Field of Light

<strong>Writer and traveller Rob Kelly visited the Field of Light this month as part of a&nbsp;new Ghan holiday package.</strong>

The remit seemed simple enough to a novice Northern Territory traveller.

Fly to Alice Springs, get a coach around the area for a few days and take a trip on The Ghan back to Adelaide. What could possibly go wrong?

Not a lot as it turned out.

If the worst thing I could think of to complain about was the fact that one hotel didn't have any English Breakfast Tea in the room then you probably realise you are reading the thoughts of a pretty satisfied customer.


Luckily for me I was met by a cab driver whose specialist subject if he ever went on Mastermind would be "Alice Springs and its surrounding area."

After a quick history lesson and a couple of jokes, which to keep you reading I won't repeat, and trust me you should thank me for that, he asked where I was heading during my stay.

After telling him I was off to the Ayers Rock Resort the following day to take in some of the sights, he informed me we'd just gone past the turn-off for that area.

"Yeah, you turn right just past the college, take the next main right, swing a left and you're pretty much at the resort," he told me.

Now you need to remember I've already admitted to being a Territory novice, so my question didn't seem that silly to me as it formed and then came out of my mouth.

'Ermm, if it's just right, right, left, shouldn't we be able to see Uluru from here?"

He gave me the sort of pitying look that I've noticed people give if you say you support St Kilda in the AFL, the New Zealand Warriors in rugby league or the Wallabies when they play the All Blacks.

"Right at the college, right again at Erldunda and left to the resort. Probably about 445km - bit shorter as the crow flies, but you're on a coach, not a crow," he said slowly.

"And don't miss that second right otherwise you'll end up in Adelaide."



So, Monday morning, early start on the road to Uluru and what promised to be a busy day.

Now given I was in what was called the Red Centre, I thought things might be, you know, red. But no, seemingly 100mm of unexpected rain over a weekend turns red green quite quickly.

The locals, including coach driver Karl, were quite excited about this turn of events, something those who take things like rain for granted found hard to understand.

Driving to the resort, Karl shared a story of the rock.

It was "discovered" in 1873, I say discovered, though I think we all know it had been there for a long while before that.

The discoverer decided to name it after a South Australian politician of the time who went by the name of Ayers. He also said how impressive it would look with water cascading down it during the rainy season.

Rainy season eh? There's a man who didn't check the long distance forecast.

The trip was broken up by a couple of stops along the way at roadhouses selling everything from fantastic Aboriginal art, to new batteries for cars and instant mashed potato.


Visiting the area in the morning, the afternoon and the evening gives you three very different perspectives on the centre's dominating presence.

In fact, you"d be hard-pressed to believe you were in the same place, luckily there's a pretty substantial edifice reminding you that, yes, it's Uluru.

The morning trip to Uluru was the only time in the week that any thought had to go into clothing. With the temperature constantly in the mid 20s and above, short-sleeved shirts, shorts, sunscreen and a hat were the order of the day.

But I was warned by a receptionist at the resort that it could get cold in the morning.

"The other day it was only 18 degrees when I was coming to work ," she informed me. To be fair she wasn't long arrived from Queensland, so 18 degrees probably felt a bit chilly to her.

Heeding her warning I wrapped up well for the morning trip to see the sunrise at the rock. I say heeded and wrapped up - I took a jumper in my backpack and found I didn't really need it.

The pre-dawn silence was broken by the plaintive wails of dingoes in the distance awakening from their slumber, which added a soundtrack to the first rays of the sun hitting the rock. The afternoon trip to the bottom of the 348m high rock, which, by the way, makes it taller than the Eiffel Tower, also filled the tour in on the legends of the rock.

Having heard a lot of tales of the formation of Aotearoa (New Zealand) from trips around there, I realised that there was a certain symmetry to the legend - quite simply there was a lot of blood and death involved, on both sides of the Tasman.

The sunset trip was even better than the morning trip. For a start, no-one thought there was any reason to wrap up warm, and whether it was the angle of the sun, the time of the year or the Barossa Shiraz offered to travellers everything just looked more spectacular.





