What I want is more. More culture: at Uluru, we run into a non-Longitude group that has an Anangu guide. Longitude, with its emphasis on luxury and intimacy with the desert, should be able to arrange something similar at Uluru. And I would love to have more options: Kings Canyon, 2 1/2 hours away by car, is a terrific day trip, but it's not on the menu.
"We're still learning what people want," says Doug Hooper of Odyssey Tours (also owned by Voyages). Indeed, since my visit they have fleshed out the touring options and acquired two vans that hold just eight people. As for Kata Tjuta, Hooper says the trip is curtailed because there isn't enough time, but that's easy enough to remedy: Why not urge guests to stay three nights instead of two?In fact, other people I meet at the resort tell me they wish they had more time—to lounge around and savor the view, if nothing else.
The morning walk around the base of Uluru, a half-hour drive from the resort, is long (three hours) but worthwhile. Adam and I see a kangaroo and her joey. Climbing Uluru is discouraged, as it offends the Anangu, who don't even want you to photograph much of it. Hunt, however, downplays the religious aspect, pointing out a bigger problem: the climb is dangerous, sometimes deadly—a group of memorial plaques is visible at the base. I'm a bit of a socialist when it comes to the land—it should be everyone's—so Adam and I climb about 25 yards up, but stop when we reach the chain that has been put there to help climbers on the steepest stretch. The toeholds are shallow, and if you were to fall, you'd have nothing to hold on to. Why not ban it outright?One guide replies that a large percentage of visitors come specifically to make the climb, and the tourist dollar is especially valuable in a place with no other income.
The sunset excursion to Uluru is the winner. The staff wheels in a cart of drinks and hors d'oeuvres, so that when we arrive, after a brief stroll, we sip champagne and watch the rock turn Crayola orange as the sun dips. Afterward, we pile into the shuttle bus and head back to the hotel. The guide, one of the most earnest young women I have ever met, turns on her microphone. "I was just looking at the sun and thinking..." she says, "how beautiful the world is. And how lucky we are. How very, very lucky."
Later that day, a rainstorm comes through. We sit in our room and watch. After a slight drizzle a double rainbow appears, directly to the left of Uluru. We go up to the Dune House for drinks and dinner. The food here is generally too fussy for my taste (grain-fed beef with a foie gras gratiné, buttered thyme galette, and a salad of fines herbes with truffle dressing and Shiraz glaze) and doesn't always seem quite appropriate (scallops in the desert?), but the other guests appear to be happy. Suddenly, the storm kicks in, and we're treated to an hour-long lightning show—bolts streaking down around the rock and all across the horizon. The thunder is right above the tent, and the rain is making so much noise on the canvas that we have to yell to be heard.
In the morning, as we're packing up, Qantas calls the hotel to tell us that our flight has been delayed by a few hours. Fine by us, as we're more than content to hang out in the room. We're not the only ones who like it here. Adam looks up and notices something tucked into one of the folds of the tented ceiling. The huntsman has returned, in hiding from the rain.
No point in calling Wayne. The huntsman's clearly happy here, and we can hardly blame him.