Ultimate Uluru with a touch of luxury
AUSTRALIANS are renowned as seasoned jetsetters, travelling to all corners of the planet to explore new horizons. But every Australian, I believe, needs to journey - at least once in their lifetime - to the red heart of our great country to experience the soul-enriching magic of Uluru.
The most indulgent way to savour the spiritual power of this Dreamtime place in the desert is by staying at the luxurious outback camp, Longitude 131.
A recent $8 million facelift of this iconic property has enhanced Longitude 131's standing as one of Australia's top wilderness lodges. Nestled discreetly amidst spinifex-cloaked dunes, with matchless views of Uluru from each of its 16 safari tents, this world-famous, desert sanctuary beckons comfort lovers keen to lose themselves in Australia's own, vast horizons.
This award-winning wilderness retreat wows its pampered guests from arrival to departure - and even beyond - but Longitude's quintessential appeal is the mesmerising, ever-changing view of 'the rock' from every tent, every table in the restaurant and every deck and pool. It's a magnetic vista that will live with you forever.
The recent refurbishment yielded a stylish, new-look bar, lounge, terrace, pool and outdoor dining areas, a striking new Dune Top plunge pool and bar, a dedicated spa, a revamped menu infused with indigenous flavours and a new premium suite, the Dune Pavilion. The result is a new standard of world-class, experiential luxury in the middle of nowhere but at the centre of everything that makes the red centre a must-do experience.
Longitude 131's distinctively white canopies are deliciously hidden in an unsigned location amongst the spinifex-cloaked dunes just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Guests arriving in the heat are thoughtfully blessed with refreshing jets of mist before they enter the stylish and air-conditioned guest hub, the Dune House, which yields jaw-dropping vistas of Uluru through floor-to-ceiling windows. Face cloths, infused with lemon myrtle, also help revive the spirit as does a welcome glass of French bubbles - or anything else you fancy from the open bar. The staff are relaxed but calculatingly efficient, seemingly knowing what you want to drink or eat before you do. All this pampering dangerously adds up to a lifestyle I could quickly get used to.
Our air-conditioned tent is like no other tent I have stayed in before, channelling a sense of earthy elegance, with sumptuous beds, leather armchairs, timber tables, organic linens, luxurious throws and indigenous artwork fusing to reflect the ochre-hued desert outside.
The constantly replenished and complimentary mini bar is also luxe with an assortment of treats, including French champagne, to enjoy. Ambient indigenous music plays on entry and there's no TV, because why would you want to watch a screen when you can rest on the bed, gazing at the world's biggest rock? There are also thoughtful touches like daypacks, jackets, torches, insect sprays, sunscreens and lip balms for added comfort while exploring the outback.
All meals and beverages are included in the tariff, with the emphasis on quality Australian produce and local flavours to mirror the outback location. Dishes are infused with indigenous flavours, with Longitude's chefs using wild spices, muntries, quandong and native berries to champion the flavour of the desert. Dishes that disappeared quickly from my plate included smoked kangaroo fillet with Jerusalem artichokes, green beans and Daintree chocolate; and Cape Grim eye fillet with kumara, saltbush and quandong relish. The culinary journey even continues after check out, with Longitude's chefs sending you off with a gourmet lunch pack to enjoy on the flight home.
During our stay, we enjoyed the desert-fringing swimming pool with its mist-sprayed deck chairs (to keep you cool in the heat) and the poolside, serve-yourself mini bar. But the highlight for us was the new, elevated Dune Top plunge pool, sun deck and another free mini-bar overlooking the entire property, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and a great swathe of desert. The sweeping panorama and overwhelming stillness from such a luxe hideaway, high above a dune, was spine-tingling. Or maybe it was just the French champagne!
Included in your stay, also, are Longitude's own tours of Uluru-Kata Tjuta. Our two-night stay featured five 'experiences' beginning with a close-up view of Uluru at sunset, chilled glass and canape in hand, followed by Uluru's now famous Field of Light display - a spectacular solar-powered exhibition comprising 50,000 bud-like stems that hauntingly glow as night falls. Dawn next day saw us exploring the weathered gorges of Kata Tjuta while in the late afternoon, Uluru's secret caves and waterholes beckoned, again with sunset drinks and canapes. On our final day, we joined Longitude's own sunrise walk around part of Uluru's base to hear the fascinating Dreamtime stories of the Anangu people who own this land. We returned home with our time at Uluru creating our own spirited stories for us to dream about.