The Rock

The sa­cred sites of Uluru and Kata Tjuta sit at the very heart of Aus­tralia, both ge­o­graph­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally. Fall un­der their spell on a lux­ury tour of the Red Cen­tre.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - CONTENTS -

Un­der the spell of Uluru and Kata Tjuta in Australia’s an­cient heart.

ULURU LOOKS SOFT from a dis­tance. The curved con­tours of its face, worn down by the el­e­ments over mil­len­nia, fold like fab­ric. Rising up through the grey-green spinifex grass that moves with the breeze, this Cen­tral Aus­tralian land­mark is de­cep­tive. The en­tire land­scape looks soft, invit­ing — but don’t be­lieve it. ‘Warn­ing!’ shouts the sign that wel­comes us to the start of the Val­ley of the Winds walk at the Red Cen­tre’s other fa­mous rock for­ma­tion, Kata Tjuta: ‘Hot weather clo­sure point, do not en­ter af­ter 11am, or if the tem­per­a­ture is 36 de­grees or above’.

Hardly invit­ing — and it is hot but, luck­ily for us, not hot enough for the walk to be closed down. Kata Tjuta is around 40 kilo­me­tres west of Uluru and, though it’s less fa­mous, lo­cals of­ten cite this rock for­ma­tion as their favourite. And it has a dif­fer­ent en­ergy. While its easy to scoff at vis­i­tors who en­thuse about the ‘pres­ence’ of these nat­u­ral won­ders, it’s not eas­ily un­der­stood un­til you’re phys­i­cally here. Kata Tjuta feels gen­tler, more se­cre­tive and shy than the bold, brash Uluru. Hik­ing through its deep gorges al­lows you to ap­pre­ci­ate it even more.

At 7.5 kilo­me­tres it’s one of the longer walks on of­fer, but the goose­bump-in­duc­ing views at almost ev­ery turn are worth it. The track starts as a scram­ble down the slip­pery ter­rain (wear good walk­ing shoes), but as you get closer to the rock face it lev­els out. The soar­ing red crags stretch around us, spot­ted with tena­cious plants cling­ing to the sur­face; the walk gets steeper, but the close em­brace of the rock widens out to al­low stun­ning views to come into fo­cus. Miles of bright blue sky, con­trast­ing and chang­ing reds, soft greens and greys of the na­tive plants. Mother Na­ture in all her fin­ery.

We’ve re­cruited a rene­gade band of fel­low hik­ers who swapped the more se­date Walpa Gorge walk to join us. A cou­ple from Lux­em­bourg, a young Ger­man girl and her sprightly 72-year-old mother. We work around lan­guage bar­ri­ers with clumsy ges­tur­ing, but once we reach the Karingana Look­out words aren’t needed. We stare, dumb­struck, tak­ing in the views.

As the tem­per­a­ture rises, we head back to the re­sort to rinse off the dust and con­grat­u­late our­selves with cham­pagne in the Dune Top pool.

Such is a stay at Lon­gi­tude 131°: soul-touch­ing ex­pe­ri­ences book­ended by luxury in­dul­gences.

First opened in 2003, the re­sort was taken over by Bail­lie Lodges in 2013 and has since un­der­gone a num­ber of gen­tle up­grades, but in

Au­gust last year, the most am­bi­tious re­model was un­veiled. Af­ter a spend of more than $8 mil­lion, the re­sort now boasts a num­ber of struc­tural changes, in­clud­ing the Dune Top. Sit­u­ated on the high­est spot of the prop­erty, it fea­tures a round pool of­fer­ing panoramic views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

The new Dune Top com­mon area is joined by the Dune House — the main build­ing of the re­sort — in get­ting more than just a spit and pol­ish. Walls have been taken down to open up the space, a wide out­door ter­race added for al­fresco din­ing op­tions and, as al­ways with a Bail­lie-de­signed prop­erty, much at­ten­tion has been paid to the fin­ish­ing touches and small­est de­tails. Cus­tom-made tim­ber fur­ni­ture adds warmth, and colour schemes blend and meld with the bush out­side. The tiled back of the open bar was de­signed by an up-and-com­ing artist from the Ern­abella Arts Com­mu­nity, who then en­listed other mem­bers to paint each tile in­di­vid­u­ally.

In fact, the Bail­lies’ in­te­gra­tion of In­dige­nous art and cul­ture into the prop­erty is much deeper than just a po­lite nod. All the art­works here are sourced from nearby art cen­tres.

“En­gag­ing with lo­cal In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties through their art cen­tres is a way for our guests to learn about their cul­ture,” ex­plains Bail­lie Lodges co-founder Hay­ley Bail­lie.

The fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion to this lo­cal econ­omy is of­ten the only way in­come is brought into the com­mu­nity. It also en­sures the cul­ture is main­tained across gen­er­a­tions.”

At re­cep­tion, a large piece by the Wynne Prize-win­ning col­lab­o­ra­tion, the Ken sis­ters, re­flects the colours of an out­back sun­set; ce­ramic vases cre­ated dur­ing a res­i­dency at the Big Pot Fac­tory in Jingdezhen, China are scat­tered through com­mon ar­eas, while the lobby dou­bles as a small art gallery.

