It's called Australia's spiritual heart, but it's not until you've been here that you can appreciate what that means. Over 10,000 years, Aboriginal culture has seeped into the soil, the rocks and mountains, the trees and shrubs, so when you place your hand on Uluru, you feel a spiritual connection make its way to your heart like a heat-seeking missile.
The final, haunting notes of a didgeridoo serenade are carried on a gentle breeze across the sun-dappled plains below, as the setting sun begins its daily magic trick of turning the sky from a vivid blue to the pastel colours of delicate flower petals. As the Champagne flows and canapes are served to the chattering guests on the viewing platform, the didgeridoo musician begins playing again – and our world is perfect.
Before our eyes, Uluru is morphing from a fiery red colour to a shade of regal purple. To our right the hospitality staff from Voyages Ayers Rock Resort are setting our dinner tables with white linen and silver-ware and directly below, the Darwin Symphony Orchestra is getting ready for the final performance of their two-night program, performing under the desert stars with Uluru as its backdrop.
And, as if that wasn't enough to draw crowds from all over Australia, the two-night program also included stars of opera, Emma Matthews and James Egglestone singing Verdi's greatest operas, which we had rapturously applauded the previous evening. Tonight we were being treated to the amazing talents of James Morrison and acclaimed Didgeridoo master, William Barton, who would be joining the orchestra for the Sounds of Australia concert. What, I ask you, could make a weekend break more perfect?
Anangu people call Uluru ‘Earth Mother’ and believe that it holds a powerful energy source from its creation in the dreamtime. Their mystic tales about how the caves and indentations in the rock face came about revolve around snake beings, lizard men and sand pythons, and they believe that the large boulders scattered around Uluru are spirits of their people. The tales told by a local guide as you walk around the base of Uluru on a guided tour are both mysterious and fantastical.
Uluru/Ayers Rock sits within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park - a World Heritage area which is not only home to Australia's most recognisable landmark, but also to the sacred Kata Tjuta range better known as the Olgas. It is also home to hundreds of different animal and bird species including Australia's largest lizard, Ngintaka-Perentie who, at two metres long is only surpassed in size by Indonesia's Komodo Dragon. This is not someone you would like to run into on a dark desert night but luckily it doesn't eat humans!
The colours in the desert are amazingly vibrant. By day the deep rusty-red of the rock as it pierces the shimmering, pure blueness of the sky and the green shrubs and yellow and lilac wildflowers that carpet the desert floor are magical. At sunrise Uluru glows fiery red and at sunset, slowly changes colour from terracotta to mauve and at times, a deep shade of purple – a symphony of lush and earthy colours perfectly blended by mother nature.
Even without a symphony performance to entice you, a short break to Uluru is almost an Australian rite of passage. Even though we only flew into the resort on a Friday morning and left on Sunday afternoon it felt more like a week – you do not come here to relax because there's too much to see and do inside and out!
At Voyages Ayers Rock Resort there's a choice of accommodation ranging from the five-star Sails in the Desert, 41/2-star Desert Gardens, Outback Pioneer Lodge and Hotel and Emu Walk apartments plus a camping ground.
Staying at Sails in the Desert with its soaring white sails, gigantic swimming pool, bars and restaurants was a unique experience for us, and we thought it was wonderful to see a resort that embodies its location and culture so well. From the stunning Mulgara Gallery in the lobby to the spacious and comfortable guest rooms and suites where the decor reflects the local Pitjantjatjara culture and colours. And Ilkari Restaurant where the decor is luxuriously muted and earthy in sage green and caramel with awesome, locally woven light shades hanging like bee hives from the canopy ceiling – it felt as though we were indeed in Central Australia.
Choices for dining are many and varied from five-star a la carte options to an outback barbie or an Asian Pad Thai, hamburger or gourmet pizza – all tastes and prices are catered for at the resorts, hotel and cafes. However the two that guests rave about are the award-winning Sounds of Silence, a barbecue buffet of bush tucker served up in five-star style, in the desert and Tali Wiru, a magical, fine dining experience for a maximum of 20 people with Uluru as your backdrop and a canopy of stars as your roof … divine!
The resort is set out like a small village around a town square, and all guests are offered a fabulous variety of free activities based on aboriginal culture such as theatre performances at Mani-Mani Cultural Theatre, dance workshops, didgeridoo playing, spear and boomerang throwing, dot painting classes and bush yarns told by Indigenous storytellers, guided walks to learn about the local plants and the daily Indigenous Art Markets held in the Town Square plus a large variety of paid tours and adventures giving over 65 experiences to enjoy … as I said – you don't come here to relax!
I am so over the term bucket-list, but I can't think of any other way to end this piece other than saying whether you're 18 or 80, you simply must put this destination on your bucket-list because looking at a photo of Uluru just doesn't convey the beauty and majesty of this timeless land and its iconic red rock – you really have to touch it.
Australia Short Break - Need to Know
- Jetstar flies from Sydney with connections from all other capitals or check online for specials. The flight is three and a half hours arriving in time for lunch.
- Average maximum temperatures: 37.8°C in January and 20.2°C in July
- Average minimum temperatures: 4.7°C in July and 22.3°C in January
- Highest temperature recorded: 45.5°C (114°F) in February 1992, and that was in the shade! Lowest temperature recorded: minus 4°C in July 2001 on a winter's night.
- Get accurate information and maps as soon as you arrive at the resort so that you can plan your activities accordingly.
- Check ayersrockresort.com.au for information on upcoming events and festivals.
- Purchase a head-net that goes over your hat and ties up under your chin as the flies can be unbearable when you're in the desert - available locally.
- Bring good walking shoes and make sure you always have plenty of water with you.
- Slip Slop Slap.
Images unless noted: Courtesy of Voyages Hotels & Resorts