Camping will always have a special place in the hearts of holidaying Aussies; but there are some new kids on the block who are offering something a little different to the traditional approach to a few nights under canvas. Welcome to the wonderful world of glamping. By Gabi Mills.
First of all, let’s put my cards on the table. I have been camping twice in my life,and neither experience was sufficiently enjoyable for me to invest in my own tent. The good news, however, is nowadays there’s no need for me to do so if I still want to give it a go.
The Margaret River region is probably one of the best places for the camping beginner to cut their teeth on a guy rope or two. Especially when you add the stunning morning vistas and delicious opportunities to fill up with scrumptious food and wine around every corner as you glamp in style.
Glamping – or glamorous camping – has been around for a bit but it’s really starting to make a splash in the south west. I decided to give a couple of new businesses a whirl – Mile End Glamping and Wild Goose Camping can now be found alongside Soul Camping in the glamping category – and boy, was I sold.
Wild Goose Camping
If the idea of struggling with putting up even the simplest tent gives you the shivers, there’s no need to miss out on the undoubted joys of sleeping under canvas. Wild Goose Camping, the brainchild of locals Chloe Sparkes and Clint Collins, gives you the chance to rock up to the campsite (or pre-arranged private land) of your choice, unzip the pre-erected bell tent and enter a world of comfort and joy.
That’s exactly what my daughter Daisy and I did when we arrived at the beautifully cared for, family-friendly campsite, Big Valley Farm, and parked right next to our Wild Goose bell tent. We’d already squealed with delight on our way into this secret little valley campsite because on either side of the driveway, adorable lambs frolicked like only lambs can do.
Those squeals didn’t really stop when we stepped into our tent – Chloe and Clint sure know how to spoil their guests.
Outside your tent, there’s a little table and chairs to enjoy a sundowner/brekkie cuppa, and a hard wearing rug at the entrance ensures that you don’t bring the day’s mud into your little sanctuary. Once inside, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into some tent TARDIS. It feels so much bigger on the inside.
The double bed (complete with an electric blanket on each side) that we would be sharing was draped with extra blankets to keep out the nippy night air, and all around on the ground there were rugs and and a carpet – a carpet! In a tent! – and a heater ready to keep us oh so cosy when we went to sleep. There was a chaise longe too, in case you wanted to read or chat, and fairy lights draped the exterior. It was just magical.
We’d opted for some extras – including a fireside treat, two mugs, marshmallows to toast by the fire, Temper Temper hot chocolate and for me, an extra nip of Cointreau to add to our nightcap.
We’d also arranged to hire enough kitchen equipment to cater for the entire site it seemed, including a French press coffee jug for your freshly ground Yahava cup of joe (also supplied), and useful things like oil, salt and pepper and, thoughtfully, a bottle of Vasse Virgin handwash. I loved the way the goodies in the carefully selected foodie hamper supplied by Margaret River’s award-winning pantry filler, The Larder, were, where possible, all from local businesses, like Margaret River Wood-fired Bread, strawberry and champagne jam and juice. That was all for tomorrow morning; first of all there was exploring to be done.
Big Valley Campsite is the perfect campsite for the novice camper – the camp kitchen is clean and well-equipped with a gas cooker as well as a bank of barbecues. The ablution block is a mix of communal and private loos and showers and there’s even a TV in the dining area if you’re craving a catch up on the day’s events. As it was getting close to dinner time, we decided to make some hot dogs. With everything to hand to make a little feast we soon found ourselves around the communal camp fire (there are a few dotted around the generously-sized site), getting to know our fellow campers.
All of them were experienced connoisseurs of the camping life, some in motor homes, some in tents, and all agreed that Big Valley Farm was one of the best sites for kids they’d tried.
I can attest to that too; within half an hour of finishing her snags, Daisy was playing hide and seek with 10 or so other kids at the camp, revelling in the deep darkness those unpolluted big skies of the south west afforded their games.
Meanwhile us adults sat around with a glass of red in our hands, sharing stories of what we’d got up to that day, and what we planned for the next.
By 10pm it was time to turn in, but not before Daisy gave her new friends a tour of her lodgings for the night, the bell tent enticingly glowing from within by the sidelights supplied.
It was clearly a talking point in the campsite, this newfangled way of camping and Daisy was as pleased as punch to conduct a tour. Then it was my turn. The grown-ups wanted a peek too. “Wow, carpets!” they said, and I nodded smugly.
