Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge Review: Travelling with kids
The budget accommodation option at Ayres Rock Resort is the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge, but is it any good for holidays with kids?
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The Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge is the budget accommodation option at the Ayers Rock Resort. Despite being the cheaper option, it's more than serviceable for most people's needs, including families look for holidays with kids.
Uluru should be on everyone's bucket list. The World Heritage-listed monolith that lunges 863 metres out of the Australian desert cannot be experienced second-hand through media or the stories of friends. You must stand before it and witness it for yourself.
Also read: Your complete guide to the Red Centre
If you've started researching your trip, then no doubt you've quickly discovered that there is only one place to stay if you want to be close enough to the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park to explore its riches. That destination is the Ayers Rock Resort. Thankfully, there are six different hotels within this sprawling tourist destination. They range from the most basic (a tent), to luxury glamping and five-star experiences with stunning views.
For most of us, however, the cost of getting there, hiring a car and enjoying the food, drinks and attractions puts a lot of pressure on your accommodation options. You may be wondering if the budget Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge is too budget for your needs or not. So, let's take a closer look.
Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge
Details of my stay:
- Where: Ayers Rock Resort, Northern Territory.
- When: 4 September 2019, three nights.
- Room type: 4 Bed Private Room.
- Guests: Two adults, two kids.
- Cost: Starts from AU$184 per night).
- Hotel star rating: 2 stars.
- Book: Outback Pioneer Hotel
My review, in short:
- Cost: Expensive by usual standards, but the budget option for Uluru.
- Location: 20 minute drive from the rock, and next to the only bar in town.
- Holidays with kids: Welcomed, with family-friendly facilities and an overall sense that your children are safe.
- Check-in process: No early check-ins or late check-outs, but fast and friendly.
- The room: Small and featureless, but more than adequate for budget travellers.
- Food: Buffets are solid, but not awfully diverse. But kitchen facilities and BBQs help keep costs down.
- Facilities: Clean, communal, large and family-friendly. The simple pool is a vital afternoon visit, while the in situ bar with live music, and kids game room, ensure it's a place to happily hang in-between trips to the natural wonders.
Are the rooms too small?
The Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge has within it three tiers of accommodation. For those with a bit more money to spend, there is the option of a room with double beds, a TV and a small bathroom. For those with less, there is a room with four bunk beds and nothing else (outside the essential air-con). And for backpackers, there are multi-bed dorms for men and women.
I chose to stay in the middle four-bunk-beds-in-a-box option. It's about as basic and bare bones as you can get, but it's also perfectly fine. Even for holidays with kids. At first glance, the cold, hard concrete floor, small space (probably 3mx3m) and utilitarian beds may feel all too stark. However, the nature of a trip to Uluru means you don't need your room for much other than sleep.
And sleep comes easily when you're hiking about in 40°C heat. Especially on holidays with kids.
After walking all day in the hot desert sun and with early starts in mind to combat the heat, by the time I got back to my bed on each of the four nights, my children and I had little interest in anything other than sleeping. The same went for our neighbours, meaning that while noise travels through the walls relatively easily, there was little movement or sound after 9pm.
We were left with the distant sounds of the band playing at the bar to fall asleep to. Or to quietly post a few shots on Instagram using the free Wi-Fi.
While a bigger bed would have been nice, I honestly think a TV would have just robbed my family of more exploration time. And as you will read below, the facilities are so communal and family-friendly that there are better things to spend your money on than a kitchenette or toilet.
Are the facilities good for holidays with kids?
Staying in a room with just beds, I was concerned about how sharing a bathroom and kitchen with other guests was going to go. Especially given that I had kids with me and the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge is backpacker-friendly. But I need not have worried.
The bathroom facilities are large, cleaned multiple times a day and surprisingly uncrowded. The showers are typically poor, but to be honest, I just jumped in the pool each morning and used the much better cold showers that were down that way instead.
