Longitude 131° Uluru hotel review
Every Australian should experience the magic of Uluru at least once, and Longitude 131° offers the most luxurious and enriching way to savour the spiritual power of this Dreamtime place, writes Andrew Mevissen.
Longitude 131° is one of Australia’s premier wilderness lodges and hedonistic havens. Nestled discreetly amid the red dunes with unrivalled views of Uluru from every safari tent, this desert sanctuary delivers the ultimate in outback luxury complete with superb cuisine and relaxed, five-star service.
Traveller: Andrew Mevissen
Room: One of 16 luxury tented pavilions
Address: Uluru–Kata Tjuta, Central Australia, NT
Date: January 2018
Best for: An indulgent, live-it-up connection with Australia’s spirited heartland
The Signature factor
This sophisticated wilderness retreat wows its pampered guests from arrival to departure – and even beyond – but Longitude’s defining and unique appeal is the enthralling and ever-changing view of ‘the rock’ from every tent, every table in the restaurant and every deck and pool. It’s a magnetic vista you’ll never forget.
First opened in 2003, Longitude 131° was designed by celebrated Australian architect, Philip Cox. Australia’s award-winning luxury brand, Baillie Lodges, took the reins in 2013 in a partnership with the local Indigenous community. Since then, multi-million-dollar transformations of the property, which commands dress-circle views of Uluru well away from the main Ayers Rock Resort, have enhanced its appeal under the eye of custom designer Max Pritchard, who created Baillie’s flagship property, Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island. Emerging from the major refurbishment are new-look bar, lounge, terrace, pool and outdoor dining areas, a striking Dune Top plunge pool and bar, a dedicated spa, a revamped menu infused with Indigenous flavours and premium suite, the Dune Pavilion, Australia’s only accommodation to offer views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
A warm, personal greeting with water at steamy Ayers Rock Airport and a luxury van transfer to Longitude’s unsigned and deliciously clandestine location among the spinifex-cloaked dunes set the tone for our stay. Arriving guests are thoughtfully ‘blessed’ with refreshing jets of mist outside in the heat before they enter the air-conditioned guest hub, the Dune House, which yields jaw-dropping vistas of Uluru through floor-to-ceiling windows. Face washers infused with hints of lemon myrtle help refresh the mind and body after your trip to the outback. It’s also compulsory to check in with a glass of French bubbles – or anything else you fancy from the open bar – in your hand. The intuitive staff – decked out in RM Williams-curated uniforms – are relaxed but calculatingly efficient, seemingly knowing what you want to drink or eat before you do. All this pampering dangerously adds up to a lifestyle I could quickly get used to.
Our canopied, air-conditioned ‘tent’ – one of 16 sanctuaries of earthy elegance – is nothing like any tent I have stayed in before. The sumptuous beds, leather armchairs, timber tables, organic linens, luxurious throws and Indigenous artwork fuse to reflect the ochre-hued palette of the desert which cradles each tent. The bathroom, complete with rain shower, is deluxe– as is the outdoor terrace with day/night beds to enjoy the nightly star show. The constantly replenished and complimentary mini-bar is also luxe with an assortment of treats including champagne to enjoy, and there’s a coffee machine and premium, loose-leaf teas. Ambient music plays on entry and there’s no TV, because why would you want to watch a screen when you can rest your head on oversized pillows and gaze at the majestic rock from your bed? There are also thoughtful touches like daypacks, jackets, torches, insect sprays, sunscreens and lip balms for added comfort while exploring the outback.
The Dune Pavilion is modelled on an Australian homestead, with a king-sized bed, panoramic glass walls, expansive deck, private plunge pool, handcrafted furniture, a mini art gallery of Indigenous art, a desert-view bathroom, suave bathtub and a curated bar based on personal beverage preferences. You can see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) from this suite.
