Wilderness hotel near Ayers Rock set to reopen

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n October 2003, a bushfire caused major damage to the Longitude 131 luxury wilderness camp in Australia's Red Center, situated only a few miles from the famous landmark, Uluru, better known as Ayers Rock.

A $2.7 million reconstruction effort has taken place, and a bigger and better Longitude 131 will reopen on July 1.

Acclaimed as one of the best wilderness hotels in the world before the fire, the property will reopen with a number of major enhancements.

Longitude 131, a luxury campground, received a $2.7 million refit. Among the upgrades is an outdoor dining site to replicate the Sounds of Silence dining experience, which has been a major attraction at the nearby Ayers Rock Resort (owned by the same company, Voyages Hotel and Resorts).

There also will be a flexible new touring program (including private touring), an upgraded arrivals and reception area and twin-room configurations.

During the reconstruction, the interior designers have faced the challenge of replacing artifacts that were lost in the blaze.

Each Longitude 131 "tent" will continue to pay homage to a specific Australian explorer -- from the 1800s to modern day -- to maintain the tradition of individually themed tents.

"Longitude 131 has been designed and constructed with unprecedented sensitivity for the natural and cultural environment and with the direct involvement of the local aboriginal groups to ensure that there were no sacred sites in the area," said Voyages' CEO, Grant Hunt. "Material used minimized the impact on the delicate ecology that is rapidly regenerating after the fire."

In-depth flora and fauna surveys were undertaken to protect vulnerable species such as the mulgara (a small, native marsupial), the great desert skink and the marsupial mole.

Rates at Longitude 131 are about $1,115 per person, double occupancy, from July 1 to March 31 and include two nights in one of 15 private luxury tents, all meals, Australian and imported beverages and an exclusive touring program for guests.

Travel agent commissions vary. Longitude 131 does not accept guests under age 12.

Tours available to guests include watching the sun rise and set over Uluru; a walk around Uluru (climbing the rock is not permitted); a visit to Kata Tjuta National Park and a walk in Walpa Gorge; a stop at the Uluru Cultural Center and a gourmet dinner under the stars; an ecowalk; and a visit to the Aboriginal Art Gallery. A helicopter flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuta is optional at an added cost.

There are direct flights into Uluru (Ayers Rock) airport, where guests are picked up by small bus for the five-mile drive to Longitude 131.

For information or to make reservations, call (011) 61-2 9339-1040, e-mail [email protected].au or visit the Web at www.voyages.com.au.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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