There’s a coastal area south of Sydney where the beaches are made of sand so fine and white it squeaks when you walk on it. The sea is an impossible shade of turquoise and it’s not unusual to spot dolphins and humpback whales off the coast; wallabies and kangaroos graze by the side of the many trails in this area.
Some coves have enormous trees at the back whose drooping branches provide shade; some have rock pools to explore, others are vast strands which stretch as far as the eye can see – and all have the same atmosphere of utter peace and tranquility.
Divers, walkers, cyclists, nature lovers, surfers, anglers, snorkellers - all come here for the remote creeks and inlets and endless beaches, yet it’s rare to find anyone sharing your space. Despite swimming at Collingwood Beach in the early morning, Nelsons Beach at lunchtime, and Green Patch and Murrays Beach in the afternoon, my daughter and I encountered only four other people in an entire day.
A drive along empty wide roads bordered by trees in the Booderee National Park, a place of outstanding natural beauty, takes my daughter and I to the site of the Cape St George Lighthouse, a heritage-listed ruin perched on the edge of spectacular cliffs, where the only sound is birds wheeling above and the rustle of lizards in the undergrowth.
Around the headland a large (400 hectare-plus) Aboriginal community called Wreck Bay was given to the indigenous people here some years back, enabling cultural practices to survive in the region.
Within Booderee Park, walking and fire trails provide access to most areas through a variety of scenery and wildlife habitats. We spot many different types of birds, including a honeyeater sipping nectar from some wild banksias, and a white-bellied sea eagle soaring high above. The Botanic Gardens also offer many walking trails including the Rainforest Boardwalk.
Late afternoon we head to Cave Beach, popular among surfers and European visitors for its huge rollers and impressive cliffs, which are among the highest in New South Wales - and indeed on the east coast of Australia, with Steamers Head peaking at 130 metres.
The waves prove too strong for my daughter, who returns soon after heading in for a swim minus her sunglasses and looking decidedly wave-swept. Grey kangaroos are nonchalantly nibbling grass near the hire car when we return to the car park, our next destination the township of Huskisson.
This main town in Jervis Bay is a launching point for dolphin and whale watching cruises, fishing trips and various sailing excursions. Scuba diving, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are also popular in the clear waters, but we have been content with our day touring the many beaches, coves and bushland of Jervis Bay, and are not too sad to be sitting outside The Huskisson hotel on the headland, watching the sun go down over the sea.
Emily and I have been booked into an ‘eco-camp’ for the night, courtesy of Cox & Kings, a travel company offering group and tailor-made luxury holidays to Australia and other destinations.
I’m not sure what to expect but a shopkeeper in Huskisson nods approvingly when I mention we are heading there, telling me it is definitely more ‘glamping’ than camping.
A short drive away we find signposts for The Paperbark Camp, in the middle of a paperbark forest. An architect-designed timber house on stilts – ‘the Gunyah’ (aboriginal for meeting place or place of shelter) - houses a comfortable lounge area and award-winning restaurant. Paths lead through the forest to Currambene Creek where canoes and paddleboards are supplied free of charge to residents. Other trails lead deep into the forest, and to the safari-style tents dotted around. The treehouse-style canvas tents for guests are stunning, each with their own en-suite completely open to the forest, in which all lighting and hot water are solar powered.
Fine dining on the verandah in the Gunyah, high above the ground is a pleasure I hadn’t anticipated, with a menu including delights such as paperbark smoked avocado, snapper ceviche with seaweed, pickled carrot and finger lime, pepperberry kangaroo with black garlic, salmon rillettes with lemon myrtle and samphire. I’m not usually a pudding kind of person but the dessert of chocolate and hazelnut delice, sour cherry ice cream and ‘chocolate soil’ is one of the nicest puddings I have ever eaten.
Afterwards we meander back to the ‘tent’ by torchlight and I treat myself to a bath under the stars, with only the sounds of the bush at night (and the odd buzz of a mosquito) all around. Handmade soaps and potions, a fluffy bathrobe and linen sheets complete the experience, and I get one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. Cox & Kings also offer add-ons to the Paperbark experience, including massages, a ‘sundowner cruise’ from Huskisson to the Paperbark camp’s own jetty, and paddleboard lessons on the nearby Currumbene River for those keen to try the newest craze to hit Jervis Bay.
Alas we have no time to take advantage of these extras as we are due back in Sydney, but as we head back to the city I can’t help feeling I’ve somehow visited an area I had hitherto only imagined in my dreams.
Where to stay: The Paperbark Camp (paperbarkcamp.com.au) is a peaceful, luxurious bush retreat 10 mins drive from Huskisson in Jervis Bay. Cox and Kings coxandkings.co.uk ' ‘Taste of Jervis’ package includes accommodation, dinner, bed and breakfast for two.
Where to eat: The Paperbark Camp’s Gunyah restaurant is popular with both residents and non-residents. The little town of Huskisson is a nice place for an evening meal while you watch paddle-boarders silhouetted against the sunset. Hyams Beach Store & Café is a relaxed family-run eatery offering artisan coffee, plus a seasonal brunch and lunch menu