Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is an Australian icon. I, however, hadn’t ever prioritized it as a place to visit, even while living in Sydney. Was it not just a big rock? While planning our trip to Australia, I asked my family where they would like to visit in addition to Sydney and was more than a bit surprised when I received a unanimous response of ‘Uluru!’ Chalk one up for democracy, as this stay turned out to be the highlight of our family vacation in Australia.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is in the Northern Territory, about three hours by air from Sydney or Melbourne. It is home to Uluru (Ayers Rock) as well as Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), a lesser known, but equally spectacular rock formation. Both are well worth visiting and also provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about the indigenous culture of Australia. Though we found the landscape beautiful, it was our lodge, Longitude 131, that made our experience especially memorable.
Longitude 131 is a small luxury resort set just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It consists of a series of fifteen free-standing suites (tents), a pool and The Dune House, which serves as the dining and gathering area. A sailcloth roof gives each suite a tent-like look, but that’s where any comparison to camping ends.
These cool-looking suites are beautifully appointed and are equipped with every modern convenience including Bose Speakers, iPads loaded with music and games, an espresso maker and A/C. Each suite has a king bed or two twins, so most families will require multiple tents. This worked well for us: we had 2 tents next to one another and both the kids and parents enjoyed having their own space.
Two family tents are planned for completion in May 2016. They will each have two bedrooms, a living area and a private plunge pool. I got a preview of the plans and the new tents look amazing! Changes to the pool area and spa are also coming around the same time.
The lodge is all-inclusive so food, drink, transport and touring are all included in any visit. I don’t normally go for all-inclusive hotels, but in this case it really enhanced the experience. After a jam-packed few days in Sydney (and heaps of planning prior), it was really nice to arrive and start relaxing. I finally felt I was on vacation, no more planning, decisions or thoughts about expenses, every detail was taken care of. If desired, the staff can also help plan additional offsite activities upon arrival. The staff and service are exceptional.
The meals at Longitude 131 are truly excellent. I’m a fussy vegetarian and at no point did I feel neglected — a rare treat! Note, my meat-eaters were very happy too. In addition to the daily meals, there are beautiful snacks offered on each of the outings as well as a stocked, complementary mini-bar in each suite.
Dinners alternate between The Dune House and dining under the stars after an optional, and recommended, viewing of the sun setting on Uluru. The four-course al-fresco dinner starts late to accommodate the stars, with a sunrise start, this makes for a long day for kids. My boys, aged 10 and 13, tuckered out mid-way through the meal, however, the staff had thoughtfully kept a golf-cart close by and whisked us back to our tents.
Longitude 131 welcomes kids 10 and up. This felt right — younger kids would find the days too long and the lodge too quiet. It’s a luxurious, low-key spot so if your family doesn’t enjoy a bit of peace and quiet, then this may not be the place for you. The lodge is all about fun though. The staff made every effort to ensure our family had a great stay with thoughtful itineraries designed to make the most of time in the area and strike a nice balance between activity and relaxation.
We enjoyed their two-night “Signature Experience”. Though we felt like we got to see everything, three nights would have been perfect. Each day of their proposed itinerary begins with a sunrise tour of either Uluru or Kata Tjuta and concludes with a sunset activity (either a tour or dinner under the stars). We found the guides to be friendly and very knowledgeable. Being in a small, private group was THE way to go; as our Mercedes van passed the large coaches of tourists, I was thankful we were having a more intimate experience in the park.
There is also a substantial break in the middle of each day to take in optional additional activities or just relax by the pool or in your suite. We opted for a scenic camel ride with Uluru Camel Tours on our first afternoon and loved it! We joined a group tour but private options are also available.
Touring the big cities of Australia can keep a family on the move, Longitude 131 offered ours a change of pace as well as a change of scenery — a vacation within our vacation. We loved Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park for the scenery and loved Longitude 131 for the service and the style.
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Editor’s Note: Longitude 131 provided a media package for Ciao Bambino to facilitate our review. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Leslie Rich except where noted.
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