Forget roughing it, the outdoor look this season is all about crisp linen and great cuisine, writes Christine Sams.
The notion of "glamping" - glamorous camping - is one of those trends we've all heard about but it sounds like something you only really do in exotic locales, a luxurious tent on the African plains perhaps, or a semi-permanent eco-tent in the Amazon. So to go "glamping" just south of Sydney, seems, on the face of it, a little cheeky. Can things really be that luxurious so close to home?
After being picked up at our front door early on a Saturday morning, we are heading for Bundeena to begin a coastal walk that hugs the edges of the Royal National Park.
It's a famed track loved by many Sydneysiders but still relatively unexplored by many others (including myself and my husband). But this "camping" experience comes with a difference: our bags are already being taken to our tents, which will be set up when we arrive at our camping site, our raised beds lined with plush linen, with lamps and fresh, soft towels.
We will also be greeted by a massage table overlooking the ocean, then we'll settle down to a four-course meal, prepared on site by a chef. That's not to mention the matching wines.
Glamping? This sounds like paradise. Except there's only one catch. There's no one to carry you to the tent site. You've still got to do the walking part yourself - and it's about 30 kilometres over two days. We have five or six hours of walking on the first day alone but the coastal scenery, with its ragged, rugged cliffs and endless ocean views, instantly takes our mind off the task.
Setting off in a group of six, we quickly get into the same stride as the guide - which is a strong, purposeful pace. It doesn't change too much over two days - the consistent pace, that is - whether we are going uphill, downhill or along soft sand. Despite those moments when our calf muscles are tightening and the promised waterholes seem a bit too far away, the true reward of this trip emerges from the walking itself; the sheer invigoration of traversing this varied and often spectacular landscape.
There are also plenty of stops along the way. The first is within minutes of our departure, when we duck through the scrub to look at the Aboriginal rock carvings near Jibbon Beach. There is a large stingray etched into the rocks, the faint outline of a whale, plus a collection of engravings including a male figure. It seems astonishing when our guide tells us this area has no government protection or funding. The artworks are simply fading with time.
The "official" coast track begins just after the carvings and it carries on through varied segments, with some parts of the track on natural rock, others on chipped wood, some rocky gravel and, of course, occasional tracts of sand.
There are plenty of other trekkers - school groups seem to be the order of the day - but later on there are genuine moments of stillness, a sense of us being the only people there, that leave a profound sense of calm. One of those moments comes on the second day, on the Curra Moors, when we pause to watch black cockatoos. Their shrieks echo across the moors. Our clothes are sweat-soaked, our feet absolutely covered in dirt, our faces flushed and red from the combination of vigorous exercise and fresh air. It's far from "glamorous" but, without a doubt, the real beauty of this trip is being immersed in the wilderness of the national park.
About the only scary thing during the walk is the prospect of encountering a deadly snake; we have a full safety briefing about what to do if that happens and our guide jovially points out the segments of track where he sometimes sees them - but thankfully, we see none. The fear of snakes is about the only part of the walk that doesn't add to a sense of relaxation. The rest is so indulgent, it's hard not to feel a little guilty.
Forget Bush Tucker Man bravado, by the time the evening is in full-swing we might as well be dining at the Hilton. Except this dinner experience comes with free extras including the sound of the ocean and delirious levels of fresh air.
Our campsite is on a headland, adjacent to Wattamolla Lagoon. With its smooth waters and cascading waterfall, it's a popular daytime spot for families but it becomes a secluded paradise once the gates to the national park are closed. On the second day, I experience the extraordinary bliss of an early-morning solo swim in the lagoon, with no other sound but the birds and the waterfall.
At the campsite is a marquee set up for guests (with the ocean side opened up), with a full dinner setting on show. Each tent is spaced at a polite distance across the grassy area and we are free to relax and inspect the surrounds before dinner.
Most members of the group opt for a full-body massage, available nearby in another open-air tent, with the masseuse ready and waiting when we arrive. Later on, with our legs soothed, the hardest choice we have to make is whether to have the sauvignon blanc or a glass of red.
When we sit down for dinner, it's hard to believe the food is being cooked on site by a local chef (from nearby Heathcote) using an outdoor kitchen set-up. The jewfish, for the main course, is particularly divine. The group, warmed by wine and top-class food, sits around the table talking for quite some time. Not surprisingly, an easy camaraderie seems to come from the unusual combination of bushwalking and fine dining, which has left us all feeling very spoilt indeed.
The writer was a guest of The Coast Track and Tourism NSW.
The Coast Track walk takes place in the Royal National Park, 30 kilometres south of Sydney. It starts in Bundeena and finishes in Garie.
The two-day walk costs $685 a person (Cronulla departure) or $800 a person (Sydney departure, with a pick-up and return to your front door). There is also a three-day option, with prices starting at $1095.
Email bookings to email@example.com, phone 1300 317 200 or see thecoasttrack.com.