On my plate
All meals and beverages are included in the Longitude 131° tariff, with guests pampered with gastronomic masterpieces around the clock. The emphasis is on quality Australian produce and local flavours to mirror the outback location. Dishes are infused with Indigenous flavours as Longitude’s chefs use wild spices, muntries, quandong and native berries to champion the flavour of the desert. Dishes that disappeared quickly from my plate include smoked kangaroo fillet with Jerusalem artichoke, green beans and Daintree chocolate; and Cape Grim eye fillet with kumara, saltbush and quandong relish. The kitchen’s mission is to source produce that is thoughtfully grown and ecologically maintained and harvested, and an accompanying wine list features varietals from Australia’s finest wine regions. Your culinary journey at Longitude continues even after check out as its chefs send you off with a gourmet lunch pack to enjoy on the flight home.
Highlights from the mini-bar
Champagne, premium beers, wine and spirits, deluxe cheeses, chocolate treats, gourmet cookies…all are highlights and all are included in the tariff.
I wish I could take home…
The complimentary, never-ending, have-what-you-like mini-bar. It’s how life should be.
Longitude’s first dedicated ‘spiritual desert sanctuary’, Spa Kinara, meaning ‘moon’ is set among the spinifex and the red sand of the outback. Inspired by the design of a traditional Aboriginal shelter, Spa Kinara aims to help guests feel the powerful and timeless spirit of the motherland and soak in the outback stillness. The spa features LI’TYA products and massage techniques. Meaning ‘of the earth’, LI’TYA encompasses rituals and spa treatments inspired by ancient Aboriginal wisdom. To ensure Indigenous teachings remain true, spa therapists have been trained by LI’TYA professionals on the traditional use of Australian native ingredients. Treatments range from 60-minute Mukulya (loving and caring) facial therapies and ‘Sacred Earth’ massages to three-hour ‘Signature Ceremonies’ such as The Dreaming, a complete face and body treatment featuring cleansing earth ochres such as Australian yellow clay and purifying desert salts.
During the day, the air-conditioned Dune House offers a stylish lounge surrounded by Indigenous artworks and an open bar, where any beverage you can think of is available, gratis. We ventured outdoors to enjoy the billabong-like swimming pool with its mist-sprayed deck chairs (to keep you cool in the heat) and the poolside, serve-yourself mini-bar. But the highlight for us was the elevated Dune Top plunge pool and sun deck, which is accompanied by another free mini-bar overlooking the entire property, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and a great swathe of desert. The sweeping panorama and overwhelming stillness, experienced from a hideaway high above a dune was spine-tingling. Or maybe it was just the champagne.
Included in your stay are exclusive explorations of Uluru-Kata Tjuta, escorted by friendly and passionate Longitude 131° guides who clearly love their job and the desert. Our two-night stay featured five ‘experiences’ beginning with a close-up view of Uluru at sunset, chilled glass and canapé in hand, followed by Uluru’s now famous Field of Light display, a spectacular solar-powered exhibition comprising 50,000 bud-like stems that glow hauntingly as night falls. Dawn next day saw us exploring the weathered gorges of Kata Tjuta while in the late afternoon, Uluru’s secret caves and waterholes beckoned, again with sunset drinks and canapés. On our final day, we joined Longitude’s own sunrise walk around part of Uluru’s base to hear the fascinating creation stories of the Anangu people who own this land. Each tour was perfectly arranged and unmissable.
A distinctive, top-end property like Longitude 131° naturally attracts world-wide recognition and acclaim, and multiple awards. There are too many to list here, but it has dominated major tourism and travel awards ever since its white, willowing canopies were first raised among the red dunes in 2003.
Stay between April and September for sub-30-degree maximums. Temperatures in summer nudge 40 degrees and tours leave early before sunrise to escape the heat. Our two-night stay was unforgettable, but for a more relaxed pace to really soak up Uluru’s magical powers, a three-night sojourn would be the plan.
Room for improvement
Aside from the top-end Dune Pavilion, the tents don’t have baths – but this saves precious water in the desert. It would also have been cool to see the desert while showering.
Longitude’s Table 131° outdoor dining experience under the star-filled sky and circling a new, central campfire was a memorable experience, but a little more light at the table would have enabled us to see more of the four courses of fine cuisine our palates were enjoying.