Glamping is the perfect way to take the "roughing it" out of camping, allowing everyone to enjoy the great outdoors. Just in time for the holiday season, Tim the Yowie Man leaves his sleeping bag at home and goes in search of the best glamping experiences close to Canberra.
1. Riverside Retreat
The Escape. Nestled among blue and spotted gums and perched on the verdant banks of the Clyde River these luxury tents are surrounded by national park and state forest.
After keeping it to themselves for 15 years, two years ago Colin and his partner, former Canberra Capitals champion Lucille Bailie, decided to share this secret Garden of Eden with like-minded nature lovers. The Escape boasts two elevated tents and a studio (roomier for families) with plans to expand to five tents next year.
Suitable for: A foodies' delight. A romantic getaway, a catch-up with a group of friends or intimate family gathering.
Highlights: Indulge in a rose hip-infused face and scalp massage plus a warm lemon myrtle hair mask on your tent deck followed by a private three-course dinner.
Summer fun: After a morning kayaking and rock hopping along the river, stretch out on your day bed with a good book and a glass of wine. Divine! If you can tear yourself away from The Escape, just upstream is the Clyde River Berry Farm where it's just about impossible to leave without a big blueberry grin after you sample the fruits of your own picking. I bet you won't be able to resist one (or two) of their famous, handmade berry ice-creams.
Best Beaches: Relax at your private riverside beach. Splash in the shallows, skim stones or just float downstream on a lilo, without a care in the world.
Tim's Tip: Bring your mountain bikes. Mount Mogood (392m) and its extensive 360-degree views from the escarpment country to the coast is just a short pedal (uphill) away.
Curious critters: City slickers will get a real kick out of the kangaroos and wallabies which graze right up to your tent fly. Birds flock here too. Say hi to "Rainbow" and "Sparkles" the kingfishers on your morning stroll and laugh back at the kookaburras when you fall off your stand-up paddle board. Oh, and you won't need to reach for the on-site binoculars to catch a glimpse of the sea eagles that regularly fly majestically over the river.
Terrific tucker: Forget the billy cans and campfires, all meals are included in your tariff (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and are worth the price of admission alone. A former owner of Chill in Campbell, Colin knows a thing or two about food and will woo you from the moment you enter his purpose-built timber chalet, complete with riverside deck. This is restaurant-standard seasonal fare dished up in a five-star location. Tuck into an entree of freshly shucked Clyde River Oysters, followed by grass-fed Milton eye fillet or fresh local tuna. Match it with local wines and indulge in vanilla bean panna cotta and spiced poached pear. Yum!
Take me there: The Escape is tucked away on The River Road, Shallow Crossing, about a two-hour drive from Canberra. From $445 per night, based on adult twin share. Includes all meals and activities except massages. Minimum stay two nights (off peak), and 3 nights (peak).
Ph: 02 4478 1212, web: the-escape.com.au
Tanja Lagoon Camp. A cluster of spacious eco-friendly tents perfectly positioned on a grassy knoll overlooking a coastal lagoon and surrounded by the wonders of Mimosa National Park.
Two years ago down-to-earth hosts Sam Bright and Loz Hunt transformed an old dairy farm into this knockout wilderness camp, featuring four luxury canvas tents, each on raised platforms skilfully crafted from local timber.
By day wander down a track to a deserted beach and by night light a campfire (there's a wood pile at the end of each tent) and toast marshmallows before retiring for the night in your handcrafted queen-sized bed in full knowledge that the only nightlife within cooee of here will be the nightjars shifting in their roosts.
Suitable for: Couples or families. The kids can bunk down in ultra-comfy roll-out swags.
Highlights: Behind the cosy sleeping quarters are two doors. One opens into an airy bathroom with shower and bath and (yes, there's piping-hot running water) and the other leads into a kitchenette with a fridge stacked with breakfast goodies, including extra creamy Tilba Milk. The coffee and sourdough are straight from the Wild Ryes Bakery and Roaster at nearby Pambula and the brown eggs are low on food miles too – having travelled just 200 metres from the clutch of happily clucking hens tended to by Sam and Loz's primary school-age children.
Summer fun: Kayak, bushwalk and swim until your heart's content. It's also worth waking with the birds to photograph the striking volcanic rock stacks at nearby Aragunnu beach for sunrise.
Best Beaches: A bush track meanders from your tent to Middle Beach where the only other footprints are likely to be from kangaroos. From here look south to a spectacular seascape punctuated by honey-coloured headlands and beach after pristine beach. Little wonder it's often coined as Australia's Wilderness Coast
Tim's Tip: Ask your hosts for directions to quite possibly the most unusual seat you will ever sit in – part of a whale skull washed up on a rugged part of the Mimosa Coast beach by storms. Really!
