Surrounded by the rugged wilderness of the Simpson desert, Red Centre boutique retreat Longitude 131º is the only place in the world where you can admire the inimitable postcard vista of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) without lifting your head from the pillow. White-tented cabins, luxurious dining and tailor-made exploring make for an unbeatable escape.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of chilled Champagne in your tent on arrival
Double rooms from £2632.69 (AU$4,800), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include all meals, most alcoholic and soft drinks, drinks from the in-suite bar, return transfers to Ayers Rock Airport and area tours.
Climbing Uluru is considered spiritually offensive to Aborigines, so if you wish to respect local Anangu culture take a walk around its stunning base instead. 'Roughing it' is an abstract concept here, but if your bed isn't quite as close to nature as you'd wish, unroll one of the retreat's bespoke swags (a luxurious take on a bushman's bed-roll), and after a few snifters of port and Cognac, snooze under the stars on your balcony, by a crackling fire.
At the hotel
Boutique, guest lounge and PC with web access. In rooms: iPad, sound system, luxury swags, climate control, free gourmet minibar with premium Australian wines, safe and free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
Longitude 131º’s tents are more luxury cabins draped in flowing white fabric than the canvas crash-pads the word suggests. Bespoke furnishings include an organic-linen-draped Bailie bed, facing panoramic views of Uluru from floor-to-ceiling windows and each tent showcases indigenous artwork. Each tent is named after a celebrated Australian explorer or wilderness pioneer, and the walls are adorned with relevant memorabilia (cuttings, letters, sketches, etc). The tents are identical in terms of facilities but differ by location: 1 and 15 (aka ‘Sir Sidney Kidman and ‘Jane Webb’) are the most private as they’re set at either end of the resort, so very few people tend to wander past; 6, 7 and 8 (‘John Flynn’, ‘Ernest Giles’ and ‘William Christie Gosse’) have the most inspiring uninterrupted views of Uluru.
The curvy pool outside the Dune House is icy cold – although this can be off-putting in winter, in summer, it’s a deliciously surreal experience, floating on the cooling water in the searing desert heat.
It can get chilly at night and in winter, so pack extra layers and warm headgear.
Two-night minimum stay.
Over-10s are welcome. Tents sleep up to three guests, and an extra bed is available on request.
Showers are heated by solar power (there are no bath tubs), and reverse heater-air conditioning units reduce energy wastage.
Table 131 can be a spectacular experience, but, for an extra charge, you can also arrange to dine privately by the pool or atop a dune.
Cool and casual – just don’t wear white on account of the red desert dust.
The Dune House is Longitude’s reception, bar, lounge and restaurant. A daily changing Modern Australian menu is served at solid timber tables with rattan lounge chairs. Every other night, guests are whisked off to a secret location to dine alfresco at ‘Table 131’, with a three-course meal followed by a talk about the vast desert starscape.
There’s a self-service bar at one end of the Dune House, where you’ll find a selection of wines, beers and spirits from which to help yourself. You can sink into one of the comfy couches and thumb through the intriguing Australian history books piled high on the upturned chests that serve as coffee tables.
Meal times are flexible, depending on the tours scheduled for the day.
Not available, although you may be able to dine in your room if you arrange it in advance.
Longitude 131° lies in the World Heritage listed outback expanse of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Glamp it up with luxury accommodation and private views of the sun rising and setting over the ‘Big Pebble’ aka Ayers Rock.
Fly to Ayers Rock Connellan Airport via most major Aussie cities. The airport is a 10 minute drive from Longitude 131 (free return 4WD transfers are included in booking). Call our Smith24 team to book your flights and arrange transfers.
You can hire a car at Alice Springs or Ayres Rock Airport where you will find all the usual car rental options, but pre-booking your car is recommended – our Smith24 team can arrange a set of wheels for you to pick up. The drive from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock is 450km (about four and a half hours). You can park your car at the Ayers Rock Airport or at Sails in the Desert hotel close to the complex. Someone from the resort will come and meet you at your location with a complimentary return transfer to Longitude 131°.
Coach transfers are available and operate services between Ayers Rock Resort, which is adjacent to Longitude 131°, and Kings Canyon and Alice Springs. Coach bookings can be made through Bailie Lodges Reservations.
Worth getting out of bed for
Longitude 131º is ideally placed for wilderness treks around the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Red Centre and a schedule of free adventure tours operates daily. Take a guided excursion to Uluru and Kantju Gorge to learn about the history and mythology of the monolith site, catching incredible sunset views as you go, or – if you can face it – tear yourself out of bed at 5am to glimpse sunrise over Uluru and enjoy freshly baked pastries from the lodge at its base. If you prefer your diversions less physically demanding, try an aboriginal dot-painting workshop (arranged through the lodge), or book a helicopter, Harley Davidson or camel ride around the area (all of which cost a bit extra).
Dining alternatives are, unsurprisingly, rare in the desert, and Longitude's all-inclusive dining will keep you happily sated throughout your stay. However, if you make the trip into Yulara – the small resort town that serves as a base for Uluru visits – and find yourself in need of sustenance, you’ll find a cluster of bars and eateries spread among the hotels close by. The elegant Kuniya Restaurant at the Sails in the Desert hotel serves fine Modern Australian cuisine washed down with an excellent selection of native wines. Reservations are a must. Its sister restaurant, Winkiku offers a seafood buffet in a brasserie-style setting. White Gums in the Desert Gardens Hotel is a little more low key, and the neighbouring Arnguli Grill serves tasty flame-grilled seafood and steak.
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?