I looked out of my plane window and saw a reddish-orange desert landscape peppered with a surprising amount of green shrubs. I stared at the flat, barren land surprised at how vibrant it was. This isn’t at all what I expected from Australia’s desert and outback. However, this vibrant color in the desert was the beginning my many surprises and yin yang experience in the Red Centre.
From the air you could barely notice them, but suddenly I was able to pick out the semi circle of 15 white roofs peeking out through the red and green landscape. I fixated on the roofs and their proximity to the Uluru – one of the world’s largest and most spiritual monoliths. This was the draw of Longitude 131 – proximity to this important landmark in Australia. However, while most people go to the Red Centre of the Northern Territory to primarily see Uluru with lodging being an afterthought – it was opposite for me. It was the opportunity to stay at the all-inclusive Longitude 131 that was my impetus for coming to Uluru. Some might say my priorities are screwed up, but after two days soaking in the experience of Longitude 131, I think my priorities were just fine.
I had camped out in the dessert before in Northern Africa, however upon arriving at Longitude 131, the premier glamping destination of the Northern Territory, I knew this was going to be nothing like I had ever experienced before. This exclusive glamping spot good enough for the Royal Family and Oprah is best known for their luxury, service, seclusion, and view of Uluru. This was a place where you came to relax, learn, and soak in the culture and environment around you.
For me it was also a place of complimentary contrasts – yin and yang. I felt these opposite yet complementary forces at work constantly during my time at Longitude 131. This feeling for me started with the desert landscape and continued to the tents, the food, and the people I met.
A Tent With a View
I arrived and was shown to my personal glamping ‘tent’. It was part canvas tent, and part pre-fab building elevated off the ground making it look as if my room was floating above the red sand desert floor. Each tent had a 3 walls and one wall that was a huge window. The window looked out on your own personal view of Uluru. After all, Uluru is the main attraction. The room was even designed so that in the bathroom (thanks to sliding mirrors) you could also see your own personal view of Uluru.
The design of the room had an earthy feel and old world charm with muted colors, dark wood, wooden trunks, and a chaise lounge. Yet the old explorer feel had modern touches with an iPad and Bose speakers in each room with preloaded playlists for romance, chilling out, rock & roll, and local indigenous music. The turn down service included fur covered hot water bottles to warm your bed during the cold desert nights. And each tent was stocked with a selection of teas and Nespresso coffee maker. Overall it reflected a sense of place with respect of its surroundings and history. I didn’t really want to leave my gorgeous room, but with so much to see and do at Longitude 131, I knew I couldn’t stay in my comfortable tent forever!
Experiences with a Luxury Twist
Longitude 131 wasn’t just about luxury accommodations – it was about celebrating the culture and spirit of the area. Each day there is a touring program that is run by a Longitude guide, and is centered around sunrise and sunset – two very special times at Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park. You go as a group to the experiences which makes them not only educational but social. The first night we went to the cultural center in the park to learn more about the Anangnu people and their history. Then as the sun started it’s descent into the red horizon, we went to a private viewing area for the sunset complete with champagne.
After the sun had set and the pictures were taken, we were whisked away to Table 131, a one-of-a-kind dinner under the stars. This was my first taste of the talent of Chef Seona Moss. She infused local ingredients unique to the desert into her creations and each plate was served up with incredible attention to detail – even in the dark under the stars. After dinner we were handed a glass of port and treated to a star talk to learn about the astronomy of the Southern Hemisphere by our guide Andy. He didn’t just talk about stars, but also the rotation of the planets and solar system, moons, black holes and star stages. The dessert is the perfect backdrop with no light pollution for stargazing!
Each experience was focused on learning the stories of the Anangnu. The song lines (stories) reminded me of ancient mythology tales full of love, loss, and super powers. The experiences also included some hiking and light walking. Backpacks, water bottles, and fly nets were provided for every guest for the outings. Each experience in the evening ended with cocktails and canapés in the outdoors. A beautiful setting for happy hour as you watch the fantastic colors on Uluru change by the setting sun and get to know your fellow travelers.
Guides as Teachers
“There are millions of wattles!” our guide Graham remarked with a laugh. His comment made me laugh as I wasn’t even sure what a wattle was. However, I did know that a wattle was a plant, as Graham had been educating us and subsequently quizzing us on the plants and trees during our Kata Tjuta hike. For some reason all I could remember was the word “wattle”, but all of the other names describing the specific wattles were lost on me in a sea of new information we were receiving on the hike.
On each outing we had a different guide for the experience – this was done on purpose so that we could get different perspectives. I really liked this aspect, as each guide’s passion and interest seemed to come out in their stories. Some of guides I connected to more than others – but all were extremely knowledgeable and professional. Graham had been there a long time and had visited years ago when the land ownership picture was quite different – so he offered a very unique perspective on the history.
However, my time with Mark was probably my most memorable. Mark is Scottish and as unique as they come. He was extremely interested in the Anangnu culture and often spent time in their village connecting personally with them. He did a nice job of helping me understand the Anangnu’s deep connection with the land. He was the best studied in the native language and the stories in my opinion. He even taught me how to count in Pitjantjatjara language. I spent one morning with him walking around Uluru learning of some of the important song lines. He even provided me time on my own to simply walk and soak it all in.
Modern and Indigenous Flavors
Just as Longitude 131 successfully mixes luxury with a rugged environment, Chef Moss infuses indigenous plants and fruits into her impeccably presented recipes at the Dune House (the communal dining and lodge facility). She’s been the head chef at Longitude for 4 years and regularly goes out into the Anangnu community to learn from them in how they use the nature around them in their culture and cooking. She’s even working on taking on a local apprentice or starting some programs for the locals.
The presentation was so colorful – like a piece of art coming out on each plate. One lunch Chef Moss made an entire menu using edible flowers. However my favorite presentation was the ceviche served in a shell on a bed of red sand with a small rock placed on the plate representing Uluru. I was amazed at how fresh the food was in this barren desert land; utilizing fresh parsley, mint, and fennel making you forget entirely that you were in the middle of a desert.
These contrasting yet complementary feelings were the foundation for my stay at Longitude 131. Relaxed yet active, luxurious yet rugged, old world yet technologically advanced, old ingredients and new – all perfectly mixed together to create the ultimate glamping experience in Australia.