How to experience Ayer's Rock: Longitude 131° and why it's worth it.

My mother and business partner Marcia Gordon loves Australia. In recent years she has spent months discovering its hidden gems that offer the unique “safari” style for which Extraordinary Journeys is known. So she had to visit Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), the 2-mile-long monolith that is the iconic symbol of Australia, and its sister monolith Kata Tjuta.

Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and Kata Tjuta are pretty close to dead center of Australia and part of the great Red Center that includes Alice Springs, the McDonnell Range and Kings Canyon. She drove to all five and loved the experience. But she is a desert rat – it is not for everyone by any means. Uluru and Kata Tjuta (connected far beneath the earth’s surface) are both cultural and natural World Heritage Sites and important sacred sites for the Anangu people who believe that it was the entry to earth for humankind. One can climb the rock but the Anangu request that people no longer do so as it is both dangerous and disrespectful. And there are many better ways to capture the mountains’ magic.

Most people visiting the two monoliths stay at the Ayer’s Rock Resort, which is actually 5 properties arranged in a big circle about 20 km from Uluru. The resorts are like lodges/motels everywhere but with “aboriginal” décor. Sails in Desert is considered to be the best but I don’t think there is a huge difference between that and the larger Desert Lodge. On the plus side, there is a museum, theatre, and three viewing areas. The rooms do not look out on the rock. There are several companies that offer tours of Uluru and the other interesting sights and activities in the area. The one Marcia liked best is small group operator SEIT. Staying here and going on tours was interesting but far from magical. Her best experience was walking to the viewing platform in pre-dawn dark and watching all alone as Kata Tjuta and Uluru slowly appeared in the early morning light. From dark hulks they eventually were transformed into blazing glories of reds, purples and oranges.

Then Marcia stayed at Longitude 131°. What a difference! Instead of being at a glorified motel with a view on the green grass and swimming pool, there are very chic tentlike structures with views across the open desert to Uluru. And if that were not enough, there is a balcony (the tents are a bit off the ground on a metal platform) with a huge day bed facing the rock and a little fire at the foot of the bed. At night a swag (Australian bedroll) is put out on the daybed so one can snuggle into the swag (lined with exquisite linens) and experience the romance of sleeping under the stars next to a fire. No swagman ever had it this good!

Longitude 131° do everything so right. Short excursions out to the rock and to nearby Kata Tjuta (even more amazing) somehow manage to be at times when no one else is there and end with drinks and bitings (snacks) in secluded and magical settings. Maybe the best feature is that one can walk less than 100 feet behind the main area and sit and look at both mountains all day long. Uluru is in plain view from the main dining area and is just stunning. The important thing with a mountain is not to just go out and look at it… it is to watch it over the course of days, to see the colors change and also to see it from many different angles. Longitude131° does that really well. Gourmet food and wine with every meal and all the other little pampering are part of the package, but for me it is location/location/location that makes it work. And the fact that unlike most remote resorts, real Aussies work there, which is an added attraction. All in all, a magical experience.

If you like the desert, do drive to King’s Canyon, a mini Grand Canyon or Canyon de Chelly with tons of amazing red rock formations in that area. The rim walk takes about three hours and is fun and interesting. And there are some very worthwhile cultural experiences that can be set up for you by Longitude 131°.

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Jamie Mehrotra