A Real Taste of the Outback
Copyright © The Star Ledger 2004
Sunday, May 2, 2004
BY LERON KORNREICH
YULARA, Australia -- Touring Melbourne and Sydney,
I got no more a taste of the Outback than I would have eating
at the steakhouse chain in New Jersey. I was beginning to
wonder what happened to the Australia glorified in books and
Where was the land of rugged terrain, vast stretches
of barren earth, and an assortment of odd marsupials and venomous
It wasn't until I traveled deep into the country's
Red Centre that I discovered the Australia of my imagination.
Flying over the desert into the heart of the
continent, I saw the dots and dashes that typify aboriginal
art come alive as bushes, sparse rivers and red earth below.
The landscape looked like so many of the canvases I had seen
hanging in museums and galleries. As the plane edged closer
to Uluru, the giant monolith dominated the desert plain below.
Uluru is celebrated as the world's largest monolith,
with a circumference extending nearly six miles. It is also
known as Ayers Rock, but its aboriginal name was restored
as part of a general push to preserve and champion indigenous
The enormous monolith changes colors as though
it were a mood ring. The rock's hues shift from fiercely red
to auburn as the sun casts its rays, and to a purplish tint
when it's rain-soaked.
Enormous grasshoppers roam the soil around the
giant rock. It made me think of those Foster's beer commercials.
You call that a grasshopper? This is a grasshopper! You call
that a rock? This is a rock!
The 36 domes of Kata Tjuta, also known as The
Olgas, rival Uluru's imposing presence. When planning my weekend
itinerary, I took into account that I would watch the sun
rise and set over each. The desert heat became unbearable
by mid-day so my husband and I set out on early morning hikes
and spent lazy afternoons poolside at our hotel.
As for fashion, I found fly nets all the rage.
We bought ours at the local grocery store. We didn't mind
looking like beekeepers as long as those pesky buggers kept
off our noses and stopped buzzing relentlessly in front of
We chose to rent a car and tour the area on
our own except for one night, when we signed up for the "Sounds
of Silence" dinner. A tour bus picked us up at our hotel
before sunset. The bus carried us deeper into the wilderness.
Suddenly, as though in a mirage, a line of waiters emerged
from behind a sand dune holding white napkins draped over
outstretched arms. It was a sight one would expect in an elegant
restaurant, not in the middle of the desert. The effect was
We sipped champagne to the hum of a didgeridoo
as the last rays lingered over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Once
the sun sank into the horizon, waiters led us to a clearing
where we ate dinner under the stars. But the meal, ranging
from kangaroo and emu to barramundi, was simply an appetizer.
The main course was served by nature. After
clearing the dishes, waiters blew out the candles, enveloping
us in darkness. Absolute silence prevailed until an astronomer's
voice gently broke in with Aboriginal tales of creation and
mythology about the constellations. Overhead, we could clearly
see the Milky Way, Jupiter, Saturn and the Southern Cross.
As a city dweller that takes the cloak of pollution and neon
lights for granted, I never realized places exist from which
I could spot planets with the naked eye.
Voyages Hotels & Resorts manages all dining
options and accommodations at Ayers Rock Resort, including
a campground, serviced apartments and several hotels. I half-expected
Crocodile Dundee to walk through the doors of The Outback
Pioneer. Its rustic feel spills into the Pioneer BBQ, where
guests from any hotel can stop by, purchase a few slabs of
crocodile or kangaroo meat and cook them over communal grills.
The hip feel of the Lost Camel reminded me of
a boutique New York City hotel, except the rooms are larger.
Sails in the Desert offers five-star rooms along with elegant
dining. Longitude 131 , the luxury safari camp destroyed in
a bushfire, is scheduled to reopen in July.
Sydney's Opera House and Melbourne's Federation
Square were definite highlights of my trip Down Under. But
in the Red Centre I found the quintessential Aussie experience:
a huge rock, giant grasshoppers and a million stars.
Leron Kornreich is a reporter for New Jersey