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By Lauren Kramer

The first thing you notice about Paperbark Camp is the stillness.

There's no noise here, none of the sharp sounds we have to contend with daily, between traffic, ringing telephones and the incessant hum of computers. Utter quiet fills your ears, and as it does, you begin to hear the sounds of the bush.

The snap of a dry branch as a thrush flits to the birdbath for a drink. The curious, cheeky-sounding laugh of a kookaburra in a nearby Paperbark tree, its bark hanging in paper-like shreds from the trunk. The barely audible rustle of a kangaroo as it hops gingerly into the brush.

This is the Australian bush at its best, and where better to experience it than a luxury tented camp? With soft mattresses, feather pillows and an ensuite bathroom, this is one camping adventure where you won't wake up with a stiff neck.

The brainchild of Jeremy and Irena Hutchings, the camp was inspired by a prototype they experienced whilst traveling in Southern Africa. Determining it would work well in Australia, the couple spent years searching for the perfect location, eventually finding it two-and-a-half hours from Sydney in a few acres of untamed, pristine forest in New South Wales. They took pains to assemble their camp without harming the environment that surrounds it, ensuring that no trees were felled and that land-clearing was performed by hand and kept to a minimum.

As a result, the 12 imported, zippered khaki tents blend in seamlessly with the bush, their privacy guarded by the surrounding trees. Guests are cautioned to respect the ecotourism principles upon which the camp was founded by not wasting water, electricity and other precious resources.

At $280 a night, Paperbark Camp offers utter peace, hot showers and flush toilets beneath the stars and luxurious, soft beds complete with reading lamps and hot water bottles on cold nights. At night, an elevated glass and corrugated iron structure that houses the reception, guest lounge and restaurant and titled the Gunyah, meaning 'meeting place' in the local Aboriginal tongue, comes alive with candle-lit tables, a crackling fireplace and soft music. World-class cuisine emerges from the kitchen, and outside, a ghostly mist shrouds the peeling Paper Bark trees.

Soothing to the spirit, this camp offers the ultimate in soft adventure and romance, an environment devoid of distractions and filled with wonder as the secrets of the Australian bush reveal themselves. Like the curious possums that scamper over the tent ceilings at night, leaving toothmarks in your soap if you've left it in the shower. At daybreak, kangaroos feed quietly nearby the tents, known to occasionally startle guests with their intense gaze. And magnificent birds called Crimson Rosellas, the kind you only see in pet shops in any other country, chatter from the trees.

There's a lot to do here. You can dip the oars of a canoe or kayak into the hauntingly still waters of the Currambene Creek, which runs through the camp. We borrowed bikes and rode three kilometers to the small town of Huskisson, perusing its spectacular bakery and small gift shops. A gateway to Jervis Bay, the area offers dolphin-watching excursions and scuba diving, where you'll see anything from seals to whale pods. And at dusk, we clamber on horseback and trot swiftly through the bush as kangaroos feed quietly in the dim light.

One of the most interesting excursions is offered by local aboriginal Barry Moore, a member of the Wadi Wadi tribe. Leading individual and group bush tours in the area, Moore shows visitors how the Australian bush has provided his people with medicinal cures, food and lodging for centuries. In sandstone crevices, he points out the grooves his ancestors used to sharpen their tools, and the plant from which he extracts a bush therapy that controls his diabetes even today. With infinite patience and a gentle voice, he yields some of the landscape's secrets, shedding light on how the Wadi Wadi tribe survived and thrived in this environment.

Then he returns home to his modern home, complete with all the trappings of today's technology. Like those who enjoy the luxury tents at Paperbark Camp, he agrees that comfort is priceless.

If You Go

    Paper Bark Camp charges $200-$568 a night and up for lodging, which includes a sumptuous dinner, breakfast and use of canoes and bikes. For more information visit or call (61-02) 4441 6066

Photos: Courtesy Paper Bark Camp:

1. Boat on creek
2. Gunyah
3. Interior tent shot
4. Possums
5. Tent in bush shot

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