Woollamia, Australia

Photo: Paperbark Camp
Photo: Paperbark Camp

As someone who has camped your entire life, you’re used to hearing strange noises outside of your tent. Chipmunks and mice scurrying through the leaves on the ground. Owls hoo-hooing after it gets dark. Tree branches rustling when the wind picks up. Birds chirping, and then singing, as the sun begins to rise. And, eventually, other campers waking up, making breakfast, and packing. But now you hear a new—and startling—noise. It sounds like people are fighting.

After listening to the scuffle for a few minutes, you nervously pull back the flap of your tent to peek through the insect screen. You see slapping, kicking, and tangled limbs. The fighters aren’t who you expect, though. They’re not drunk men stumbling back after a long night or little kids fighting over a toy. They’re kangaroos.

You’re at Paperbark Camp in New South Wales. The Jervis Bay bush retreat is less than three hours from Sydney. Many daytrippers drive south to see the gorgeous beaches in the drowned river valley. Humpback whales rest in the sheltered bay during migration season, while fur seals and little penguins live on the rocky islands just offshore. You opted to stay when you saw not only the deserted beaches and the amazing animals, but also the pristine scuba-diving spots and the national parks filled with hiking trails.

Photo: Paperbark Camp
Photo: Paperbark Camp

The surprises continued when you arrived at the camp. Paperbark Camp’s 12 canvas tents sit between eucalyptus and broad-leaved paperbark trees. Screeching kookaburras and cockatoos fly overhead. Eastern grey kangaroos and possums roam the grounds. While torches light up the paths between the tents and Gunyah, the communal lounge, after dark.

But that’s where Paperbark Camp’s similarities to a regular campsite end. The stilted tents have wraparound decks, polished hardwood floors, and solar-powered lighting. Open-air bathrooms have views of the starry sky and animals heading toward the creek. Sugar gliders float between the trees as you sip a sundowner on Gunyah’s veranda. While three-course gourmet dinners—which might include beetroot carpaccio, confit pork belly, and orange-ginger-carrot sorbet—are served by candlelight.

Now you’re sitting on your tent’s deck, sipping a cup of single-origin coffee. Soon you’ll return to Gunyah for breakfast. Then you might canoe down the creek or ride a bike to the beach. But right now, you’re fascinated by the kangaroos rummaging through the nearby bush. Even if their fighting did wake you up this morning.

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