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The 16 white “tents” among the spinifex have become something of an outback icon – granted, not quite as famous as that monolith in the background. Little wonder Prince William and Kate chose to stay at Longitude 131º on their 2014 royal tour (and must have put in a good word because the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister, Pippa, is rumoured to have honeymooned at the bush camp in June).
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Though reminiscent of an African safari camp, each of the 15 Luxury Tents are sleek, modern and distinctly Australian. Max Pritchard Gunner Architects, the team behind Southern Ocean Lodge on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, are responsible for the property’s latest makeover.
Under the big top
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Historical artefacts and Indigenous artworks, including an animal carving from the nearby Maruku Arts centre, give the tent a unique personality while connecting the interiors to the landscape.
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A light mist filters from the awning of the refurbished pool area – sure to be welcome in summer when temperatures climb into the high 30s. It’s designed to resemble an outback billabong (albeit with Robert Plumb daybeds and a “help-yourself” bar).
Jewel in the crown
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For those who really want to go all-out, there’s Longitude 131º’s new premier suite, the Dune Pavilion. The architecture nods to the classic Australian homestead, right down to the campfire-inspired EcoSmart fireplace. It’s the only room in Yulara that takes in views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
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Furnishings in muted tones ensure the special view takes centre-stage. The fit-out includes custom-made king-size beds.
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Come nightfall, a deluxe swag is rolled onto the outdoor daybed and a choice of nightcaps appears, making for perfect stargazing conditions.
Raising the bar
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Outdoor dining is a hallmark of Longitude 131º and the renovations have taken things to the next level – literally – with a purpose-built deck. Not your average campfire fare, guests enjoy four courses with Australian wines, plus a chat with the camp’s resident astronomer.
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Chef Jonathon Bryant has made a career of cooking fine fare in remote parts: he was previously posted on Lord Howe Island and before that, at Tasmania’s Saffire Freycinet. His menu changes with the Indigenous seasons and uses native foods, including foraged herbs and finger limes.
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The new spa takes its design cues from the wiltja, a traditional Aboriginal shelter. Treatments incorporate scented emu bush harvested by local Indigenous women. Long used by Aboriginal healers, the leaves are prized for their soothing, anti-inflammatory properties.
View from the top
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The camp is owned by James and Hayley Baillie, whose portfolio includes Southern Ocean Lodge and Capella Lodge on NSW’s Lord Howe Island. The Baillies have refurbished Longitude 131º three times since taking over in 2013, though the latest work is by far the most significant.
Art and soul
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The communal hub has a new bar, restaurant and lounge. Indigenous art shines throughout, including some 500 hand-painted tiles behind the bar.
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Dune Pavilion is a two-bedroom tent, designed for couples or a family. Each has its own stunning bathroom (that bath!), a sofa and handcrafted bed.
The finer things
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Made with Australian blackwood, Dune Pavilion’s curved lounge is designed to take advantage of that red-rock view. Note the discreet fireplace built into the wall. And did we mention that the complimentary minibar is stocked with guests’ drinks of choice?
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The plunge pool on Dune Pavilion’s deck has been designed to resemble a humble water tank.
Take a seat
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Australian design is showcased throughout. Case in point: the limited-edition Settler’s Chair V2 by Adelaide-based Jon Goulder (it’s worth as much as a small car) and the handmade blackwood coffee table by Margaret River craftsman Nathan Day.
Connecting the dots
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The new-look Longitude 131º really celebrates Central Australia's Indigenous cultures, as well as its European pioneers. This painting, Ngayuku ngura – My Country, was commissioned from Tjala Arts in South Australia's Amata community.
Change of scenery
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Four tents look directly onto Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas). Uluru might get the limelight but many return from the Red Centre equally mesmerised by this formation, which is deeply significant to the local Anangu people.
Table for two
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The new outdoor area, Dune Top, is set on the property’s highest point, perfectly positioned for sunset drinks. The space includes a plunge pool and another one of those “help-yourself” bars, with hosts at hand for cocktail-making tips. Post-tipple, take a seat at one of the four secluded booths dotted along the Dune Top boardwalk and prepare for a four-course starlit dinner.