Kathryn Romeyn chooses a sampling of Australia’s greatest experiences for the ultimate adventure down under in this four part series on Australia. For Part Two, we’re taking a look at Australia’s Northern Territory.
The next day takes me from an ocean-centric city of 4.5 million to a sea of red dirt in the middle of nowhere— 460 kilometers from the closest large town, to be exact. I’m literally seeing red as the plane lands and I catch my first glimpse of Uluru, the immense, iconic rock at the heart of Australia’s outback. My eyes stay glued to Australia’s Northern Territory landmark—a 348-meter-tall sedimentary sandstone mass surrounded by rusty desert—as I step into the warm breeze. Immediately I’m whisked through the thick heat into a black SUV, A/C cranked up.
On the short drive to Longitude 131 I learn that while it’s frequently called Ayers Rock, Uluru is its original name, given by the indigenous Anangu tribe. The inimitable monolith is the focal point here. We pull up to the intimate, all-inclusive Baillie Lodges resort where I’ll be glamping, with heavy emphasis on the “glam” part. Amid red dunes, pristine white peaks mark the 15 recently renovated, beautifully appointed “tents,” main lodge and pool.
Over a lovely flower-strewn lunch of beef tatami, chicken with pistachio quinoa and Western Australia rose, I gaze at the now–rusty orange rock. Later, over canapés and cocktails with the South African guide Nico at Kantju Gorge, I watch a vertical face of Uluru glow bright coral in the setting sun. And at dawn the next morning when I flip a switch and the blackout shade rises, deep aubergine is all I see, as rays of light seep through the clouds in slits creating bluish shadows in its crevices. Of course the tent, clad in vibrant aboriginal artwork, is oriented to face Uluru. Because watching it shift color is the preferred pastime here. The Anangu ask that visitors not climb the rippling landmark. And though I hardly touch it, the rock and I get intimate, thanks to comprehensive tour experiences by Longitude’s incredible guides. During outings with Nico and Blythe, I learn that Uluru was formed underground over hundreds of millions of years, emerging two million ago. Its height only represents 10 percent of its mass (it may reach down another six to seven kilometers). It is part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on natural, aesthetic and cultural beauty—only the second place on the planet to be recognized for the latter.
Visible stories painted or drawn into the dirt with a stick reveal that each gash, outcropping and cave has a meaning in the mystical Anangu creation story. I’m also educated on the uniquely adapted flora and fauna. After a light rain which produces a stunningly wide rainbow en route to the chunky sedimentary domes of sacred Kata Tjuta, I find that Uluru’s massive neighbor has a similarly humbling effect.
My second night, an impressive electrical storm begins during the sunset sand-dune walk, and I stubbornly stand in the quickening rain as long as it’s safe to watch the sky melt into fiery splendor and lightning strike down around the rocks. This prevents me from dining under the stars, but it means I witness the desert’s version of fireworks from inside, while sipping a sweet and sour passion fruit gimlet and indulging in exquisite bites of buttery lobster tail and dessert featuring quandongs, a native bush fruit. Overnight I really experience my surroundings, as extreme winds shake my tent and me, while ensconced in the heavenly bed. Still, within minutes, like a baby, the wilds of nature lull me into the deepest of sleeps.
Before departing I get my favorite Uluru view yet, at Mutujulu Waterhole. There are lilies clustered on the surface and a vivid reflection in the rippling pool of the textured rock and brilliant blue sky above. Standing there silently feels almost spiritual. I hate leaving Australia’s Northern Territory, but the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef beckon.
*Photos of Australia’s Northern Territory and Longitude 131 courtesy Kara Rosenlund