Journey to the centre of the earth

By Michael McHugh

Journey to the centre of the earth

I have recently returned from a long weekend spent at the centre of Australia: Uluru. Yet again, it was an amazing experience. The first time I went, some years ago, we were photographing Jennifer Hawkins for a fashion spread. The second time, it was with the automobile company Audi, where Michelle and I had driven from Adelaide. But this time around, it was with our kids, and it was fantastic to see the environment and culture through their eyes.

On the first night, we took part in the Sounds of Silence dinner. Watching as the sun set out in the middle of the desert, we met a great couple who were on their honeymoon from Western Sydney, and a mother, who was a Spiritual Director (she explained that the role was kind of like a life coach, but from a spiritual point of view) from Chicago who was traveling with her three 20-something-year-old daughters. It was a fun night, learning about their lives, where they came from, and the cultural differences. By the end of the night, we were swapping cards and numbers and laughing about the different way we say certain things, and the different meanings of words.

We also learnt all about the stars and planets. Our star guide was incredible pointing out different clusters of stars with his laser pointer and giving the timing of when they rose and fell in the sky. We could also look through his telescope out to Saturn. It was an extraordinary experience, looking through the night sky and seeing Saturn millions of miles away. It was small and white, and you could clearly see the rings around the planet. A couple of aircraft flew over; it was the clearest of nights and out in the outback, the night sky is vast and beautiful. We live, and are part of, the most extraordinary universe.

The next morning, we were up early for sunrise and a guided talk ,watching the sun come up as we rode camels. While we watched the sun come up, before our damper breakfast, I realised that his short family weekend away was creating memories that we will never forget, and talk often of later. We bought a piece of Aborigine art, listened to elders speak of their history, took an art class with two 70-year-old local women named Jennifer and Ruby, swam in the resorts pool, and walked around Uluru and through the amazing gorge of Kantju  (it’s the Olgas).

Voyages have created a range of different price points with regards to accommodation, depending on your budget.  Embracing the local people and making sure they have jobs and are well supported, it is a great example of tourism working in tandem with the indigenous people; other countries should look at this model as a well executed example.

We had lunch at a café in the town square where local aboriginal youth are in training for jobs in the hospitality industry. As a consumer, this initiative was great to be part of, and should be rolled out in other indigenous tourist areas. It was easy to see where $30 million of renovations has been spent. Rooms, suites, restaurants, bars and a new spa have been renovated and expertly created. The food offering has also vastly improved, with family style buffets and al a carte all on offer. (The lamb chops are the must try!)

The feel of this new-look resort is accessible, upmarket and well-thought out, with generous rooms and suites embracing a sensitive design aesthetic, and a unique local colour palette.  It has a relaxed resort feel to it. I left feeling rested, rejuvenated and with a restored faith in local tourism, plus more family memories to talk about.


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