An icon to match an icon. When Longitude 131 opened almost 20 years ago it immediately became a symbol of the emergence of a bolder, more innovative Australian tourism industry. The self-styled luxury wilderness camp - now operated by the pioneering Baillie Lodges group which spans Australia, Canada and New Zealand - is as emblematic as ever. The most exclusive accommodation choice at Uluru, Longitude 131 consists of just 16 luxury tents scattered across red desert dunes with each arranged for uninterrupted viewing and appreciation of the looming sacred Rock.
Unrivalled and magnificent. The camp is set amid sand dunes with Uluru hovering in full view on the horizon about 30 kilometres away by road but much closer to it as the crow (make that the brown falcon) flies. The Rock is under 500 kilometres from Alice Springs and three and a half hours' flying time from Sydney and Melbourne.
Social distancing attains its apotheosis here in Australia's Red Heart with the population density of the Northern Territory a sparse 0.2 people per kilometre. On a more sombre note, the protection of the local Indigenous population during the pandemic has been of paramount concern. As a result Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Ayers Rock Resort and Longitude 131 were closed for an extended period last year. Now with the lodge reopened, the absence of plane loads of foreign visitors means there is probably no better time to visit this tranquil and entrancing place.
Room? You must mean "the tent"? And, oh, what a tent. Longitude 131 more or less introduced the concept of "glamping" in Australia. Don't bother getting up to admire the view as Uluru can be viewed right from the comfort of your king bed. The luxury tents with their towering canopies range in size from 63 square metres to the 153 square metre Dune Pavilion. After dinner you'll find you've received two turndown services: one for the internal bed and the other for the external one, ie a traditional swag set up on your balcony with an open fire, just in case you care to sleep outdoors (management reports that plenty of guests do accept the offer).
You haven't really dined out at Uluru unless you've dined out. Outside, that is, under some of the most dazzlingly possible skies with red dirt beneath your feet. Dinner, with the excellent dishes infused with Indigenous bush ingredients, can be taken at either the Dune House, the resort's central building, or outdoors at Table 131, the latter being an unforgettable experience during any stay at the camp. Before dinner, take drinks at the open-air Dune Top Bar set on an elevated deck, complete with a gurgling Jacuzzi, which affords superlative views of both tnearby Uluru and Kata Tjuta, 60 kilometres away. At sunset, make your way in the weakening light to a dune top where dinner is served on a specially-built platform. Stupendous.
A variety of "signature experiences" are included in the guest tariff, which some would say is as steep as the no-climb sides of the rock itself. There's a guided Indigenous-focused Uluru base walk, a sunrise tour to Kata Tjuta and a visit to Field of Light, the spectacular art installation comprised of 50,000 bud-like lights on stems that gently illuminate the desert, like glow-in-the-dark wildflowers, at nightfall. Longitude 131 also offers a selection of bespoke and private experiences including guided walks and helicopter tours.
ONE MORE THING
Longitude 131 has announced an Indigenous artists-in-residence program allowing guests to meet artists from the Ernabella Arts Community in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. As part of an ongoing partnership, the artists will spend a few days on visits between April and November establishing an open studio in the Dune House from where they will paint with Uluru as their backdrop.
Excuses for postponing a visit to the rock, wherever you choose to stay and at what cost, can no longer be accepted. The absence of foreign tourists, including the normally ubiquitous backpackers, during the pandemic means that now represents a unique moment to experience the monolith crowd-free at sunrise and sunset. A fortunate few will be able to savour the Rock and Kata Tjuta from this magical international standard luxury from the beauteous base camp that is Longitude 131.
Luxury tents from $1700 per person twin share with a minimum two-night stay. The rate, valid until the end of this month, includes all-day dining, an open bar including Champagne, premium wines and spirits, in-tent bar, tours and Ayers Rock Airport transfers. Check the lodge's website for packages. Jetstar operates regular flights to Uluru from Sydney and Melbourne. See longitude131.com.au jetstar.com
The panorama from the Dune Top Bar is one of the most arresting views in Australia and, perhaps not surprisingly, becomes even more impressive after a second or third al fresco tipple (careful you don't topple into the spa).
Yes, it is expensive, and not for all. But if your bank balance or credit card is sufficiently elastic do consider writing-off a stay at Longitude 131 as a once-in-a-lifetime (pandemic) treat before the crowds return.