Australian countryside, clusters of bell tents are popping up with all the trimmings of a boutique hotel. With ceilings high enough to allow you to stand, these tents come fully furnished with luxury bedding, rugs and cushions, seating and bedside tables. There’s often even a front-door mat.
Luxury camping is now commonplace at music festivals across the country, and is on the rise as an accommodation option for weddings, corporate functions and as a recreational activity in its own right.
The concept may not be new, but its time has most definitely arrived. Ben Hutchings is the director of Paper Bark Camp, a luxury camping bush retreat and restaurant in Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast. When his parents opened it in 1999, modelled on the safari camps of Africa, there was nothing else like it in Australia.
Today, Paper Bark Camp is thriving, but planning controls surrounding bush-fire legislation and the native vegetation act have stopped the camp expanding as its owners would have liked.
Out of frustration, Hutchings launched Flashcamp – one of the main providers of luxury camping at festivals – with a business partner two and a half years ago. “We found a way of executing glamorous camping nationwide, without having to go through the rigmarole of the development process,” he explains.
Since then, several other companies have emerged: their founders each perceiving a gap in the market and bringing their own style to it. If you have an event or wedding in Victoria, Homecamp will get the jump on the location and set up camp for you. Happy Glamper does the same in designated campgrounds on the Mornington Peninsula and in New South Wales, and The Avant-Garde Camping Company has permits to stay in National Parks on the Hawkesbury River and in the Blue Mountains.
Homecamp’s original line of business is in creating quality camping goods. “The events side happened a little by accident,” says director Stephanie Francis. “We started receiving enquiries for camp accommodation before we’d even launched the website. There was an obvious need and interest there, and we ran with it.”
The demand is ever growing. When The Avant-Garde Camping Company started out, its founder, Jennah Hallam, had just one tent. “Now I’ve got 35 and another 50 on the way.”
Camping in any form wouldn’t be camping without dinner over a campfire, and these operators have found ways to elevate the experience beyond baked beans.
“Most of the time, our clients are happy to bring an Esky with their own food and we supply the campfire, utensils and cutlery,” says Hallam. “But we can tee up with the local butcher and organise meats if [the guests] would like that, or bring in a chef with some pre-prepped meals – it could be a roast dinner or a curry – and cook them over the campfire.”
“People are attracted to the idea of being in nature, enjoying the outdoors and experiencing that lovely feeling of sleeping in a tent, but they are not necessarily interested in roughing it, eating crap food and having to do the setting up and packing down,” says Francis, of the spike in demand for glamping. “There is certainly a resurgence of interest in ‘slow living’, whether that be camping, growing and cooking real food, creativity, learning skills or yoga.”
Already, we’re seeing these experiences being combined: Happy Glamper is already honing in on the idea with The Slow Camp. “It’s a series of intimate weekend gatherings designed to help people create, connect and unwind via camping,” says owner Jessie Curtis-Griffiths.
Hutchings hopes the idea continues to evolve. “What I’d like to see is these experiences becoming a focal point of the weekend, rather than supporting a music festival or a corporate event. Then you tack on associated activities such as kayaking, great food and wine tasting. People in Australia aren’t stupid when it comes to hospitality, they have high expectations.”
One organisation that has already taken the concept and run with it is Victoria’s Heide Musuem of Modern Art. “As part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival next year, we are collaborating on a new event called Camp Out at Heide,” says director and CEO, Kirsty Grant.
“It will include a private exhibition tour by Shannon Bennett and curator Kendrah Morgan; a dinner inspired by fresh produce from the gardens, with matched wines; a night-walk through the gardens with our head gardener; and camping overnight in Heide’s beautiful grounds.”