In the past, I’ve unzipped the door of our tent to some amazing sights – waterfalls, rainforests, deserts and, on one memorable occasion, a bush-tail Possum drinking rum from a camping mug.
But, it’s a different kind of breathtaking, stepping out of your tent during the night, to be greeted by glowing skyscrapers. Welcome to the world of Urban Camping – on the roof of a shopping centre. Don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it!
Let me start this blog by saying, my husband are not the obvious customers for a glamping break in a city. We are the couple who sniff at the indulgence of a double swag (“You may as well buy a Winnebago”), preferring to share a single hammock or a single swag that smells like it’s survived the apocalypse. But, ever since I read about St Jerome’s in Melbourne I’ve been intrigued by the concept – a boutique hotel that is actually a line of bell tents set up on a rooftop amidst the cityscape.
When my husband and I had to visit the city for a conference I arrange a night at the canvas hotel to surprise him. “When you get there you’re going to think I’ve taken you to the last place you ever want visit,” I warned him, after texting him the address of where to meet me. St Jerome’s Hotel is on the roof of Melbourne Central – an extremely busy shopping centre full of bustling tourists. When I spotted Kurt amongst the shoppers, carrying his camouflage backpack, he had a look that said, “Are you crazy?”
But, our skepticism vanished as soon as we walked through the glass doorway to St Jerome’s ‘base camp’, four stories above the Melbourne pavement. As we entered our accommodation – the ‘Luxe Plus’ tent which comes with a queen-sized bed – I faced an internal struggle. The hardcore camper in me wanted to mock it. But, I also really wanted to lay on the fluffy rug, put on a white, linen robe and dive head-first into the freebies (a complimentary esky of local beer, Long Island Iced Teas delivered at cocktail hour and ice-cream served before bedtime). The wilderness has a lot to offer – but it doesn’t have Messina!
All jokes aside, there is something magical about the setup. It was pouring with rain the night we stayed and as we laid in our (ridiculously comfy) bed listening to the droplets hitting the canvas, we had to admit it felt pretty special – and, guys, it’s also very sexy! In the morning we awoke to a breakfast box full of cheese jaffles, coffee and chia seed puddings. There’s even a sauna at the corner of the campsite. Even Bear Grylls probably likes a pedicure sometimes.
The most interesting thing happened when we put photos of our urban adventure on Facebook. Whenever we usually post wilderness pictures the same people like them and everyone else is underwhelmed or amused by our ‘antics’. But, when I uploaded our St Jerome’s collage, friends who I never thought would go camping were overly excited. “Where is that?” “I have to go there.” Could this be the gateway drug to camping? Lure people under canvas with fluffy cushions and hipster ice-cream and then gradually remove the creature comforts until they’re sleeping in a hammock, eating jerky.
The next night, on our way back to Sydney, we slept in the back of our Landcruiser in a National Park with no facilities. In the middle of the night, as I squatted in the grass, I looked up to a sky-full of stars and treetops and tried not to make a comparison. You can’t compare the wilderness to the city, but then maybe you shouldn’t try to. Every now and again it’s important to step out of your comfort zone – and for us that meant spending a night in a concrete jungle.