The Field of Light will stay lit

Months ago when I visited Uluru in Central Australia I posted a story about the sculptural installation known as the Field of Light. I explained this remarkable land-covering spectacle would be removed early this year. I urged people to come and experience this. Well – stop press news!  The exhibition is being extended until 31 December 2020.

So give yourself a break, a much needed holiday. Travel to Uluru and while you stay somewhere in the Ayers Rock Resort complex, make sure you dedicate one dark evening to exploring this Field of Light.

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Driving to the Valley of Winds, Kata Tjuta carpark

From the Kata Tjuta sunrise viewing area we continued westwards.

Kata Tjuta map

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20170902_071719.jpgWhen we reached a T junction the bus turned left/north towards the Valley of the Winds.  Walpa Gorge was the later second stop further ahead.  20170902_071724.jpg

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20170902_071904.jpg What were my plans? After extensive pre-trip research I knew that the Valley of Winds offered a range of walks the longest being a 7 plus km hike.  In addition I knew there were lookouts to climb. You can read further details here and here and here. Before leaving Tasmania I planned to walk all the options plus walk into the Walpa Gorge.  However, once in central Australia,  I changed my mind. I knew the rising temperatures and my perpetually sore feet made any choice to walk in the Valley of Winds unwise. I decided to walk in the Walpa Gorge only.

At the Valley of Winds bus stop, a few people left the bus ready to undertake various walks with the expectation they would be collected early in the afternoon.  I was fortunate that my bus driver was an ex APT tour guide still holding his accreditation (he had lost his job after lifting visitors’ heavy luggage and damaging his back). He was a superb source of information.  Before the walkers departed for the Valley of Winds tracks, I listened as the driver provided useful background and safety information.

The Valley of the Winds is stony, rugged and isolated. From a variety of sources over the few days while I was in the area, I heard stories of people with bloody fingers from trying to grab almost smooth rocks as they  clambered up and over near vertical rocks on the ‘track’.  I heard stories of people who did not take any water or sufficient water even in mild weather – and being found at the last minute with severe heat exhaustion, dehydration and in a very fragile state.  Some tracks, and those around Uluru are officially closed once the temperature reaches 36 degrees – but I think that is too extreme when the time a person will be out in that environment without shelter; surely it will be too long for the body to cope safely. In the case of the Valley of Winds the time between drop off and collection is around  5 hours yet the advice (drink one litre per hour) and warnings of signs, brochures and the words of bus drivers are often not heeded.

Four of us stayed on the bus ready to be driven to the Walpa Gorge carpark.

Between airports

We were lucky. As we parked the car at Alice Springs airport after the agreed return time, the man who had hired the car to us and helped to get it started days before, just happened to be in the carpark.  We fell about him offering profuse apologies.  No extra charges were added to our account!

The Alice Springs Airport is delightfully airy even while you look out at a searingly dry heated landscape. Rich colours and patterns made this airport interesting to look at.   Wikipedia provides factual information here.

Our destination was Connellan Airport which services the Ayers Rock Resort (Yulara) and access to Uluru (including Mititjulu) and Kata Tjuta.Alice and Yulara and Mititjulu.JPGWe were lucky in our flight choice.  Very few passengers had booked on the Qantas Link plane so every guest had a spare seat next to them if they chose, and a window seat from which to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the wide land beneath.  The attendants were relaxed and comfortable to chat (or not depending on need ) because they had time on their hands and no unruly passengers to divert their attention.  The views were expansive. Grand. More salting lakes. 20170830_141048.jpg

20170830_141350.jpgAnd then.  My heart missed a beat. From the haze that monumental ‘loaf of bread’ took shape. I was on my way to Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock).  It would be days before I understood the geology of its existence as a high prominence in an otherwise flat land.20170830_142255.jpgDirectly below, the way the vegetation dotted the land indicated to me that some aboriginal paintings are simply a realistic depiction of the randomness and the clustering and the odd open spaces between.  They are not stylised symbolic depictions.  They can be true representations.20170830_142327.jpgPhew! Another highlight.  Another grand vision.  There on the horizon sat the aged Kata Tjuta (previously known as The Olgas). I felt I stopped breathing.  Here I was in a machine only recently invented in the bigger scheme of things, flying above one of the oldest surfaces on earth. I found all the ideas difficult to put together.20170830_142459.jpgThe closer we flew to the ground the redder the earth seemed. We landed at Connellan Airport and red roads and red soil brightly packed itself across the landscape.  I realised that when aboriginal painters use this red colour as a base, they are creating a realistic depiction of the landscape.  It seems I am a ‘doubting Thomas’ who has to see to believe, to understand, and to know.

