Date of trip: 28-30/Aug/2020
All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.
Steve Jobs once famously said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Has the thought of sleeping in a literal bubble ever crossed your mind? Like, actually? Me neither. So full marks to the folks at Bubbletent Australia, who in 2017 channelled their inner Stevo and created one of the most difficult-to-book experiences this side of Sokyo.
When Bubbletent first popped its way into the glamping scene, the hype was palpable – and it wasn’t just hot air. Like certain other kinds of bubble (*stock market has entered the chat*), its popularity inflated too fast for its own good, and bookings became virtually impossible unless you treat the process like booking a world-class restaurant: sign up for the mailing list, keep an eye out for notifications on when the next round of bookings would open up, and camp out on the site when the time rolls around so you can nab your weekend. Suffice it to say, my hopes of trying it any time soon deflated faster than the bubbletent when accidentally leaving both airlock doors open (yes, this happens. Don’t worry, close the airlock and it’ll reinflate in short order).
Fast forward some three busy, busy years and with the COVID-19 pandemic now well and truly settled in, it was an opportune time to reconsider this most unique of regional getaways. Watching the timetable religiously, a booking for late August 2020 was within reach. Even then it was not easy – popular dates (weekends) disappeared in front of my eyes as I shuffled my way through the calendar as if it were tickets to a bloody BTS concert. All this to say to you, prospective bubbletenter: do not tarry, or you’re never going to go!
A minimum 2-night stay is required, which is what I (strongly) recommend even in the absence of the rule. I can’t fathom how you can truly unwind in the bubbletent ‘do nothing but gaze at the stars’ spirit if you make the long drive up/down only to spend one night and be on your way in the morning of the next day. Sounds like a FIFO commute to me – far, far too rushed, and hardly value for money.
In terms of location, the three bubbletents are located on a working farm out in the Capertee Valley, some 35min past Lithgow and an hour from Mudgee. I won’t give away the exact address (and trust me, it’s not what Google shows when you look it up) for obvious reasons, but when the views from any of the tents are guaranteed stunners, this isn’t important. Do rock up in a vehicle with some ground clearance (an SUV is nice) or at least a AWD, as the final stretches of road are a bit rocky – they’ll tell you a standard sedan for city driving will suffice, which it might, but if you have that Jeep, use it.
We were pleasantly surprised to receive two consecutive days of absolute clear skies (seriously, not even a single cloud in the sky over the entire two days!), which was my cue to buy a lottery ticket (spoiler alert: no win ?). And therein lies one of Bubbletent’s bigger challenges: your experience will largely be dictated by weather. Given it is the hinterland and we’re perched on top of a valley where weather conditions can change rapidly, come prepared with clothing for all seasons. Another reason to stay at least 2 nights – imagine staying just one and having clouds blanket your view of the stars, sunset or sunrise!
We stayed at the Virgo tent, which faces the north-east of the valley. The amenities of each tent are up on the website, but I will point out that Virgo is the only tent that has climate control. My backpacking background implores me to disclaim you don’t need AC; however, I’m sure you’ll understand if I say that you’ll certainly want it:
- In Summer, the valley can reach 40C during the day. Ever heard of a greenhouse? Yeah, that’s your bubble – you’ll wish you have AC even with the bubble’s daytime sunshield up.
- In Winter, you can sleep with thermals and have the electric blanket on which ensures a good sleep. However getting up and wandering about an unheated tent will be less than pleasant.
- Spring basically equals Summer, so see above.
- Autumn basically equals Winter, so see above.
Jokes aside, a visit during early Spring or Autumn would be optimal. Heck even Winter – but never Summer. Booking Virgo will run you an extra $100 per night – you will pay for the privilege of staying in the goldilocks zone.
On that topic of ‘glamping’. What exactly is it? Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it. Is a comfortable, large bed a must? Indoor shower? Climate control? Is One&Only Wolgan Valley, with its fitted villas glamping? Probably not. My free-camping adventures, where I carry literally everything on my back certainly aren’t. But people seem to refer to bubbletent as glamping, and it does seem to mostly fit the bill. Everything is already set up when you arrive – the double bed, electric blanket, teas & coffee, cooking basics (S&P, olive oil, pots, pans, cups, plates and basic utensils), two gas stoves (one bolted to the deck outdoor and one inside the tent as a backup), a day’s worth of water (you’ll need to bring more), and even a small powered esky fridge. On the camping-specific aspects, headlamps, firewood & firestarters, a kettle & thermos are provided. The (indoor) toilet is a compost model – do your business, then cover it up with sawdust. Trust me, it won’t smell at all if you do it properly. There’s also an indoor sink connected to a jerry can.
