I'm a few hours drive from Sydney, Australia -- far from the city that's home to the second largest Jewish community in the country.
With 45,000 Jews -- among them many immigrants from South Africa, New Zealand and the former Soviet Union -- Sydney boasts a fantastic Jewish infrastructure, with several synagogues, Jewish day schools and a Jewish museum that commemorates the Jewish men and women of New South Wales who lost their lives in World War I.
But I've come here not to partake of the rush and excitement of the city, but in search of quietness, in the Australian bush.
Which is precisely the appeal of Paper Bark Camp, a place that's all about stillness. It's the first thing you notice, that 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, like 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 Paper Bark tree, its bark hanging in paper-like shreds from the trunk; the barely audible rustle of a kangaroo as it hops into the brush.
Luxury in a Tent?
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 while traveling in southern Africa. Determining it would work well in Australia, the couple spent years searching for the perfect location, eventually finding it more than two hours from Sydney in a few acres of untamed, pristine forest in New South Wales.
They took pains to assemble the camp without harming the environment around it, ensuring that no trees were felled, and that land clearing was performed by hand and kept to a minimum.
As a result, the 10 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 precious resources.
Paper Bark Camp offers hot showers and flush toilets beneath the stars, as well as plush beds complete with reading lamps and hot water bottles on cold evenings. 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 tooth marks in your soap if you've left it in the shower.
Waking up to 'Roos
At daybreak, kangaroos feed near the tents, and are 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 lots 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.
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.
Then he returns to his modern home, complete with all the trappings of today's technology. Like those who enjoy the luxury tents at Paper Bark Camp, he agrees that comfort is priceless. For more information, visit: www.paperbarkcamp.com.au .