Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel and/or flight review. This month, I publish an Australia special, with the following hotel reviews: Park Hyatt Sydney, Longitude 131° (Uluru), Cicada Lodge (Katherine Gorge), and One&Only Hayman Island (Great Barrier Reef).
Today (December 10, 2014): Hotel review: Longitude 131°, Uluru-Kata Tjuta (Australia).
Longitude 131° is located in the spirited heart and red centre of Australia. Facing majestic Uluru, the hotel commands spectacular views of the outback icon and World Heritage listed wilderness of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Longitude 131° will make your senses come alive, while you delve into the foundation of Anangu culture and explore this irresistible land and the stories of the traditional custodians. Prince William and Kate stayed here during their recent Australia visit (April 2014).
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- This is the only true luxury hotel near Uluru. There are a couple of hotels at the nearby Ayers Rock Village, but those have the look of a mediocre holiday camp. Compared to these Ayers Rock Village hotels, Longitude 131° is also the best located by a long way, just a few km/mi from the famous rock.
- The hotel is set in a spectacular location, with 360 degrees uninterrupted view of Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), and the surrounding desert wilderness. This is the Australian Outback at its best.
- The hotel’s 15 luxury tented pavilions float over rust-red dunes. Classic touches from bygone eras meld with indigenous textures to evoke a sanctuary of earthy elegance. Each tent is named after a celebrated Australian explorer or wilderness pioneer, and the walls are adorned with relevant memorabilia (cuttings, letters, sketches, etc). All tents have comfy (king or twin) beds, Bose CD sound system with iPod dock, great working air-conditioning, and a complimentary soft-drink minibar. Ensuite bathrooms are small but functional.
- All tents enjoy a breathtaking view of Uluru through a private glass wall. This is the only place in the area where you can admire the inimitable postcard vista of Uluru without lifting your head from the pillow.
- The Dune House is the center of the resort, and represents a convivial meeting place for lounging, relaxing and swapping stories of desert discoveries with other guests. Beneath its canopy roof, you will find the Dune House Restaurant, as well as a library with an impressive collection of books, historical literature and other artefacts enabling guests to trace the paths of those legendary explorers and enhance personal discoveries of Australia’s Red Centre. A comprehensive movie and game library is also available.
- Food is a highlight and – together with all beverages – included in the (insanely expensive) room rate. Breakfast begins early with freshly baked pastries, fruit and a la carte menu selection. Lunch is a three course menu. Dinner is a superb experience, and either served under the canopy of the Dune House or alfresco under a billion stars at Table 131°. The daily changing 4-course menu is refined, showcasing the riches of Australian produce. The Longitude 131° wine list features varietals from Australia’s finest wine regions.
- Every other night, guests are whisked off to a ‘secret’ location to dine alfresco at ‘Table 131’, with a three-course meal followed by a talk about the vast desert starscape and the opportunity to gaze through strategically sited telescopes.
- The small, curvy pool in front of the Dune House is nice to cool off in the searing desert heat of the summer days.
- The staff is well-trained and service is excellent. Housekeeping cleans your room twice daily, including turn down service.
- The hotel operates complimentary transfers to/from Ayers Rock Airport.
- Excursions are included in the stay and guided by people with a real love and respect for the National Park, Uluru and the Anangu people. They include – amongst others – watching the sunset over Uluru, the Mala Walk & Kantju Gorge evening walk, and a sunrise walk into Kata-Tjuta (the Olgas). Canapés are offered during most excursions.
- The packed picnic lunch on departure day is a very nice touch.
- The hotel is eco-friendly: showers are heated by solar power, and reverse heater-air conditioning units reduce energy wastage.
- Longitude 131° joined the Baillie Lodges collection in November 2013 (and is now a sister property of Capella Lodge and Southern Ocean Lodge) under an agreement with Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia. This may further rise the standards of the resort in the near future.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
While unique and enjoyable, Longitude 131° has one major problem: it is exuberantly overpriced. The management takes advantage of the lure of Uluru and the lack of luxury competitors in the area to charge insane rates. If Uluru is on your bucket list – and frankly, it should be – then “bite the bullet” and pay the price but be aware that you are not getting 1000 AUD per night per person (!!) worth of value, because of the following reasons:
- Excursions are done in group with the other Longitude 131° hotel guest (private tours are possible at extra cost). This may be fun for some, but are a put off for others. Given the price tag, complimentary private tours – taking into account the wishes and abilities of the individual guests – would enhance the experience.
- Excursions do not always involve the most interesting or scenic places. For example, at the Olgas, the complimentary activity offered by the lodge is the Walpa Gorge Walk, a boring 2.6 km stroll into a gorge. However, the most scenic hike at the Olgas is the Valley of the Winds Walk, a 7 kilometre beauty that makes a loop to two spectacular lookout points, but this activity is only offered by the lodge at a very high extra cost.