Two more build­ings were added dur­ing the most re­cent ren­o­va­tion: the Dune Pav­il­ion, a two-bed­room ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tion that of­fers un­fet­tered views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, pri­vate plunge pool and cus­tom-made fur­ni­ture; and Spa Ki­nara, a domed, rusted-steel build­ing that merges with the red out­back soil. Here again, In­dige­nous in­flu­ences are in­te­grated through cus­tom-made art­works and in­clu­sion of na­tive in­gre­di­ents such as scented emu bush in spa treat­ments.

These struc­tures join the 16 fa­mous white tented rooms that mimic the pitched tents of the early set­tlers of Australia. Each room fea­tures de­sign de­tails that are in­spired by one of these pi­o­neers. There’s the Kid­man room that cel­e­brates cat­tle rancher Sid­ney Kid­man, and one named for Wil­liam John Wills of Burke and Wills fame. Dur­ing the re­cent ren­o­va­tion, the Bail­lies made the de­ci­sion to in­clude more In­dige­nous cul­ture into the rooms as well, cel­e­brat­ing the first Aus­tralians. Art­works adorn the walls, wooden sculp­tures sit on table tops and there are tra­di­tional bas­kets from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers. Out­side, each ‘tent’ is a deck from which you can gaze over this wide ex­panse of land. En­joy a cup of tea from the daybed or spend a night un­der the stars in a swag, warmed by the gas fire­place.

Here, you’re en­cour­aged to be an ex­plorer yourself — days are struc­tured sa­fari-like, mak­ing the most of early morn­ing and late af­ter­noon, and leav­ing the hot mid­dle of the day to lounge by the pool. On ar­rival at the lodge guests are taken through sug­gested itin­er­ar­ies, giv­ing them a chance to ex­plore Uluru and Kata Tjuta in dif­fer­ent ways — but al­ways in luxury.

For many vis­i­tors the first ex­pe­ri­ence of Uluru is at sun­set the day of check in. Guests meet for drinks in the Dune Pav­il­ion be­fore be­ing trans­ported by minibus to the view­ing area. Cham­pagne and canapés in hand, we join the throngs of ex­cited tourists wait­ing to wit­ness the colours of sun­set. Soon, chat­ter is swapped for furious cam­era-click­ing as the rock turns from shim­mer­ing gold to deep red to moody pur­ple in the space of half an hour. This phe­nom­e­non can be ex­plained by science but the magic of the spec­ta­cle, and its last­ing im­pres­sion on all who see it, is what you take away. “Just go­ing to get one more,” says our driver as he pulls over, jumps out and takes an­other shot of Uluru. So mes­meris­ing is the scene that even a man who has seen it a thou­sand times can’t get enough.

An­other walk sees our group be­ing guided along a sec­tion of the rock and given the his­tory of the Mala peo­ple. Uluru holds cen­turies of In­dige­nous cul­ture in its stone and is the star of many Cre­ation sto­ries. Such tales were not only told to teach chil­dren moral les­sons, but also to help these no­madic peo­ple nav­i­gate the land. The sto­ries were built around Song­lines, which fol­low nat­u­ral ridges and for­ma­tions across the en­tire coun­try. Each story is a chap­ter of longer tales that weave to­gether. The walk con­cludes in a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring cave which al­lows you to get ‘in­side’ the rock, then we gather at a small but per­ma­nent pool where, again, drinks are served.

The In­dige­nous cul­ture of the area is all en­com­pass­ing and a visit to the Cul­tural Cen­tre is a must. Here, Cre­ation sto­ries and Tjukurpa, the tra­di­tional law that guides the lives of the Anangu peo­ple, add yet an­other level of spir­i­tu­al­ity to the visit.

There are any num­ber of ways to get close to Uluru, but to truly un­der­stand the scale of the land­scape you need to get up high. Pro­fes­sional He­li­copter Ser­vices of­fers ev­ery­thing from a 10-minute scoot over Uluru to a three-and-a-half-hour air sa­fari to Kings Canyon. If time is short, book the trip as your trans­fer back to the air­port for your re­turn flight. The re­sort takes care of your lug­gage while you mar­vel at Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the air. From high, the ex­panse of the flat desert be­low high­lights the other world­li­ness of these land­marks even more. How these inan­i­mate ob­jects elicit such emo­tion in the mil­lions of peo­ple who visit them each year is some­thing you have to ex­pe­ri­ence yourself to un­der­stand.

GET­TING THERE TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT TO AY­ERS ROCK (ULURU), VISIT WWW.VIR­GIN­AUS­TRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUSTRALIA).

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT The Dune Pav­il­ion has views over Uluru and Kata Tjuta; Lon­gi­tude 131° from the air; Kata Tjuta; see­ing rain cas­cad­ing down the rock is a once-in-al­ife­time ex­pe­ri­ence; take advantage of Pro­fes­sional He­li­copter Ser­vices for the best...

FROM LEFT The Val­ley of the Winds hike through Kata Tjuta; you’ll find mod­ern del­i­ca­cies at Dune House.

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