Rock up for some in tents luxury
As you fly in to Ayers Rock Resort, it's startling to see that Australia's so-called red centre is remarkably green. Two years of record rainfall has made the desert explode into life - a vivid landscape of spinifex grasses, mulga trees, bloodwoods and desert oaks carpeting the blood-red desert floor. Uluru and Kata Tjuta have never looked better. The way to experience them in style is at a camp called Longitude 131.
After a 10-minute drive from Ayers Rock Airport, I arrive at a cluster of 15 luxury safari tents perched on stilts atop a sand dune with clear views of Uluru. My 'tent' is air-conditioned and has a cool stone tile floor. It's also entirely glass fronted, so you can lie in your king-sized bed and gaze at the monolith. There's no television or internet connection, although my mobile phone works fine, and I can check e-mails in the guest lounge-library.
There's time for a dip in the pool before the guests (there are never more than 30 at the resort) muster in the Dune House and hop onto our coach for a sunset visit to Uluru, 19 kilometres away. Tours in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park revolve around sunrise and sunset - the colours and moods of the formations change throughout the day but are most spectacular at those times.
Tour guide Trevor leads the way along 'the Mala walk' into Uluru's Kantju Gorge. He points out plants and explains their uses by Aboriginal people for food, tools, weapons and traditional medicine. Inside the gorge there's a table already laid with chilled champagne, wine, beer, soft drinks and canapes.
On our return to the resort, there's time for a pre-dinner cocktail and I choose a 'Muddled Mulga' - lemon, lime, blood orange and ice drizzled with Cointreau. New Zealander Tapa Tibble is the resort general manager, and his wife, Jane, the chef de cuisine.
Dinner begins with chilled watermelon soup followed by Black Angus beef tartare, a seared fillet of Tasmanian salmon and dark chocolate and chilli mousse. The wine list is dominated by South Australian and Victorian reds with whites from Western Australia and New Zealand.
Next morning at sunrise we visit Kata Tjuta ('many heads', in the local language), a cluster of 36 rock domes 53 kilometres from camp. Our guide, Marieke, leads the way into Walpa Gorge, explaining the weathering process that created these formations. Guests can join a camel ride or take in the serene surroundings from a balloon flight.
On a sunset trip to one of the Uluru viewing sites, we're treated to a view of the rock turning deep purple as daylight fades. We watch lightning illuminate the sky in the distance as a dry storm gathers.
That night we enjoy another stellar meal: a chilled prawn salad followed by a stunning duck roulade served with pinot poached baby pear and a gorgonzola mille-feuille, the subtle flavours enhanced by a Ninth Island Tasmanian pinot grigio. Our main course of gypsy speck and sage-wrapped pork loin with parmigiano potato gnocchi is followed by a green apple and rhubarb crumble.
Dinner is accompanied by a didgeridoo player and later by 'star talker' Scott, who shares with us creation myths and Aboriginal 'dreamtime' tales as he identifies star constellations twinkling in the sky.
Later, back in my tent, I turn off the air conditioner, draw the insect screen and open the glass doors so I can fall asleep to the sounds of the desert.
Centre of attraction
Getting there: Qantas flies daily from Hong Kong to Ayers Rock Resort (via Sydney), return fares from HK$14,200 (qantas.com)
Where to stay: A$2,190 (HK$17,600) per night for two people (minimum two-night stay), includes all meals, drinks, cocktails and snacks, airport transfers, Uluru-Kata Tjuta sunrise/sunset tours. Optional tour extras include a desert camel ride, helicopter scenic flight, circling Uluru on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. (longitude131.com.au).
Longitude 131 is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (slh.com).