- While well-appointed, the rooms are not large (40 sq meters) and not in the same league as many 5 star hotels or luxurious safari lodges.
- Bathrooms have no tub, only a shower. However, this makes sense from the perspective of being environmentally correct as well as the hot water being delivered via a solar heater placed on the roof.
- The pool is too tiny as well as uninviting from an aesthetical point of view. It has the looks of a cheap motel pool. The water is unheated: that’s great during the hot summer days but a dip during a winter visit is only for the brave ones.
- There is a fire pit next to the pool, but it was never used during my stay. It would have been great though if the staff would have fired that up for an after-dinner cocktail.
- All meals are served as ‘nouvelle cuisine’ and as such, food portions are rather small.
- Given the early morning starts of the tours, guest are offered continental breakfast (whichis a good thing), but unfortunately, from a very limited buffet. The cooked breakfast menu, when you do not participate to the tour, is far better.
- Unfortunately, the interior design of the Dune House does not reflect the quality of a true luxury lodge, and feels soulless and empty. It comes close to the ambiance of a caferia.
- Flies are an annoying problem during daylight hours in the Australian outback, especially in the warmer summer months (November to April): when you do not move for a second, a couple of flies are landing on you and/or buzzing around you. However, credits to the hotel as they provide a free insect hood to al guests. Don’t underestimate the impact the flies will have on your visit to Ayers Rock!
- There is no wildlife that one would associate with Australia to be seen at or nearby the lodge.
- There is no private viewing area to watch the famous Uluru sunset: there’s really only one area where everyone goes to view the sunrise and sunset, and so you are surrounded by hundreds of other tourist (yes, hundreds). Not exactly an intimate experience.
- The hotel accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express but payment by credit card attracts a 2.5% surcharge (as, unfortunately, is the case with most hotels in Australia). Direct deposit is the only way to avoid this extra surcharge.
- Longitude 131° lacks an on-site spa. The hotel does provide transfers though to the far-from-luxurious Red Ochre Spa, which is located within Sails in the Desert Hotel, at the nearby Ayers Rock Resort.
This lodge is without doubt the best anywhere near Uluru. It has one of the most incredible locations imaginable and food is a highlight. But currently, it is way too expensive for the luxury experience offered. And unfortunately, there is no excuse for a product that costs 1000 AUD a night per person to be anything other than brilliant. The good news is that the lodge is set to be renovated, upgrading the pool, adding balconies to tents, and adding more luxury.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 5/10
- Rooms: 6/10
- Food: 9/10
- Service: 8/10
- Overall experience: good: 7.4/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUEST & SAVE MONEY
- Some of the suites are better sited that others. For some reason the suites to the west of the main building are in two rows of three. So the back three suites do not enjoy the same uninterrupted view of Uluru as the front west suites or all of the six suites to the east of the main building. Make sure that you request a tent with uninterrrupted Uluru views.
- Tents 1 and 15 (aka ‘Sir Sidney Kidman and ‘Jane Webb’) are the most private as they’re set at either end of the resort, so very few people tend to wander past; 6, 7 and 8 (‘John Flynn’, ‘Ernest Giles’ and ‘William Christie Gosse’) have the most inspiring uninterrupted views of Uluru.
- The lodge’s schedule seems to be on a two-day interval, as the main events (Dinner under the stars, Uluru/Kata Tjuta tours, sunset viewings) repeat every two days. This means that a 2 night stay is perfect to enjoy the best of the area. A longer stay is only advised if you need more time to relax, or if you’re not into full day activities.
- Do not come in the hottests summer months (December – March) as there are an extraordinary number of flies, moths, and crickets that will challenge your stay.
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Longitude 131°. Book a room at the cheapest price and/or receive many free perks!
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Any time of year is a good time to view Ayers Rock and take pictures. However, the area is best visited during the Australian winter (that’s when it’s summer in Europe or the US). The Outback climate is such that during winter warm, dry and sunny days are virtually guaranteed, why the nights are very cold (frosts occur about half of the nights in July and August). If you can stand the heat and the swarms of flies, summer (December to February) is less popular among tourists, so you’ll have more elbow room to jockey for that perfect shot.
HOW TO GET THERE
Ayers Rock is literally in the middle of nowhere. Alice Springs is the closest city – roughly 250 miles away – and it requires a four to five hour drive to reach Uluru National Park. Greyhound operates a bus line between Alice Springs and the park. If you’d rather fly in and out than watch the Outback unfold beneath your wheels, the Ayers Rock Airport is located a 15 minute drive from the lodge. Currently, Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia all fly directly into Ayers Rock Airport from Alice Springs, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Adelaide and Sydney ((click here for a direct link to their websites). Check the Wikipedia page of Ayers Rock Airport for an updated list with airlines that have direct flights to Uluru.