Ayers Rock, Northern Territory – January 2017
There's a clearing in the clouds, flying over Northern Territory and I hold my breath. "I see it!" I shout out loud although there's no embarrassment as all the passengers on the plane seem to be just as excited, snapping away on their iPhones at the same thing. A giant red rock.
Picked up by a young and vibrant staff member of Longtidue 131°, the only lodge in the area to have uninterrupted views of Uluru, I'm transported through the outback terrain and overwhelmed by a colour palette that is unmistakably Australian. Odd trees, shrubs and pale yellow grass are scattered throughout intense, richly-red dirt.
After a much needed refreshment and nibble (lemon-myrtle cookie perhaps?), I'm led down a path to my tent-cum-suite. There are only 15 tents, which are raised on stilts and have recently had architecturally designed balconies added to their front facade. Inside, they're intrinsically Aussie, with outback paraphernalia adorning the walls, rich leather details and furnishings in earthy tones like that of a grand homestead.
The mini-bar, which is included in the rate, is stocked with champagne, Australian wines, house-made cookies, nut mixes and bags of crisps. Like all of the Baillie Lodges (Southern Ocean Lodge, Capella Lodge), the guest is never wanton of snacks, be it in-room or in the communal areas.
The bathroom is at the rear of my suite and has a rain shower with a window that faces out to the wilderness and there's plenty of room for my luggage and a closet to hang up my clothes. Shorts, singlets and more shorts. It's hot, really hot, at Uluru and thankfully there's no dress code (leave the stilettos at home).
Mornings start early, with a base walk of Uluru up first. We head off at 6:15am, a breakfast box in hand, for a ten kilometre stroll on a well-maintained dirt track. It's hard to comprehend that Uluru is over 850 metres tall with nothing to compare it to for scale, but face to face with the rock it's presence is spectacular and it's size is undeniable.
Formerly known as Ayers Rock after white settlement, Uluru was handed back to it's original owners 30 years ago and declared one of the rarest UNESCO sites - having both cultural and natural significance. Our Longitude 131° guide points out sacred spots to the group that hold importance to the Aboriginal people and whilst climbing the rock is still possible, it is not recommended out of respect for the owners and the land.
We're back in time for lunch and Longitude 131° offers both a classic menu with steaks and simple salads and a modern Australian menu that changes daily. Guests dine in the Dune House for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the chefs do an incredible job serving up fresh produce, which is surprising considering the remote location.
Fish is perfectly seared, served with mixed leaves and wattle-seed bread and its the kind of light dish needed after a morning in the heat. A dark, molten chocolate cake hits the spot and matches fabulously with a sweet wine, Altus, from natural wine-maker Ngeringa in the Adelaide Hills. For a dining experience that will blow you away, book in for Table 131° which is dinner served outside in the dunes. Dishes featuring emu and lamb are served on a long table, whilst listening to the sounds of a didgeridoo under the blanket of a star filled sky.
Wandering back to my tent, I'm welcomed to a flickering fire and a swag laid out for star gazing on the balcony. A whiskey tray beckons an evening tipple and I fall asleep on the very plush swag losing count of how many shooting stars have gone past.
Not to be missed is Uluru's twin sister and perhaps my favourite of the two, Kata Tjuta. Previously known as the Olgas, a morning excursion takes our group through a gorge where I am smack bang in the middle of the towering rock formation. The Longitude 131° staff are so personable and have a profound respect for the land. It's captivating to hear them recant some of the indigenous stories as we wander through the gorge.
Afternoons are spent relaxing on my balcony or by the pool for some much needed relief from the rising temperatures (I am in the centre of Australia, after all). There's Wifi throughout the resort and there's only one TV which is in the Dune House and rarely seems to get used.
Prior to dinner, canapes are served at sunset at various viewing points around the Uluru rock. Sipping on champagne and nibbling on a cheese twist, I'm speechless to see the rock change dramatically from dark red to vibrant orange as the sunlight goes down. It's hot, dry and it's beauty gets under my skin. It's Australia, it's my home and it's privilege to see it.
THE TURN DOWN
ACCOMODATION CATEGORY: Wilderness Lodge.
ROOMS: All the luxury tents offered panoramic views of Uluru and the landscape. Stay tuned for the slick Dune Pavilions opening late in 2017.
MINI BAR: Complimentary. Beer, wine, sparkling, soft drink, chocolate, biscuits, nuts, crisps and water.
POOL/GYM/SPA: There is a pool and a spa to open after renovations late 2017.
TURN DOWN SERVICE: Yes, water refilled, chocolates and a spirits tray with the Baillie Swag set-up.
FEEL: Refined outback luxury.
LOCATION: A 20 minute drive from Ayers Rock airport.
RESTAURANT/BAR: The Dune House serves up all meals which are included for guests in the rate. There's a bar which is open all day for guests to help themselves as they wish.
RATES: Starting at $1400 AUD per person, twin share, per night including meals, beverages and excursions.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Field of Light installation by British artist Bruce Munro which was due to close March 2017 has been extended. A lunchbox is given to guests on departure for the long journey home - complete with coconut water and raw vegan chocolate.
I travelled and stayed as a guest of the Baillie Lodges.