A delicate tendril of steam snakes its way skyward, escaping the warm-water surface of the vintage outdoor bath, guiding your eyes up. As the sun sets, suffusing the horizon with the muted brilliance of golden hour, it’s hard to not to hold your breath. You can almost feel the earth sigh. The show is about to begin.
Exhale. Relax. Take a sip of your sparkling and sit back to soak in the spectacle above. Thousands of dazzling constellations – whose endless intrigue has enchanted countless poets, artists and scientists – are resplendent across the night sky. Inside Mirumiru’s flagship bubbletent, Captain Thunderbolt, the soft caress of your bed’s silk and French linen act as tethers, reminding you that you’re not, in fact, floating among the galaxies above.
To be awed by the celestial skies feels like an inherently human experience. On paper, stargazing is peering at hundreds of billions of glittering dots pin pricked on a black surface. In real life, a universal and humbling awe, reminding us of the infinite cosmos that we’re a tiny part of.
It’s this deeply personal yet profoundly human feeling that led Cathryn van der Walt and her husband, Brad, to create Slow Stay, Mirumiru Bubbletent, in the NSW Northern Tablelands only 15 minutes from the Queensland border.
Named for folkloric bushrangers Captain Moonlite, Captain Thunderbolt and his paramour Mary Ann Bugg, the structures are otherworldly. Like shiny bubbles protruding from the granite-dotted landscape of New England, each tent’s luxurious trappings offset the unfiltered beauty of stargazing. But the one-of-a-kind family-friendly glamping experience also marries the owners’ love of sky worshipping with their desire to leave the world a better place.
It was during a holiday to Japan with her eldest daughter when Cathryn had an ah-ha moment. “We were sitting in a hot bath, six stories up in the middle of the financial district looking at stars,” Cathryn recalls.
There, “in the middle of Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest cities”, Cathryn realised the stars had always held familial significance.
“Everywhere we went, we were that family. We were stargazing; lying on helicopter landing pads, looking up at the stars, constantly going back to New Zealand – where my husband’s from – and chasing stars. And I thought, ‘Well, why aren’t we doing that at home?” Cathryn says.
As for the name, the family’s strong connection shone through once again. “In Māori it means shiny bubble and in Japan it [also] means shiny bubble… I just felt that it meant something to all of us,” says Cathryn.
Cathryn’s connection to New England and its reputation for low light pollution, led the family to the area just five minutes from Tenterfield, a charming village thrumming with country connection. A haven for foodies and those wanting to interact with passionate makers, growers and providores often absent in big cities, the town is skirted by six national parks filled with hiking, waterfalls and the largest granite formation of its kind in Australia, Bald Rock.
It was in the wake of the 2019 bushfires that Cathryn and Brad bought the 5.8-hectare farm on Holleys Lane. Huddled in the pastel-swathed shadow of Mount Mackenzie, the property’s “beautiful green outlook” and quiet, relaxing aspect made it ideal.
Building quite literally from the ground up – the duo has worked hard since taking charge in 2020 – the property (where wallabies roam and the seasons shift effortlessly) has been transformed. From drought-stricken dust bowl to self-sufficient glamping location that pays deference to the land, Cathryn and Brad take their role as custodians seriously. So far, they’ve implemented a weed eradication program, undertaken soil and water management and installed a veggie garden among other regeneration initiatives.
This principle of treading gently guides everything here. “[The question is] really, how do you want to leave the earth?,” explains Cathryn of their process.
“We had to make sure that if we wanted to do this, and if things changed, that the land could go back to doing exactly what it needed to do,” explains Cathryn. “We weren’t going to leave a permanent mark… And everything had to be recyclable, repurpose-able and all part of this journey.”
Each of the three inflatable, low-impact domes – the result of rigorous research that included Cathryn travelling to Paris to stay in a bubbletent – harnesses solar power with guests asked not to recharge laptops and devices to conserve energy. And while water for the ever-popular outdoor bath and washing is provided in limited quantities, guests do need to bring their drinking water – an act that carries with it an inbuilt message of conscious consumption.
Between that and the composting toilets, Cathryn says it can be a big learning curve for people.
“When I explain that a toilet can take two to 500,000 litres a year to flush, and that’s clean water, that’s drinking-water quality here in Australia, that’s a real eye opener for people,” she says.
But while “asking people not to use things even though it’s on offer” can be a challenge, the opportunity to educate is one Cathryn and Brad relish.
“I think that the story resonates because people ask a lot of questions,” Cathryn shares. “They want to know what the white covers [are] around the plants… we explain that they’re tree guards because we have wallabies that like to help themselves to things that we’re trying to grow.”
And while rest, reconnection – and stargazing (naturally) – are the highlights of any Mirumiru Bubbletent glamping experience, Cathryn says there’s no reason you can’t have it all.
“It’s all here for you. And if you want to pop into town you can. It’s nice and convenient. So, it’s a little bit of both!”
Cathryn’s biggest joy, though, is to witness the opportunity for family connection that Captain Thunderbolt and its compact offsider, the tree-suspended tiny tent Mary Ann Bugg, affords.
“There’s a lot of talking and laughing around the campfire,” says Cathryn. “I know that the kids love the tiny bubble tent and they get in [Mary Ann Bugg] with torches at night and they tell stories. It’s just really nice, and it’s a great place for people to relax, but you don’t have to lug all the camping equipment.”
Book your stay at Mirumiru Bubbletent here.