On our part, we were required to bring all consumables for the trip, which also included an extra 10L of water. We also happened to bring an extra 3 thermos flasks, which turned out quite handy when it came to the outdoor shower.
Ah yes, the outdoor shower. The average temperature in August – the time of our visit – in the late afternoon was around 4-6C, with overnight temps of -2C. The ‘shower’ is literally a plant watering can bolted to some stumps, set at head height. The idea is to boil water using the kettle, pouring it into the can and have your partner shower you with it while you try your best to avoid hypothermia. Okay, it’s not actually as bad as you think – have towels and the bubbletent’s surprisingly warm robes handy, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly and efficiently you shower (five minutes? Pffft you’ll do it in 2!). This is why you want the extra thermos flasks: one kettle is not going to be enough, and if you run out halfway through your wash…godspeed. It’s this titbit that will call into question whether this is ‘glamping’ or not – that’s for you decide.
Given you’re showering out in the great open with nothing but your birthday suit, your next question may sensibly be on privacy. I can say that at least for our tent (Virgo), there’s no line of sight to either of the other two tents. Now, given that it’s a working farm on which these bubbles reside, it’s entirely possible you’ll run into other people (either the farmers, bubbletent staff or just other bubbletenters) on one of the numerous walking tracks you can do during your stay, but I’d be shocked if they deliberately venture down your slice of heaven. As for Bubbletent Australia staff, they won’t ever show up unless you specifically request them to.
Long story short: you’ll be fine. Embrace nature and get nekkid!
So what can you actually do while here? As little or as much as you want. Feet itchy? Do one of the many walks available on the site, the longest of which is 5 hours return. Relaxation was more our vibe for the weekend, so we only did a single 2-3hr walk on day 2 which was for the sole purpose of making us deserving of the steak & potatoes we had in mind for lunch. Note that starting fires (with somewhat damp firewood) takes a large amount of time, so our struggles with that and all the photography opportunities meant that our 2 nights passed by all too quickly. If you’re blessed with clear nights, absolutely don’t forget to do some stargazing – not that you will given you’ll look straight up at them from bed. It’s worth losing some sleep.
So we now come down to the question I’ve received about our bubbletent stay: is it worth it?
Even taking my extensive camping experience into consideration, where I can pitch my tent almost anywhere I want where I can wake up to great views, I think it was a most excellent stay. When considering how to value an experience and ascertain ‘worth’, a primary factor is whether there are substitute goods at a cheaper price. I can technically afford a $200 bar of chocolate, but it’s poor value because I have so many other options at a cheaper price. $1400 for a 2-night stay at Virgo is a lot of money in an absolute sense, but what are the substitute products? A 5* hotel in the city? How are they even remotely comparable? My backpack camping trips? Sure it’s free, but I don’t get to enjoy any of bubbletent’s creature comforts, and I have to literally carry my home and all my food/gear – and I don’t get a shower. A poor substitute.
Ultimately, with only a few copycat exceptions that are beginning to spring up, there’s nothing quite like sleeping in a transparent, dreamy bubble where you can sleep with the stars above your head and wake to the sunrise without even having to unzip a tent flap. This is something that other glamping experiences that use more traditional tents/yurts can’t match.
All this to say that I’m sorry, but there’s no chance I’m going to answer ‘is it worth it’ directly. You may as well ask what my favourite restaurant in Sydney is (protip: don’t ever ask me that question). After all, I don’t know your situation, experiences, or values. I can only hope I helped with your assessment of whether bubbletent’s worth the splurge. Judging from how easily it gets booked out, it would seem that many people agree it’s worth at trying at least once.
On day 3, as we packed up our gear and drove out of the Capertee Valley, I couldn’t help but think ‘if only I had one more night’. Talk about bursting a bubble!
All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.