If Uluru is the Lennon/McCartney of the Red Centre's tourism industry, then Kata Tjuta is George Harrison.

It's there in the background, looking at least as interesting as its better known partner, and, with its 36 domes it hints at something a bit special.

This wasn't enough for one traveller, who, after getting off the coach announced she would forego the 2.6km walk in and out of the rock as it was all too much, and besides "once you've seen one rock, you've seen them all".

I'll keep this simple, she was wrong.



The latest attraction in the area is only a month or two old, and will only be around for a year or so. So, if you are planning to see Bruce Munro's Field of Light now would probably be a good time to do it.

More than twenty years in the making, Munro first got the idea when he visited Uluru in 1992, the artwork is made up of 300,000 different components, a fitting number given that is estimated to be the number of visitors to the Uluru National Park each year.

The thousands upon thousands of light stems cover an area of almost 50,000 square metres, or to put it into perspective, seven soccer pitches.

In the local Pitjantjatjara language it is known as Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku which translates as "looking at lots of beautiful lights".

That description sums it up perfectly. The 50,000 or so stems light up the area at night, and even more spectacularly pre-dawn.

You're also spoilt for choice on how to see the installation.

There's the obvious sunrise and sunset trips, there's a dune top viewing which can include a camel ride, a helicopter ride and the Sounds of Silence dinner with a three-course bush tucker menu to enjoy overlooking the art and a talk on the stars in the sky that the Field of Light accentuates.





The final early morning start, and the biggest challenge.

Approaching the foot of the canyon climb I could only think of Mt Doom from the Lord of the Ringsmovies.

OK, it was probably nothing like it, but too many early morning starts produce touches of delirium in some people.

We were warned though that if you had any doubts about your fitness then the more genteel walk around the base of the canyon might be more advisable than the 270m climb to the top for the 6km rim walk.

Approaching the start of the climb I wasn't sure that other people were taking that warning seriously.

The first three comments I heard were "I want to do it before I get too old", "My husband's knees are not the best", and "My knees are no good either and I have trouble breathing".

So, off we set, with the warning that it was going to be a tough 20 minutes or so, but after that it would be worth it.

Twenty minutes later my lungs were burning, my legs felt like jelly and I was sweating like I'd never sweated before.

And I was the third of our party of 18 to reach the rest point - so by the time the stragglers arrived over the next 15 minutes I'd had a wipe down with a cold flannel, taken on board plenty of water and got my breath back and looked like it was the sort of thing I did every day.

But fair play to my dodgy-kneed fellow travellers they made it and over the next three hours were treated to some of the most stunning sights in the Watarrka National Park.

Gums, wattles, fig trees, ferns and bottle brushes hint that the Red Centre wasn't perhaps always as dry as it is now and the rock formations, well, wow.




Specifically, camels. It's estimated there are around 500,000 of the feral creatures roaming around inner Australia.

And they're not popular.

Given they can lap up, and store, up to 100 litres of water in a single sitting, it doesn't take much to realise that a pack of the blighters can very quickly empty a waterhole, leaving nothing for the local wildlife.

To make matters worse their big feet can cause chaos on plants.

There is eradication happening and in a role reversal some are even being exported to Morocco for use in the army.
The Kings Creek Station is also doing its bit by selling camel burgers alongside the more regular chicken, beef and kangaroo.

Not being brave enough to try it myself - why would you, they had bacon sandwiches on the menu - the verdict from a couple of hardy souls who gave it a go was "I'm glad I tried it" and "It's not as sweet as kangaroo".



After a few days of living out of a suitcase, and 5am calls to make sure sunrises were not missed, it was something of a pleasure and a novelty to board The Ghan from Alice to Adelaide.

Maybe it was a tip of the hat to where I'd just been and to where I was going, but the lunch of kangaroo steak with a glass of Barossa Shiraz seemed like the way to go while watching the outside world pass by.

A superb lamb dinner and a leisurely breakfast after a surprisingly good night's sleep, helped by the hypnotic rhythm of the train, and there I was in Adelaide, ready for my next adventure.


Speak to our Great Southern Rail team on 13 21 47 about available holiday packages combining The Ghan and the Field of Light experience.