Longitude 131° by Voyages
Australia’s Red Centre was always on our ‘to do’ list, but the remoteness of the place kept pushing it down in the priority queue. So imagine our surprise when we realised the flight is a mere three hours from Sydney. Why didn’t we go sooner?
Taking a small detour, we call in at the Alice Desert Festival. Held in Alice Springs, the festival showcases the art, music and dance of Central Australia, with indigenous participants travelling up to 800 kilometres out of the remote desert. Incredible art experiences abound, from main event the ‘Desert Mob’ – an exhibition of new works by some of the Central Desert's most respected artists – to a market where novice collectors like ourselves can pick up great pieces without dropping thousands of dollars. If you love indigenous art, Alice is an absolute treasure trove.
Loaded up with roll upon roll of colourful canvases, Mr Smith and I board a plane for the short flight to Yulara in the Red Centre. Glued to the window, we’re gripped by the surreal sight of red earth sprinkled with salt lakes, as Uluru (Ayers Rock) emerges on the horizon. Seeing it from the air is unforgettable.
A lovely young guide in her khakis greets us on arrival and leads us to a safari-style four-wheel-drive. Just as we start to feel like explorers, bottled water and cool face towels appear from the esky. Looking around, what we imagined would be an arid wasteland turns out to be fairly lush and green. There’s been quite a bit of rain recently, so the desert is blooming.
Dunes are all we can see as we approach Longitude 131° resort – its 15 tents form a part of the landscape. As we walk into the communal lounge, lined with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, we’re offered a cold drink, but we’re totally distracted by the view of ‘the Rock’, monumental and serene before us. It's a familiar cliché from tourist ads, but in reality it truly rocks!
A friendly resident lizard nods cheerily as we proceed to our tent. Any scarring memories of camping evaporate as we step into our tastefully decorated luxury den with a huge comfy bed and warm wooden interior. The parachute-style ceiling, maps and telescope hint at the wilderness outside. Positioned to make the most of the panoramic views of Uluru on the infinite horizon, all tents sport glass fronts which can be swung open to let in the desert air.
Each tent is dedicated to a different Australian explorer and tells the story of some of the earliest settlers. Just as we’re envying the adventure and freedom of their pioneering lifestyle, a bottle of chilled champagne arrives at the door. Guess there would be some creature comforts you'd miss!
Lounging on the bed in white fluffy robes, glass of Louis Roederer in hand, Mr Smith and I put bets on whether we could stroll to the Rock from here. Later we discover it’s actually 20 kilometres away, but it sure didn’t look like that at the time.
Gazing at the glowing red Rock from a viewing platform out in the desert at dusk, we watch as it's bathed in sunset rays. Longitude has it all sussed, with champagne, canapés and the best vantage point. Afterwards, we savour an alfresco dinner by the fire, making new friends across the communal table to the sounds of a didgeridoo player. The wine flows as freely as the travel yarns, and as a heavenly panna cotta dessert is served, Mr Smith spots a shooting star. Magic.
Up early the next day, we catch sunrise over the Rock and spend a few hours walking around the base of this magnificent formation. We learn about its sacred aboriginal sites, discover rock art and spot plants and birds. Mr Smith and I agree, though, that it’s hard to beat the jaw-dropping views of Uluru from the comfort of our own bed.
Later, lazing about in our luxury tent is followed by a spectacular long lunch. As not much produce can grow in the desert, Longitude’s chefs source the best ingredients from across the country. We indulge in a seared tuna salad adorned with edible flowers, followed by a wagyu steak sandwich, washed down with our favourite Petaluma chardonnay. We skip dessert, having been warned about the fabulous five-course tasting menu that evening.
Distant rock formations the Olgas beckon at dawn, named after the Russian royal highness who funded their discovery. Attempting a seven-kilometre marked trail, Mr Smith and I find a landscape like nothing else we have ever seen. The dry air sharpens the greens, yellows and unmistakable reds of the earth, contrasting vividly with the blue sky. Flocks of birds, small as butterflies, play in the water-holes. Soon everything becomes dreamy, with a layer of a mist like an Albert Namatjira painting.
A piece of a puzzle has slotted into place to form a new view of our multi-faceted, intriguing country. Leaving that afternoon, we agree that Longitude epitomises the best of Australia – friendly, relaxed hospitality, a skillful showcase of the nation’s food and wine, and a true Outback spirit. Who says you can't combine adventure with champagne?
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Smith extra at Longitude 131° by Voyages
A bottle of chilled Champagne in your tent on arrival