Twenty-five years ago, the term “glamping” was yet to be coined. So in 1999, when Jeremy and Irena Hutchings established Paperbark Camp near Jervis Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales, their friends thought they were nuts.
The Hutchings had travelled extensively in Africa during the ’80s and loved the safari-style accommodation they encountered there. “They started dreaming of doing a similar thing in Australia,” says their daughter, Camilla Hamilford. “It took a few years to work up the courage to give up their jobs in the city and pursue their dreams, but it ended up being the best thing they’ve ever done.”
Paperbark Camp quickly became a success, and in the years since it launched, luxury camping (aka glamping) has become a familiar concept, and it’s only growing in popularity.
Today, Hamilford’s brother Ben Hutchings is Paperbark Camp’s general manager, while Hamilford serves as sales and marketing manager. “But I’ve been known to wash dishes, make cocktails and make beds,” she says. “It’s a small family business so we tend to muck in as needed.”
One of the reasons for Paperbark Camp’s enduring popularity? Its pristine bush setting. Visitors drive down an 800-metre dirt track that cuts through forested wetlands before arriving at the site, which is located on the banks of the tranquil Currambene Creek.
Dotted among the lofty eucalypts and prolific paperbark trees are luxury canvas safari-style tents, each with polished hardwood floors, wraparound outdoor decks, private ensuites, and insect screens to keep the bugs out. In the heart of the complex is the Gunyah, a treehouse which serves as Paperbark’s dining room, reception, lounge area and outdoor deck. “It’s a full storey off the ground,” says Hamilford.
A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney, Paperbark is also a stone’s throw from some of the South Coast’s most prized white-sand beaches. It’s surrounded by three national parks, and the camp provides canoes, kayaks, bikes and stand-up paddleboards for guests to explore the bush and waterways.
Paperbark Camp, which has Ecotourism Australia certification, has been a pioneer in Australia’s ecotourism industry. The elevated tents rely on sea breezes rather than air conditioning for cooling, and solar panels generate power for lighting. The restaurant’s menu is designed to minimise food miles and showcase regional produce, and the camp recently installed its own beehives.
Hamilford says sustainable development has been a natural outcome of the environment her parents sought to cultivate. They wanted to leave the bush setting as “untouched as possible”, which meant installing off-grid infrastructure such as rainwater tanks.
The camp’s advanced ecotourism accreditation requires an education component for guests around sustainability. “[It’s about] encouraging people to learn more about the natural environment they find themselves in,” says Hamilford. “It’s also encouraging them to consider their own sustainability and how they approach that in their everyday lives.”
Paperbark Camp has now been Hamilford’s second home for more than two decades. “Walking among the trees and spotting a few kangaroos grounds you,” she says. “In a time like this, it’s even more important that people spend time in nature … and hopefully that makes people think how they want to treat the planet and what we need to do to save it for future generations.”
Paperbark and RedBalloon are offering a special two-night stay in a deluxe safari tent at the luxury bush retreat, which includes a full breakfast and three-course dinner each day in the treehouse restaurant.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with RedBalloon. Discover more exclusive hospitality-based experiences to do this summer at the RedBalloon website.