Toddle up to the Top End for ancient Indigenous culture before rocking on at The Rock - all the while enjoying outback hospitality.
Yulara Drive, Yulara; (02) 9918 4355; Longitude131.com.au
THE LOCATION Talk about starting the day with a bang. The Red Centre's most exclusive retreat is the only place where you can open your eyes and marvel at the area's most famous sight: the unmistakable shape of Uluru slowly changing colour as it soaks up the rays of the rising sun.
THE PLACE It's only about 15 minutes' drive from the airport, but Longitude's secluded location lets you feel as if you are marooned in the middle of the desert. Each of the 16 tented pavilions is a haven of luxury: expect king-sized beds, complimentary drinks and works by some of the country's most acclaimed Indigenous artists.
THE EXPERIENCE Stay in or head out? Why not both! A range of excursions is included in the room rate: don't miss the various walks along Uluru's base. Bespoke tour options, including a walk through Kata Tjuta's Valley of the Wines and an excursion to Ernabella Arts centre, are also recommended. However, there's a lot to be said for spending some time just relaxing, whether cooling off in the plunge pool at the Dune Top, enjoying a spa treatment based on Indigenous ingredients, or simply taking in the view from your verandah.
DON'T MISS Dinner in the desert doesn't get any more delicious than Table 131, a fine dining experience under a canopy of twinkling stars.
IDEAL FOR Living it up. - Ute Junker
From $1400 a person a night twin share. Minimum two-night stay.
SAILS IN THE DESERT
163 Yulara Drive, Yulara; (02) 8296 8010; Ayersrockresort.com.au
Sails in the Desert, Yulara. Photo: supplied
THE LOCATION Can't get your offspring enthused about the idea of heading to the desert to look at a big rock? Then explain to them that a trip to Uluru is hands down the best place in the country to learn about Indigenous culture.
THE PLACE Ayers Rock Resort caters to travellers on a range of budgets but the five-star Sails in the Desert significantly ups the comfort factor. The rooms are generously sized – and available in interconnected configurations – and the eucalypt-shaded pool lets the kids cool off in the heat of the day. The earth-toned decor is livened up by colourful Indigenous touches, from a rainbow serpent winding its way along a carpet to woven chandeliers inspired by the basketwork of the Anungu people.
THE EXPERIENCE From camel rides to Harley-Davidson tours, there are many ways to explore the area. The resort also offers a wide program of Indigenous activities, many free, including bush-tucker walks, while the stargazing sessions are a revelation.
DON'T MISS You have never seen the desert as brilliantly alive as for Bruce Munro's Field of Light art installation, on until February 28.
IDEAL FOR Doing the outback. - Ute Junker
From $600 a night for two interconnecting rooms. Minimum three-night stay.
Gorge Road, Katherine; 1300 146 743; Cicadalodge.com.au
Cicada Lodge, Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park. Photo: Peter Eve
THE LOCATION Some 300 kilometres south of Darwin, Cicada Lodge is located inside Nitmiluk National Park. Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge holds great cultural value to the Jawoyn people, who welcome visitors to explore the region.
THE PLACE Owned by the Jawoyn people, this high-end resort comprises 18 outlying suites, all built on stilts and connected by boardwalks. The rooms feature Indigenous art and full-length louvred doors opening on to a private balcony. The poolside dining room and bar is the place for cracking sunsets.
THE EXPERIENCE From the Chef's Menu, which incorporates native dishes, to sunset canapés, Cicada Lodge is about total immersion in five-star indulgence. Guests can choose from a range of cultural tours (additional cost) such as chopper flights to remote waterholes and rock art tours.
DON'T MISS Learning more about the Jawoyn on a Nabilil Dreaming sunset dinner cruise.
IDEAL FOR Couples seeking a luxury sanctuary with Indigenous experiences. - Kerry Van Der Jagt
From $595 a night twin share.
ADINA APARTMENT HOTEL, DARWIN WATERFRONT
7 Kitchener Drive, Darwin; (08) 8982 9999; Adinahotels.com
Adina Apartment Hotel, Darwin. Photo: Maurio Reiush
THE LOCATION Mango trees, markets and balmy tropical nights: Darwin is a city that puts a swing in your step. Explore its dramatic history (did you realise it was bombed 64 times during World War II?), take a day trip to the Tiwi Islands, swim in croc-free waterholes at Litchfield National Park, or simply sample the city's burgeoning culinary scene.
THE PLACE Whether you are on a romantic escape, hanging with friends or have the children in tow, Darwin's Waterfront Precinct, where the Adina Apartment Hotel is located, offers a cool respite from the Territory's heat. Kids can splash about in the man-made lagoon or enjoy the thrills of the wave pool, while the adults relax on the shady lawn or take a seat in one of the nearby restaurants, which include some of Darwin's best. The city centre is just a 10-minute stroll away.
THE EXPERIENCE That holiday feeling kicks in as soon as you step inside Adina Apartment Hotel's lobby. Like the in-house Curve Cafe, the foyer feature pops of colour, indigenous artworks and Asian touches that reflect Darwin's melting-pot mood. By contrast, the decor of the apartments is understated, but they are pleasantly roomy, with separate living and sleeping areas and fully-equipped kitchens and laundries. Wi-Fi is available free of charge. Last but not least, ask for a room with a water view when you book.
DON'T MISS Just a short stroll away is the Deckchair Cinema, where alfresco movies play seven nights a week during the dry season (April to November).
IDEAL FOR Water babies of all ages. - Ute Junker
From $203 a night for a premier one-bedroom apartment.
Some writers stayed as guests of the properties.