It sounds like a strange name for a resort that literally sits in the middle of Australia. But on arriving at Sails in the Desert, the giant shade cloths suddenly make sense of it. And you need them too – when it’s hot in Yulara – the nearest town to Uluru and the location of this resort – it’s hot. We’re talking a mid-30 average in January.
Fortunately, we travel in June and it’s gorgeous. Clear skies and temperate days dropping to a crisp 2 degrees at nightfall but hey, we’re rugged up and a red wine is typically close to hand which helps things.
It was our first time to Uluru and I’m going to be very lame and quip ‘it won’t be the last’. But it’s true, and I’ll try explain why.
There’s a big divide in reactions when you talk to people about Uluru – the cleaving factor being whether they’ve actually visited this place or not. For the uninitiated, it’s often perceived as just a big, red rock in the middle of nowhere that’s famous for being a big, red rock in the middle of nowhere. Also, for gracing all manner of tacky tourist take-homes.
For those who have seen Uluru in person, it’s not just a big red rock, but rather a big brown rock. One with a strangely tangible and mysterious presence. Experiencing Uluru in real life makes you feel very insignificant and also incredibly proud all at once. On one hand you’re reminded of the short time you have on this earth when faced with this 600 million-year-old monolith. And on the other hand you’ve probably never felt more proud to be Australian and more in awe of the deep spiritual connection the Anangu people (the traditional owners of this land) have with this place. That might sound overly patriotic but that’s what I found to be true anyway. And I don’t even have a Southern Cross tattoo.
So – visiting Uluru on your honeymoon = no-brainer. Staying at Sails in the Desert = also no-brainer. Here’s why.
In two words: thoughtful and sophisticated. Neutral colours keep things calm, while earthy-coloured accents combine with indigenous artwork and decorative pieces to provide a sense of place.
Like much of Uluru, everything has a story behind it. The patterned runner on the bed and chair cushion and the splash of colour ingrained in the carpet are sections of Indigenous artist’s work, and little placards tell you who these artists are. Ensuite bathrooms are luxurious, and free WiFi always makes me happy. It’s the bed though that is the true star – maybe it’s the desert silence or just the amazing mattress but these are memorably sound sleeps.
Sails in the Desert is part of Ayers Rock Resort – the large complex that contains all of the accommodation, shops and restaurants close to Uluru.
Those architectural shade sails aforementioned are just the beginning. A large swimming pool is framed by uncharacteristically green lawns – you could almost forget you’re in the desert. Native plants and ghost-gum trees dot the property meaning there’s plenty of shade to settle under with a book.
A stylish reception area adjoins an Aboriginal art gallery and gives a pretty epic first impression. Here you can get information about the full program of free daily events on offer, like garden walks, ‘bush yarn’ sessions and cultural dance performances.
The food and drink
Ilkari is the premium restaurant at Sails in the Desert and it offers probably the best buffet we’ve experienced. Breakfast has all the things you’d expect plus some international cuisine options and an egg and pancake station that allows guests to create their own signature dish.
Dinner is a three course buffet experience. There’s seafood so fresh that you’ll forget you’re days away from the nearest coastline and an assortment of pastas, Asian favourites, roasts and grilled meats cooked with a twist of Indigenous flavours.
Walpa Lobby Bar is another offering at the resort, which is probably better suited for a casual drink or afternoon tea.
But the absolute pick of dining experiences doesn’t happen inside Sails, rather on a sand dune in the middle of the desert. ‘Sounds of Silence’ is an award-winning event that offers ‘the best of the Red Centre distilled into four unforgettable hours’. Basically, you’re whisked into the desert, served sparkling wine as the sun sets against a backdrop of Uluru, and then seated at a table on the red earth to share a bushtucker-inspired buffet and a selection of Australian wines and beers. There’s a didgeridoo player and an astronomer to talk you through the ridiculously starry sky that emerges above you.
There’s a similar dining experience called Tali Wiru which is equally incredible, the difference here being that you’re seated at your own table (rather than sharing with strangers), and you have table service. The experience allows no more than 20 guests at a time so it’s more intimate but double the price (at $325 per person).
What to do
- Walk, cycle or take a motorbike ride around Uluru
- Walk through Kata Tjuta – an arguably more beautiful series of rock formations near Uluru
- Take a camel ride
- Helicopter flight around Uluru
- Hire your own car and day-trip to Kings Canyon
- Explore Indigenous art galleries’
In summary, five reasons you should honeymoon at Sails in the Desert and visit Uluru
- Understated luxury in the middle of the desert
- No-place-like-it connection to the land
- Perfect combo of adventure and romance
- A bucket-list tick for every Aussie
- Smack bang in the centre of Australia but without compromising on creature comforts
- Hire your own car so you can avoid the tour buses. This means you can see Uluru and Kata Tjuta at your own pace. There isn’t really any avoiding the crowds at the sunrise and sunset viewing platforms but at least you can get there early, or stop on the side of the road somewhere to watch the rock in private.
- Try and stay three nights. Two is enough, but three allows you to have a sleep in one morning and visit Uluru more than once, plus spend a good chunk of time at Kata Tjuta. You could also take a day trip out to Kings Canyon which is spectacular walking.
- Set aside some cash to do the Sounds of Silence dinner. It’s an unforgettable experience. Make sure you book in advance.
- Don’t climb the rock. It’s culturally insensitive, impacting local wildlife (because camera batteries and human waste left at the top run down the sides of the rock and contaminate the few watering holes surrounding Uluru) and seriously f*cking dangerous – we couldn’t get over how steep it looks. Many people have died trying.
Get there: fly to Ayers Rock Airport (not Alice Springs – it’s a common misconception this is the closest airport. It’s actually six hours away).
Cost: rooms from $388 per night
Bookings: via Sails in the Desert website or phone: 02 8296 8010
Social: check out @exploreuluru – it’s the official Instagram of Voyages Indigenous Tourism which own Sails in the Desert and is beautiful.