By Josh Vojkovic
Flies, yes flies! There is no doubt your trip to the Red Centre will involve fond memories of slapping yourself in the face like an institution escapee as you make your way from the tarmac to the airport terminal. Welcome to Uluru!
Please don’t let this paint a bleak picture of what the region actually has in store for you. This culturally connected place is beyond beautiful in so many ways you will not be disappointed.
Only having a weekend to explore meant this trip was as much about relaxation as it was about a cultural experience. So whilst there is a lot to visit, see and do in the region, the only plan we actually had was to visit Bruce Munro’s art installation Field of Light, now a permanent display in the outback.
Ayers Rock Resort complex is a collection of hotels connected by a mini-town centre which consists of a local café, a tour desk, newsagency, post office, boutique shops and an IGA supermarket for those wishing to take a break from the hotel food charges. We stayed in the Sails In The Desert resort which is arguably the nicest hotel in the complex. Sails has recently renovated their rooms incorporating stunning aboriginal art and décor. Each hotel has its own food options however Ilkari restaurant at Sails was exceptional and our top pick.
A free shuttle bus runs between the hotels (or you can walk if you feel like braving the bazillion flies) and the camel farm. By this stage we had purchased the most tourist looking fly nets available (which I still love to this day and use on our own farm at home!).
For those seeking ultra-luxury accommodation, Longitude 131 is the place to be. We looked into it and would have loved to stay there so it has now made it on to our own bucket list to do one day.
After waking up to a view of a giant red rock in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park we made our way down for breakfast at the Sails hotel. This buffet is not like a typical breakfast buffet, it consisted of a super buffet as well as a made-to-order station for omelettes, pancakes and waffles. The Outback Omelette with emu chorizo is a must.must!
Grazing options throughout the day consisted of pool side snacks (not just the liquid kind), the hotel lobby bar and the town centre cafe. If I was sure of anything it was that I was trying to culturally immerse myself in this place which I felt so connected to the entire time. For meat eaters trying kangaroo and crocodile cooked every which way was a experience I’d recommend.
For dinner, Sails (Ilkari) do another high-end buffet with a table service al a carte range cooked on an open grill in the middle of the restaurant. All of the food is tapas style so your tastebuds will thank you as you can try out everything. I filled up on bottomless fresh prawns & oysters the first night as an entrée and finished with trying one of each of the homemade cake and sweets covered by the giant chocolate fountain. Cue food coma.
Other restaurant options around the complex include an open-air cook your own meat BBQ and other hotel restaurants. We didn’t get a chance to try all of these due to time restrictions though we certainly weren’t disappointed with the choices at Sails.
Field of Light (by camel)
We opted for the Sunset camel tour to Field of Light. It shouldn’t surprise you they have the ‘Camel Cup’ here which I’ve been told is as prestigious as Flemington in relative terms. After being picked up at the hotel and driven out to the Camel Farm we began the evening with a quick safety demonstration and loaded up on water. The small tour, with just seven of us, started off with bent-over, uncontrollable belly laughs as each couple sharing a camel was flung up into the air by these enormous outback animals. Fortunately, my partner and I had one camel each to save the embarrassment.
After enjoying the calm serenity and cliché desert backdrop for an hour we arrived at the Field of Light at sunset. We were greeted with cold champagne the minute we hopped off our pre-historic creatures which felt surreal, like our own little oasis in the middle of the red centre. We joined the rest of the crowd (maybe 35 other people) for canapes and bottomless drinks as we watched the sunset over the rock before being taken to the restaurant setup for dinner.
To see white linen tables in the middle of the desert with nothing else around you just doesn’t compute, albeit phenomenal. Dinner was a buffet style 3-course meal with a exceptional variety and flavours, again making use of local produce and flavours. Lots (and lots) of wine and laughs were shared over the next little while before the resident astronomer pointed a high-powered laser in to the sky explaining a story behind each major burning ball of gas. The red centre is known for its starlight experiences with no pollution to cloud the aurora each of these stars and it didn’t disappoint.
After some hilarious dad jokes (OK this could be the wine talking) we were set free to roam around the jaw dropping art display. 50,000 blown glass lights all connected by fibre optic strings that look alive, changing colour every few seconds and all powered by the sun’s rays. I resisted the urge (mostly) to stay on the path and not frolic through field of lights like my inner 8-year old was telling me too, one telling off was worth the photo though! As we circumnavigated the maze in darkness, we didn’t want it to end. We could stand there for hours fixated on a specific set of bulbs before our eyes would adjust to the 49,500 others in our peripheral. Before long, it was time for the quick bus back to the resort to head to bed.
Apart from lounging by the pool sipping icy cold drinks and eating unnecessarily, the other stand out attraction within the complex was the aboriginal art EVERYWHERE. From park benches to hotel foyers as well as the actual art gallery you can’t miss the amazingly intricate canvases plastered throughout the place. All businesses support local artists and you can watch them paint right in front of you which I highly recommend. The art also makes its way on to everything from crockery to caps and stubby holders, we can’t get enough!
After our plane was delayed on Sunday afternoon (thanks Sydney weather) it didn’t take much convincing for us to stay another night. It wasn’t until the plane was delayed Monday that we seriously considered hiring a car and driving to Alice Springs which I’ve heard is a great drive for those interested. We will most definitely be back to soak in more of the rich cultural we fell in love with from the minute we walked off the plane. Watch this space for part 2 later this year.