Ute Junker discovers a revamped desert camp offering an extreme take on outback luxury.
It's out there in the desert, somewhere near Uluru. Precisely where, we can't tell you. The lack of signposts indicating the way to Longitude 131° is deliberate: this luxury retreat is not open to outsiders. The surrounding sand dunes shield the camp's low-slung luxury "tents", adding to the feeling that you have gone off the grid.
Longitude 131° is all about Uluru. Whether you are in your tent or in the central Dune House – a flexible space that offers dining, drinking and lounging options – the rock dominates the view across the empty desert. The resort's understated interiors – natural materials in a desert palette – are designed not to draw attention away from it. There is a small pool, neatly tucked away in front of the Dune House, for guests who want to cool off in the desert heat, and the 15 tents are on either side of the Dune House.
When we say "tents", we aren't talking about those two-man canvas jobs, of course. The so-called tents are more accurately described as tented pavilions, with king size beds, an expansive shower, Wi-Fi, iPads, even Nespresso machines. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame a front-and-centre view of Uluru. You can even watch the famous sunrise while cosily tucked between the sheets: just press a button by the bed and the blinds will slide up. Rooms are serviced twice daily so don't panic if, as you slide between the sheets, your feet brush against something small, fluffy and warm. It's just the hot water bottle.
Late last year, Longitude 131° was acquired by Baillie Lodges, owners of Kangaroo Island's Southern Ocean Lodge and Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island. The Baillies have launched an ongoing refurbishment program. The interior revamp is complete; in May next year, each pavilion will get a verandah with its own fire pit, and two premium pavilions will also be added. A spa is also in the works.
Longitude 131° excels at friendly, unfussy service. Staff are good at remembering which wine you prefer with dinner; they also automatically check you in for your departing flight and print out your boarding passes.
The meals, which are included in the room rate, are outstanding. Resist the temptation to load up at breakfast: lunch is a three-course event, although the selection of light dishes (garden pea risotto, or grilled zucchini blossoms with a duck egg) helps you avoid the post-lunch slump. Dinner is when you can go for broke: from a cauliflower and camembert soup, move to lamb with a pistachio crumble, finishing with a honey and lavender pannacotta.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
Seductive as the tents are, you didn't come all this way to stay inside. Exploration and education are priorities at Longitude 131°, with a program of signature experiences included in the room rate. These include a walk through Walpa Gorge at Kata Tjuta, and the Mala Walk around the base of Uluru. After taking in cave paintings and significant sites, guests arrive at Kantju Gorge in time to watch the setting sun set the gorge walls aflame, savouring a quiet cocktail while the sun goes down. Perhaps the most memorable experience is Table 131°, a four-course dinner in the desert under star-drenched skies, with an indigenous dance performance and an astronomy talk.
For an extra fee, you can also choose from a range of bespoke experiences. Highly recommended are the Valley of the Winds walk and a helicopter tour to Cave Hill, one of the most significant rock art sites in Central Australia.
A visit to the Red Centre is one of Australia's most memorable holidays; a stay at Longitude 131° lifts that experience to another level.
HOW TO GET THERE
The resort is a short drive from Uluru airport and transfers are provided.
Rates start at $990 a person a night twin share, based on a three night stay. Rates include all meals, mini-bar, airport transfers and signature experiences. See longitude131.com.au
The writer was a guest of Longitude 131° and Tourism NT.