Dangar Island House is an architect-designed holiday rental with 3 bedrooms set among trees on Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River, one hour’s drive north of Sydney.
How would you describe Paperbark Camp in a nutshell?
Paperbark Camp is a unique vacation rental that offers luxury camping close to Jervis Bay and just two hours south of Sydney, Australia. It is a soulful bush camp with excellent food that is at the forefront of ecotourism. We are not a luxury resort, but the service is outstanding, very friendly and authentic. There are twelve tents that are elevated off the ground and a restaurant where we serve breakfast and dinner. It is a cozy accommodation, a paradise for nature lovers, and the ideal tranquil base for exploring Jervis Bay with its pristine clear waters and white sand beaches.
Please tell me a little bit about how Paperbark Camp got started.
My mother and father, Irena and Jeremy, had traveled to Africa a couple of times back in the late eighties, early nineties, and came up with the the idea to open a type of safari camp over here. They had been tied up in their jobs in Sydney and wanted to get out, do something different and achieve something for themselves. So they set about looking for a property up and down the New South Wales coast and eventually found the right spot for Paperbark Camp. They started off with just trickles of bookings through word of mouth, but then slowly things caught on and 7 or 8 years ago things really took off.
And then you joined the family business as well...
I was somewhat always being groomed to come down to Jervis Bay and work for the family business. I studied business tourism and hospitality management at University. So it was always in the back of my mind that at some stage I’d make the move. It wasn’t until I was 26 that the time was right for me to come down here to Paperbark Camp but I haven’t regretted a day since. It’s a really exciting business and we’ve got excellent people that we work with so it’s been fun. Our staff are really the most valuable asset we have.
What’s so special about Paperbark Camp in your opinion?
Everything stops for our guests at Paperbark Camp. They don’t necessarily have to go out and do whale watching and visit all the beaches and hike all the mountains nearby. It’s one of those places where you really can just stop and relax. Everything was built by my parents with their own hands, so it’s not perfect, you know. The timber joinery isn’t spot on and there are slight imperfections everywhere. It’s a bit worn so the place has a sense of soul. And people like that, they can feel it when they walk through the door.
What do people do at Paperbark Camp?
Some guests come down on a hot sunny weekend and say, ‘Ben, I want to go diving today and I want to get a massage in the afternoon, tomorrow I want to go climb Pigeon House mountain and the day after that we want to walk out to Boar’s Head.’ They have a really, really active weekend.
Then we have other guests who sleep in, lounge about the camp all day, spend their entire day just relaxing in the tent, having a bottle of wine and playing cards. It’s quite nice that there are such different ways that people enjoy the place.
Ecological values are quite important for you as well, aren’t they?
With every decision we make, we try to work out whether or not we can do it with a greener thumb, so to speak. I’m not going to tell you right now that we’re a shining example of what environmental sustainability hospitality can do, but we do our best. I’d like to think that we tread that nice line between comfort and environmentally friendly sustainability.
When you’ve been away from Paperbark Camp, is there a particular place that you go to that makes you feel that you’ve arrived back home?
A special spot for me when I know I’m in Jervis bay is when me and my family or friends go and get fish & chips, sit on the beach in the afternoon and watch the sun go down.
What are the plans for the future? Are you looking to add some more tents?
We do have some plans but they are slightly different from what we and everyone else is doing at the moment... but yes, we do have plans for a small expansion. This winter we’ll be putting in a pool so our guests have somewhere to cool off in summer or relax on a cool spring day.
You said that you had no regrets at all. What’s been the most rewarding about working there?
It happens on a daily basis. It’s the effect our business has on people and the way it changes their opinion on how to travel. For most people who come to stay with us at Paperbark Camp, the idea of staying at a safari camp hadn’t even crossed their mind until they’d seen pictures of Paperbark Camp. They come down from Sydney after a hard week at work, all wound up and stressed out and then in the morning, they sit in the restaurant feeling all relaxed with a big smile across their face. How much our guests treasure their time with us has really been the most rewarding thing I get from my work here.