I found myself wandering around the aisles glancing at magazines while trying to listen to the announcements on the airport PA system. As my eyes rolled over the massive amount of paparazzi photos and ridiculous headlines, one cover with a reddish-orange glow caught my eye. Prince William and Kate were impeccably dressed and lighted in the vibrant glow of the Australian Red Centre. Considering this was the destination I was headed to on my flight today, I picked up the magazine and started paging through it to see more pictures. To my surprise the royal couple had just visited the spiritual sight of Uluru and stayed at the exact place I was booked at for the next two nights – Longitude 131. If glamping was good enough for the royal couple, then it would definitely be good enough for me.
As soon as I arrived at the Red Centre and saw the 15 little tent tops peaking out of the brush in the desert I knew this would be a unique experience. Most people are enticed to the area by the views and culture of Uluru, the largest monolith in the world. However I was enticed by the chance to stay at Longitude 131, the premier glamping experience in Australia. I was intrigued at how this property that hosts the Royal Family and people such as Oprah could pull off luxury in such a remote and barren desert location.
My Love of Nowhere
Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park is the spiritual center of Australia and it’s conveniently located about dead center in Australia as part of the Northern Territory. This was my first trip to the Northern Territory and I was excited to see this barren land. I’m inexplicably drawn to these environments – the nowhere environments such as Kazakhstan, the steppe of Mongolia, the Meseta of Spain, and the Great Plains of the US. I love wide open space where the clouds string out endlessly and the culture is rugged because it has to be. I love to see for miles and miles, and to experience the challenges that remoteness brings. And here I was in the heart of remoteness for Australia, eager to learn about the history and culture, but equally eager to learn how people live out here modern day and how a glamping resort can offer up unparalleled luxury experiences in…well…nowhere.
Each Longitude 131 tent was a nod to the great pioneers and explorers of the area. The interior design had an old world charm, yet a mix of new world technology. There were maps, magnifying glasses and telescopes for your inner old world explorer. However the iPad and Bose speakers in each tent provided access to the modern world, while you gazed out on Uluru, the spiritual Anangu world. Each tent was actually part tent, part cottage with a canvas roof, 3 solid walls, and 1 full window for the 4th wall. This layout provided the perfect private view of Uluru. Touches of luxury were everywhere – from the view, to the turn down service with fur hot water bottles, to the complimentary mini bar, and finally to the Nespresso teas/coffees.
The Culinary Innovator
The Dune House was the communal lodge where you could relax, read papers, socialize with guests, review maps, talk with the guides, and pour yourself a drink at the self serve bar complete with drink recipes at your disposal. This was also where you ate your meals. One would think that in a remote location (the closest town was 280 miles away) with one road running through it and a delivery truck that actually stopped twice a week with food/produce, it might be hard to create inventive menus to go along with the luxury experience. However, Chef Seona Moss knows how to make the most of her remote location. She uses the remoteness to inspire her thereby creating beautiful platings that are reminiscent of the landscape and area. She relies on the deliveries for fresh produce, but she also utilizes the expertise of the local Anangu people to infuse seasonal desert plants and fruits into the dishes. Her use of the local quandongs, a red fruit used by the Anangu were delicious in our dinner under the stars the first night.
Chef Moss’s creations take skill to cook and present, but to me the real skill is coming up with innovative dishes and mastering the logistics of her remote location and supplies. I love the fact she has made Uluru her home and has really embraced the local culture and techniques into her food.
Being a nomad myself for years, I am always fascinated learning about nomadic groups –historical and modern day. The Anangu people were nomads roaming as family groups (aprox. 50 people in a family group) around the desert outback only utilizing what they needed and always respecting the land. This is how most of the nomadic cultures survive; with a simple lifestyle and respect for the land that gives them life. Unlike many nomadic cultures I come across, the Anangu owned no livestock and instead lived off the land and only killed what they needed to feed the group. Uluru was an important source of water and animals for them, it was their rock of life.
However what surprised me most was the modern day nomads – the guides of Longitude 131 were living out here in nowhere and their stories seemed all the same. They were roaming Australia, or the world, and came across the Northern Territory and it called them. Most would stay for a year working in the Uluru area, and some stayed for longer. Regardless – these were not city people, they were people who loved the outdoors and remoteness of Uluru. And loved sharing the culture and history even more. They didn’t need much to be happy. I actually wondered if I could hack it out in the desert for a year working in a remote location – I’m not sure I could.
It seemed like every guide I had was either coming or going – some it was their last day and some it was the first day. On each outing we had a different guide for the experience – this was done on purpose so 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 them I connected to more than others – but all were extremely knowledgeable and professional.
How do you add luxury to the desert environment? It’s all about service. Each morning and evening there was an exclusive experience that you could participate in with fellow guests. These experiences were about physically exploring the living and cultural landscapes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
The Uluru Sunrise Walk allowed you to view the sight of one of the famous Anangu song lines (stories) of Kiniya Liru. I was able to get a good feel for the beliefs of the Anangu and the importance of Uluru for their survival through the stories.
The Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds Hike (aprox. 4 miles) was by far my favorite morning exploration activity. It was a chance to hike through the magnificent Olgas comprising of 36 dome-like rock formations. There were valleys and gorges and amazing flower and fauna to explore.
The sunset activities with Longitude 131 provided a way to get a close up as well as a wide perspective. The first night we watched sunset from a distance in order to take in the whole environment. We were supplied with champagne and canapés as we watched the clouds swirl in color about Uluru. The second night we actually walked around the base of Uluru on the path. This gave us a chance to see the rock formation up close. Wind had carved many interesting wave-like caves which were used as gathering areas for the men, women, and elders of the ancient Ananagu. We ended our walk once again with beer, champagne, and canapés at Kantju Gorge. I took my glass of champagne and camera into the gorge with me and sat and watched the walls of Uluru light up like a blazing fire and then die down as the sun set.
Finally we had the ultimate luxury eating experience – Table 131 – dining under the stars in the desert. A long communal table was set and we all gathered around to feast on a 4-course meal and wine paring all in the desert darkness. At the end of the dinner we were served a lovely port and then treated to explore the southern hemisphere night sky as guide Andy led us through a stargazing activity.
The Modern Day Pioneer
Being surrounded by explorers, nomads, and innovators for two days was a highlight for me in the Northern Territory. It satiated my need for experiencing a popular location in a new, unique way. As I sat in my tent sipping a drink admiring the beauty of nowhere I realized that in a way Longitude 131 was a real pioneer in the Red Centre. Pioneers are not only people who discover a place, but they are also people who develop or apply new methods and activities. Longitude131 had successfully developed a full luxury experience in a harsh environment while staying true to the culture. There is nothing else like it in the area – it’s a special experience in the middle of nowhere.
With a price tag of $1100 per person and a minimum 2 night stay (all inclusive), it’s a hefty price tag for glamping. However Longitude 131 has the chops to pull it off due to it’s unique location and specialized offerings.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Tourism NT during my time in the Northern Territory of Australia. However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!