Sails in the Desert hotel review: Cross Uluru off your bucket list in comfort

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

THE PLACE

If there's something absent from the broader Australian travel experience it is history and heritage. Of course, there's a mere 60,000 years of it all around us in terms of Indigenous culture but as for modern-day, European Australia, there are few true historic hotels or resorts of the kind we enjoy (or, sigh, used to enjoy) abroad.

However, there's one sure grande dame, unlikely as it may seem, of Australian tourism and that is the five-star, 228-room Sails in the Desert, which is now, believe it or not, nearing its 40th anniversary. The leading Australian architect Philip Cox designed the resort in 1984 and a year or so ago won a national award recognising its "enduring architecture" with Sails in the Desert praised by judges as being "timeless" and "iconic".

THE LOCATION

Sails in the Desert is intentionally set well back, though not too far, from the magnificent Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with the base of the Rock itself a dramatic and awe-inspiring half-hour or so drive away. The resort shares its Yulara home with other accommodation offerings at various lower price points.

It's hard to believe how, with modern Australian tourism in its infancy, Cox got Sails in the Desert so right, replete with its distinctive, almost festive, white shade cloth spinnakers. The architect also designed the iconic Longitude 131 luxury tented camp with its unrivalled views of the Rock.

THE SPACE

The low-level Sails in the Desert is set around an attractive landscaped quadrangle shaded by tall and leafy eucalypts with their flint-coloured trunks around the essential centrepiece swimming pool.

Ayers Rock Resort last year underwent a $50 million upgrade though much of the work is unseen, directed as it is towards all-important air conditioning systems, enhanced landscaping, sewerage lines (too much detail?) and the replacement of Sails' shade cloth that had somehow survived a remarkable 37 years.

THE ROOM

My commodious, well-equipped second floor terrace room, decorated with Indigenous touches, includes, as the name suggests, a sizeable deck with its own lounger overlooking the grassed courtyard. Sadly, it goes unused during a reasonably busy visit.

Happily, some of those renovation dollars were spent on sprucing guest rooms and suites, specifically bathrooms, which, based on a previous visit, were overdue for some love.

THE FOOD

What with two of the world's biggest monoliths in the form of Uluru and Kata Tjuta awaiting you, there's much exploring to be done, whether it be on foot, bicycle, vehicle or even a camel's back. Keep your strength, and liquids, up, at one of the resort's appealing dining options.

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Ilkari Restaurant is the main eatery with some terrific curries by the Indian-Australian chefs while the adjoining Walpa Lobby Bar is ideal for a more relaxed meal or just a drink. Of course, there's always the option of a casual lunch and cocktail poolside while taking some time out on one of the daybeds.

STEPPING OUT

While we're on the subject of wining and dining, combine a visit to the Field of Light, Ayers Rock Resort's immensely popular illuminated art installation in the desert with an al fresco dinner beside it. Even better, get set for the scheduled return in April of Tali Wiru (meaning: "beautiful dune" in the local Anagu language), the resort's most upscale outdoor dining offering.

OK, that's the food sorted. In terms of activities, where do you start? Take a chopper ride above the now climb-free Rock. Ride a bicycle around its perimeter. Learn how to dot paint from an expert Indigenous local. Discover the art of bush tucker. The list is exhaustive. You will not be bored.

THE VERDICT

You've doubtless heard it before during the pandemic but, seriously, with overseas travel banned indefinitely there's no better time (mercurial borders willing) to visit Australia's spiritual heart, which many Australians have delayed seeing. At Sails in the Desert, a modern Australian classic, you'll do so in considerable comfort and luxury.

ESSENTIALS

Rates from $545 per night (check the resort website for special offers and packages). 163 Yulara Drive, Yulara Northern Territory. Phone: 1300 134 044 See ayersrockresort.com.au; qantas.com; jetstar.com

Anthony Dennis was a guest of Ayers Rock Resort and Qantas.

HIGHLIGHT

MIGHTY ULURU DOMINATES BUT DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE MAJESTY OF THE MULTI-DOMED KATA-TJUTA

LOWLIGHT

SOME EXPERIENCES HAVE BEEN CURTAILED DUE TO COVID-19 BUT THERE'S STILL MUCH TO SEE AND DO