When Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, stayed at Longitude 131 in 2014, everyone wanted to know just one thing: which tent did they sleep in? With 15 identical luxury tents to choose from, each with front and centre views of Uluru, the royal couple could have chosen whichever they wanted.
Should the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ever return, however, there is no doubt about where they will stay. The lodge's new premium suite, the Dune House, unveiled as part of an $8 million refurbishment, takes the Longitude experience – already one of Australia's most remarkable travel experiences – to the next level. These are the things that make the Dune Pavilion the new benchmark for Australian luxury.
1. THE VIEW
It is Longitude's biggest selling point: the fact that you can watch Uluru slowly change colour in the growing light of dawn without having to get out of bed. Every bed shares the same view – except for those in the Dune Pavilion. As you would expect, the Dune Pavilion takes the experience one step further. Both bedrooms have been cleverly positioned to provide views across not only Uluru but also Kata Tjuta, giving you a double dose of morning glory. You can even soak in the view while soaking in your bathtub.
2. THE SLEEP OUT
A night under the stars is a Longitude tradition. While you are at dinner, staff will set up a swag on your private deck, light a fire, and even leave out an after-dinner drink for you. Guests at the Dune Pavilion can enjoy the same experience, with the addition of a second fire on the deck, helping to warm the cool desert night air. Few places offer such a dazzling display of stars as the Red Centre; in fact, if you are like me, you may find them so distracting that they keep you awake. It is a sight worth losing a bit of sleep over.
3. BREAKFAST IN BED
Let's be honest: there's not a whole lot of sleeping in at Longitude 131. Days in the Red Centre start early. The early morning and the late afternoon are the best times to be out and about in the harsh desert environment. Most mornings, you will be fronting up for breakfast around 6am. Not, however, if you are staying in the Dune Pavilion, the only lodging where breakfast can be delivered to your door. The menu changes every day: choices may include an heirloom tomato and smashed avocado bruschetta, or a Tasmanian trout florentine.
4. PRE-DINNER DRINKS
One of the most decadent aspects of Longitude 131 is its open bar philosophy. You can help yourself to any of the artisanal spirits arrayed on the bar, or top up your wine whenever you want. Tents also come equipped with a complimentary selection of Australian wines and French champagne. Guests at the Dune Pavilion get an extra bonus – a private bar filled with whichever spirits they fancy. (If you are a gin lover, the pretty purple Ink Gin is recommended.) You don't have to wait until cocktail hour to enjoy a tipple, of course, but if you do, staff will deliver some canapes to go with your drinks.
5. THE DESIGN
Given the spectacular views outside, it's a fair bet that most guests spend their first hour or so in the Dune Pavilion looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows. However, the beautifully-designed interiors justify a fair amount of gazing in their own right. Drawing on an Australian bush vernacular, the Pavilion features walls lined with plank-like pieces of Tasmanian Blackwood, black tapware that references the charred landscapes left behind after bushfires, and beautiful furniture handcrafted by designers including Jon Goulder, whose Settler's Chair features a curved leather shell mounted on a blackwood frame.
6. THE ART
If you love indigenous art, you have come to the right place. Longitude 131 has an outstanding collection of indigenous works, including paintings, ceramics and woven works. The Dune Pavilion has its own private collection, with no fewer than six pieces by artists from the Tjala Arts Centre in the APY Lands. Tjala artists are among the most acclaimed in the country. The Dune Pavilion features large-scale canvases by Barbara Moore, Naomi Kantjuriny and Mona Mitakiki, who were finalists in this year's Wynne Prize for landscape painting.
7. TAKING A DIP
It can get hot in the desert, which is why Longitude offers its guests a choice of pools: the main pool, with its shaded daybeds, and the plunge pool with a view perched high on the Dune Top. The Dune Pavilion, however, has its own private plunge pool. Pour yourself a glass of French champagne, sink into the pool and gaze out across the desert. Lazy afternoons don't get better than this.
8. GETTING PAMPERED
The Dune Pavilion is not the only thing that's new at Longitude; the newly opened Spa Kinara is another highlight. Like the Dune Pavilion, the spa draws its design inspiration from an outback aesthetic – in this case, traditional lean-to shelters – and also uses traditional indigenous ingredients in its treatments. Opt for a massage using balm made of scented emu bush, or choose a facial that includes a quandong hair mask.
9. COMING HOME
As inviting as the Dune Pavilion is, cocooning isn't really on the menu. The Longitude experience is all about exploring the Red Centre, and your stay includes a range of complimentary activities, including a walk through Walpa Gorge at Kata Tjuta and a guided stroll along the Mala Walk at the base of Uluru. Activities typically take place in the early morning and the afternoon; knowing that you are heading home to enjoy the Pavilion's many creature comforts adds a special glow to each activity.
Rates for the Dune House start at $2400 per person per night twin share, minimum two nights stay. Rates include all meals, open bar including French champagne, transfers and signature experiences including a range of tours and the Table 131 desert dining experience.
Ute Junker stayed courtesy of Baillie Lodges.