Outside the airport under the shade of a long overhang, an air-conditioned hotel shuttle bus waited for us.  The driver was an excellent source of information about the Ayers Rock Resort/Yulara complex and all its services.  I can see clearly that people who drive themselves here cannot know what we learnt, and therefore will not know how to get the best out of the Resort and the access to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  I am so pleased that Betty and I decided not to hire a car.  Half a world of relevant and useful information would have passed us by and we would not even have realised our ignorance.

Between the airport and the resort complex, Uluru was visible.  Betty and I took over the front four seats and marvelled at unforgettable views of the landscape. 20170830_144957.jpg

20170830_145102.jpg  Kata Tjuta was barely visible from within the bus but it was out there, poking up from the horizon.20170830_145125.jpgI was in awe of the big sky.  An expanse of azure. Then I spotted the moon.  Stunning.20170830_145159.jpgToday we had travelled 600 or so kilometres from one environment to a new location.  Central Australia is a huge space.Uluru - map of resort.JPG

West MacDonnell Ranges – To Standley Chasm

Monday – Prior to arrival in central Australia, Betty and I booked ourselves on a daylong excursion to the West MacDonnell Ranges, locally known as the West Macs – the West MacDonnell National Park (Tyurretye) stretches some 200 km west of Alice Springs.

West MacsMy advance research indicated these ranges and their features were extensive and so I wondered how much of that territory we could see in one day, and which major sites would we not have time to visit.

At 6.30 am two large coach loads of women staggered their departure from the Ross River Resort and we didn’t return until around 6 pm. We were exhausted. Mentally fatigued from an extraordinary day of sights and sites and information and immersion in a range of experiences.  A brilliant day albeit tiring.

First we covered the 80 or so kilometres on the Ross Highway back to the Stuart Highway leading to Alice Springs.  Looking at the country at a time earlier in the morning than when we travelled to the Ross River Resort, made the landscape look quite different. The light was different and therefore the colours seemed fresh and new. I was equally excited at seeing this beauty as I had been a few days before.  It all seemed brand new to me. 20170828_080903.jpg

20170828_081000.jpgAfter about an hour or so we reached and crossed over the Stuart Highway and onto Ilparpa Road heading west past the Ilparpa Swamp Wildlife Protected Area.  This road connected with Larapinta Drive where we turned left.  20170828_081151.jpg

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20170828_082323.jpgSo much big country! So much big sky!

About 20 kilometres later we turned right into the road leading to the famous Standley Chasm.  A gap in the range.20170828_090500.jpg

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20170828_083703.jpgApart from walking to and from the geological feature, this was our early morning tea stop. But it was the walking and the experience of the cool morning air in an almost empty ‘gap’ that I looked forward to; I walked so much slower than the rest so that many had left on the return journey by the time I arrived in the Chasm.  Excellent tourist path.  Wonderful white trunked River Gums.  20170828_083910.jpg

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20170828_084627.jpgThe vegetation beside the track was dense in places with eucalypts and ancient cycad trees.  Gardening Australia explains:  ‘They are ancient cone-bearing plants that co-existed with dinosaurs and covered vast areas of the Earth’s surface 200 million years ago, before flowering plants evolved.’  One species of cycads is unique to the MacDonnell Ranges, and Standley Chasm was displaying dozens of specimens proudly as they grew naturally near the path. Some were massive. 20170828_084253.jpg

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20170828_084806.jpg I could look up to the sun tipped rocky hill tops. The contrasts of light and the diversity of vegetation created a very dramatic environment.20170828_085151.jpg

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20170828_090801.jpgThere were options for longer walks – for another visit.20170828_085232.jpgThen I realised the Chasm was ahead and around a corner or two.  20170828_085622.jpg

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20170828_085727.jpgInterpretation signs explained the local geology.20170828_085707.jpg

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20170828_085651.jpgStandley Chasm, or Angkerle Atwatye (its original aboriginal name) was striking. You may have seen documentaries or photographic images of the Chasm and they are always spectacular. Being present you have the other sensory experiences associated with sound, temperature, smell and touch that layer on additional meanings and value.20170828_085816.jpg

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