Curious critters: As opposed to a tidal or open lagoon, Tanja Lagoon as an intermittently open-closed lagoon which means if a significant rain event or large spring tide combine with a storm, the lagoon can break and empty out to sea. According to Sam, "the last time the lagoon broke. hundreds of eels charged en masse to reach the sea as the waves washed over the bar. Many got stranded as the wave receded and were left to decide whether to wriggle on or retreat." Apparently the eels swim all the way to Noumea to mate and the survivors and progeny then return to Tanja Lagoon. Amazing.
Terrific tucker: Take a night off cooking and make a beeline for Mimosa Winery. Sure they make a nice drop of wine (try their 2009 Tempranillo), but it's their restaurant, housed in an architecturally designed cathedral-like space with polished floorboards and a deck with views to die for, which draws the crowds here. The Drystone Restaurant @Mimosa Winery is at 2845 Bermagui-Tathra Rd (about a 15-minute drive north of Tanja Lagoon Camp). Bookings essential. Ph: 02 6494 0164 or mimosawines.com.au
Take me there: Tanja Lagoon is at 142 Haighs Rd, Tanja (a 20 minute-drive north of Tathra), is about a 3½-hour drive from Canberra. Luxury tented accommodation from $225 per night based on two adults (minimum stay of two nights). Includes breakfast. Barbecue hampers and other meals available on request. Kids' swags $25 per child per night. Ph: 02 6494 0123, web: tanjalagooncamp.com.au One tent has full accessibility.
3. Treetop Treasure
Paperbark Camp: Hidden in the forest canopy and on raised platforms to capture the sea breeze these sturdy canvas structures come complete with their own private open-air en suite with hot shower and free standing bath.
Paperbark Camp is the realisation of a vision Irena and Jeremy Hutchings had while visiting Africa in the early 1990s. Over a few "sundowners" with good friends in a private safari camp, the innovative couple thought the same concept would be ideal for Australia and promptly set up this Huskisson hideaway. Now in its 17th year, although the luxury camp lures visitors from all over the world in search of a peaceful back-to-nature retreat, it is now just as well-known for The Gunyah, its treetop restaurant.
Suitable for: A romantic candle-lit oasis among the gum trees, this is ideal for canoodling couples. With more than a dozen tents, it's also popular with small groups celebrating a birthday or anniversary.
Highlights: Hardwood flooring, wraparound verandas, high thread counts and freestanding bathtubs.
Summer fun: Walking trails meander through paperbark, gum and mangrove forests and are perfect for a stroll before breakfast (a great time for spotting kangaroos). Enjoy some sundowners on the deck of the Husky Ferry while it chugs up the Currambene Creek, which winds through the wetlands behind the famous white sand beaches of Jervis Bay. More: Ph: 0467 648504 huskyferry.com
Best Beaches: Boasting some of our country's most celebrated stretches of sand, wherever you decide to put up your beach umbrella or get your big toe wet, it'll be beachside bliss. Don't forget to check out Hyams Beach – it's supposedly home to the whitest sand in Australia.
Tim's Tip: In the morning forget about pulling down your tent – treat yourself to a massage or a session with a Reiki therapist instead. Paperbark Camp follows a sustainable philosophy and has Advanced Eco Accreditation. As such, you will not find airconditioning or heating, television, or power points for your devices (though power and Wi-Fi can be accessed in the Gunyah Restaurant). So switch off and get back to nature.
Cute critters: Jervis Bay is six times bigger than Sydney Harbour, and its natural environment is protected through the creation of three national parks, the Booderee, Jervis Bay National Park and Jervis Bay Marine Park. By day join one of the Dolphin Watch Cruises and by night grab your torch and walk the camp's trails spotlighting for possums and other nocturnal residents.
Terrific tucker: The Gunyah, Paperbark Camp's award-winning tree-house restaurant, is housed in an ochre-toned, architecturally designed work of art. Indulge in fine dining while above the stars pop out, one by one.
Take me there: Paperbark Camp is at 571 Woollamia Rd, Woollamia, about 4km from Huskisson and is a 240km (about 3 hours) drive from Canberra via Moss Vale and Kangaroo Valley. B&B packages from $395 per night (minimum two nights on weekends and three nights on long weekends). More: Ph: 02 4441 6066 or paperbarkcamp.com.au/
4. Park Pleasures
Island View Resort: Enjoy all the activities of a family-friendly caravan park-cum resort without having to rough it in one of six (with more to come) recently opened luxury safari tents.
With en suite, kitchenette and even a TV, these luxury safari tents which sleep four have all the mod cons you'd expect in a holiday cabin, but just wrapped in canvas.
Suitable for: Families with young kids. The kids will especially love the bunks beds and if mum and dad need some time out, a Kid's Club which operates during peak times.
Highlights: It's called a resort for a reason – heaps to keep the kids entertained including seasonally heated pool, in ground trampolines, tennis and volleyball courts, jungle gym and open air night movies. Kids will love the vibe of this resort during school holidays.