The kitchen is also kept clean and other guests were respectful. We placed our food and drinks in labelled bags in the large fridges and they remained untouched by foreign hands throughout our stay. There are BBQs to cook on, stoves, microwaves and various condiments (and food) left by previous guests to rummage through. My only advice would be to bring some cutlery (plates, bowls, knives, forks) of your own as it was in short supply when we were there.
The pool is obviously a godsend. If you caught my 10 tips for travelling to Uluru article then you'll know that I advise getting all your exploring done before midday. I then spent the afternoons staying cool near the pool with a beverage in hand.
As well as that holidays with kids essential, a games room (closed for maintenance during my stay), and souvenir shop, there is a large bar central to the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge. It's the only place in the whole Ayers Rock Resort where you can get takeaway booze, and its proximity was welcomed.
For those of you more available for a good time – as in, not a parent like your poor writer – the bar is a great place to hang. Live music most nights helps create a laidback, yet party-like atmosphere. And rather than being a location dominated by drunk backpackers, there was a respectful mix of people across all demographics chatting about their day's adventure and having a good time.
The main reception has everything you need to book attractions and the staff are generally laidback and good-natured. A bus regularly travels between the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge and other hotels (if you want to have a sticky beak at the good life) as well as the town centre. And there's ample parking if you choose to hire a car.
Food: Mix of buffet, dining and self-catered
While some of the other accommodation options at the Ayers Rock Resort have some pretty fancy dining, it's a lot simpler at the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge. As mentioned, cooking and preparing your own food is very much on the cards. For that, there is an IGA in the town centre where you can pick up your supplies at a reasonable price.
The Outback BBQ and Bar and the Pioneer Kitchen offer your classic pub lunch and pub food experiences. The Kitchen prices aren't actually too bad and suitable enough to get you out of a jam in the middle of the day. The dinners at the BBQ and Bar are more expensive, but the food is just fine. You'll be eating at long tables with plenty of others, so just make sure your expectations meet the experience.
There is a "proper" restaurant available. The Bough House Restaurant offers breakfast and dinner buffet options, as well as off-the-menu cuisine. It's not nearly as varied as you'd expect in the big city, but still impressive given the location. It's kid-friendly, too, ensuring that families are the most likely to be found sharing the venue with you.
It was a little too expensive for me to choose regularly. However, each day there are specials that you can make use of, and these at least help to justify the cost if you're up for a splurge. Personally, I didn't see the point of the breakfasts at all, as you'll want to be on the road and moving to your day's destination come sunrise. For those look at holidays with kids, I recommend getting some cereal and milk from the IGA for less than $10.
Can you see Uluru from the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge?
Yes and no. You can't look out your window and see Uluru on the horizon anywhere in the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge. You must pay for that luxury at one of the other accommodation options. However, there is a very close sand dune that you can climb, where a viewing platform allows you to get a full 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape.
Not only is Uluru clearly visible from here, but it's just a really nice place to be. I saw people setting up picnics here in the evening. I ventured up there for sunsets and to take photos of the stunning stars late at night.
Is the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge family-friendly?
I travelled to Uluru with my kids and was more than happy with the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge as a destination for families. The grounds are well looked after and I felt safe letting my kids explore beyond the room and up into the sand dunes. My son (eight years old) was quick to meet some new friends by the decent-sized (if unspectacular) pool and playing with them become a highlight of his trip.
Is the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge any good?
Make no mistake, the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge offers basic rooms. But it makes up for this with well-maintained facilities and a communal "campground" feel that lets you relax into the experience. I had no issues with rowdy backpackers or drunken stumblers keeping me awake, and I felt perfectly safe there with my children. Which is pretty important for holidays with kids.
Ultimately, everything you need for a good stay is at the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge. While it's nice to have a luxury room, epic pool and big TV, I never felt I needed it. After exploring all day in the hot sun, all I really wanted was a swim, an early dinner and a cold beer, with a private, quiet place to get some sleep. Anything beyond that feels like it would have been wasted money.
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