By now the weather had decided to test our commitment to canvas – it was howling a gale and threatened to rain but we couldn’t have cared less. Snug as little bugs, we watched a movie on our laptop and, save for a few rattling side panels, slept straight through til the morning.
The morning brought with it the best meal of the day – especially when it’s cooked outdoors – and a full itinerary of adventures, including a Bushtucker tour feast that involved our first tastes of kangaroo and indigenous fruits of the bush.
Thanks to the no-fuss approach of glamping we knew that even when our little holiday was over, all we had to do was wash up the crockery we’d used, pack our bags and step into the car. No wrestling with impossible tent storage bags for us.
We can’t wait to return with the rest of the family in the warmer months – Chloe told me that they think nothing of setting up tents for whole families in whatever location they choose. Wild Goose Camping, you had us at carpets.
Mile End Glamping
Imagine pottering along a country lane when there, on the horizon, you see something so extraordinary it makes you exclaim, “I’ll be jiggered”.
That’s exactly what I did when my husband and I turned off the Bussell Highway on the way to Margaret River and headed towards Yelverton’s Mile End Glamping.
I guarantee you will never have seen anything like it. Majestically sitting in the middle of 144 acres of rolling dairy farmland, you’ll discover two ‘domes’, constructions that wouldn’t look out of place in some utopian sci-fi vision of the future. Framed by towering trees and emerging out of the natural landscape like two other worldly stilt-creatures, they are once seen, never forgotten.
Thanks to those stilts, once inside you’re offered unfettered views across the farmland to the front, and with a wooden decking area next to each one (complete with spa and BBQ I might add), the honeycomb-constructed within the domegeodesic domes are the last word in glamping with attitude.
Technically they’re tents, says Mile End Glamping owner Caroline Ford as she shows us around, like in the same way horses are technically cars. The design was chosen, she says, because of their structural strength, energy efficiency, use of natural light and the way they create a closeness with the outdoors. It gives you the chance to sleep under the stars without moving from your king-sized canopy bed.
This is taking glamping to the next level of luxury. There’s a fully functioning kitchen, a little dining table and chairs and then that four poster bed, draped with to-die-for linen, furry blankets which Jon Snow would covet and plumptious pillows. There’s a TV with a selection of DVDs in the nearby basket as well as board games, books and magazines in case you just packed your suitcase with clothes.
The idea, which began two years ago, was to give people the chance to de-stress in luxury but with nature playing a central part. Glamping was the obvious answer and after some serious googling, Caroline and her husband found the answer in their extraordinary domes.
Imported from the US, the Mile End domes were relatively easy to assemble, says Caroline – it was the interior design and beautiful joinery created by a local craftsman which took the time prior to launching earlier in the year. As everything was either circular or triangular within the dome – no straight lines here – it certainly required some clever innovations to
ensure the space was truly liveable – and in that sense, those solutions are a huge success.
Seriously, this is accommodation which doesn’t skimp on TLC. There’s a rainforest-style shower with a little bathroom area complete with freebie pampering goodies. Think clay face mask and foot pampering lotions, Corrynne’s natural soap (plant-based, made to old fashioned cold process recipes) and Luminessence goodies.
It’s all very clever and – above all – supremely romantic because the most important factor about Mile End Glamping is the absolute solitude of the spot.
Look out from your new vista for your stay and all you’ll see are fields, the occasional cow and that’s it. Step out onto the deck adjoining your dome, run a spa bath and plan what’s on the menu for dinner, like we did.
Fortunately the clever folk at The Larder and Boxed Indulgence had come up trumps with a selection of delicious local gourmet treats, like bruschetta toppings, dips, bread and jams.
At night your dome takes on an ethereal quality, lit from within, and sitting glowing on the hill.
The next day it was time to take advantage of one of the activities, as suggested by Mile End’s website. We could have opted for a personal training class or a massage right there in the dome, but there was no competition. I signed up for a painting class with former Margaret River’s artist-in-residence Pamela Brittain and spent a lovely couple of hours drawing some banksia with charcoal along with 10 or so other would-be Picassos while Matt enjoyed a wander around Margaret River itself.
There are plans down the track to import a family-sized dome so the rug rats can enjoy the Mile End experience too – the perfect opportunity to enjoy some good old fashioned space age style in the heart of Margs.
Tents can be set up at your choice of location, anywhere from Busselton, Dunsborough and through to Margaret River (can travel further for a small fee). Highlights include the ‘Honeymoon Suite’ 6 metre bell tent.
For more information, click here