Summer fun: Although Handkerchief Surf Beach is a two-minute stroll over the sand dune, if you want to explore further afield, Narooma is only a 10-minute drive up the road where you won't want to miss the knockout boardwalk which skirts along the edge of (and sometimes over the top of) Narooma's idyllic Mill Bay. Near the town side of the walk, there are some old fishing sheds where white-bearded fishers peddle their latest catch. Grab some for your evening barbecue.
Best Beaches: Stay a week and discover a new beach each day. Just to the south of the resort, and not signposted is a track leading down to the inlet for Lake Nangudga. Sure there are no waves here, but here are no blue bottles either, and sheltered from the prevailing wind, it's a haven for families. Take an inflatable dinghy and float in and out on the tide, or let the kids build sandcastles while you pull out the deckchair for some well-deserved R&R. Meanwhile, a couple of headlands south is Billys Beach, one of the few pebble (washed up during a 1974 storm) beaches on our south coast and tailor-made for some beach combing.
Tim's Tip: Don't forget the bikes and scooters for the kids. Once they've mastered all ins and outs of the resort roads, throw the bikes in the car and drive south to Corunna Point, where carved into the headland by horse and cart back in the late 1800s is a historic clay and grass velodrome which you can still ride on. Shh, don't tell everyone else back at the resort as it's a bit of a secret.
Curious critters: You'd think with so many excited children the wildlife would be sent scurrying, but you can still encounter goannas on your stroll to the beach, and just like conventional camping, a cacophony of birds will wake you at dawn.
Terrific tucker: No need to crowd the camping kitchens here, for each tent is decked out with a bells and whistles barbecue and sink on the deck and there's a full-sized fridge inside. You are also only 10 minutes from the cafes and restaurants of Narooma, my pick of which would be The Quarterdeck Cafe. Decked out in a nautical theme this cheery eatery is set on a wharf which reaches over the top of the crystal-clear waters of Wagonga Inlet. If you get a window table you can watch the fish swim literally at your feet. Oh, while tucking into your eggs benedict, ask Chris Scroggy, the eccentric owner, to show you his collection of more than 300 Hawaiian shirts, one of which he is always wearing.
Take me there: Island View Beach Resort. 7323 Princes Highway Narooma, a three-hour drive from Canberra. From $175 per night. Minimum stays required. Ph: 1800 465 432, web: islandview.com.au
5. Sydney stunner
Tandara Luxury Eco Tent: Roomy African-style safari tent on Sydney's doorstep.
Super-stylish, Tandara offers first-class facilities in a peaceful city oasis with uninterrupted views across your own private patch of Lane Cove National Park.
Although part of the Lane Cove River Tourist Park, this "tent", which is basically a ritzy hotel room with flap and fly is hidden in a compound cordoned off from the rest of the park.
Suitable for: Romantic getaways. (1 king-sized bed).
Highlights: Double walk-in shower and gorgeous bathtub under the stars. Love the sound system speakers throughout the garden.
Summer fun: Hire a paddle boat or canoe for a romantic row, take a leisurely bike ride or just enjoy a lazy afternoon sipping a glass of fine wine on your private deck.
Best Beaches: There's no beach here, but you are right on the meandering Lane Cove River, which provides perfect paddling by kayak or canoe. If you are in desperate need of some saltwater therapy, Sydney's northern beaches are a 30-minute drive away.
Tim's Tip: Book well in advance, as there's only one tent, weekends are often booked out a year in advance.
Curious critters: Given you are so close to the centre of one of Australia's biggest cities, the abundance of wildlife will surprise you. Ubiquitous lorikeets, cheeky water dragons, and even endangered bandicoots.
Terrific tucker: Cook up a gourmet dinner under the stars at your well-appointed outdoor space-age barbecue kitchen and dining table. For that ultra-special touch, you can also hire a personal chef for the evening. Continental breakfasts (or upgrade of fully cooked) and newspapers are provided each day.
Take me there: Tandara Eco-Tent is operated by Lane Cove River Tourist Park in Sydney's north, about a three-hour drive from Canberra. From $200 per night. Ph: (02) 9888 9133, web: nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
ROUGHING IT (sort of)
If you prefer your camping to be a little more rustic than glamping, but still don't want the hassle of fumbling around for tent pegs in the dark then you may wish to bunk down in one of the increasing number of pre-erected "permanent camps" popping up over NSW. Here's my pick:
1. Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour. Safari Bow tent, two camping beds with mattresses and crisp white linen, towels, sun lounges, an esky and a lantern from $150-$360 per night. cockatooisland.gov.au/stay/glamping.
2. Billabong Camp, Dubbo Western Plains Zoo. Sturdy tent, dinner, breakfast and two-day zoo entry with exclusive guided animal encounters from $169 per adult and $75 per child. taronga.org.au/taronga-western-plains-zoo/.