The Red Eye to Uluru and the Field of Lights

Long gone are the days of doing things on minimal sleep. We caught the Red Eye from Perth to Sydney at five minutes to midnight on Wednesday. There are no flights direct from Perth to Uluru. The only ones that go near enough are to Alice Springs which would have involved spending a night there and either catching another flight or driving. We opted to go via Sydney instead.

The winds over Australia must have been on point on Thursday because we landed in Sydney early (and sat on the tarmac for a bit) and our flight to Uluru also took less time than estimated (which we lost waiting in queue at Avis).

I’d slept a bit on the plane over to Sydney and then, much to Glen’s horror, fell asleep, horizontally, in the Virgin lounge. I would have been appalled too but I was too damn tired to care. People go in there in thongs, for God’s sake, so I doubt anyone minded.

Because Glen didn’t sleep through any of the four-hour layover, he was verging on delirious, evidenced by him panicking that we needed to head to the gate because they’d called our flight. I checked the board only to see he had gotten confused and thought we were going to Darwin. Crisis averted in time.

The flight to Uluru seemed to go forever because of the lack of a good sleep, but Glen and I had a seat between us that we intermittently used to bend ourselves in half and doze on.

Ayers Rock Resort

We waited about 40 minutes for our hire car, mostly because of hold-ups with other people who were in front of us. A queue formed behind us and by the time we were sorted, it was about ten people long. I felt for the staff who’d have to deal with each of them. Still not sure why everything took so long, considering everything is prebooked.

We drove down to Ayers Rock Resort, the self-contained town with all the amenities and accommodation. On the way we saw Uluru in the distance, obscured slightly behind a haze of what I’m assuming was due to burn-off. Much like the Rockies that are seemingly plonked onto the Albertan prairies, Uluru is just, well, there. The surrounding landscape isn’t as barren as I’d expected, as there are plenty of scrubs, trees and grasses all over.

We checked into Sails in the Desert and had lunch while we waited for our room to become available. By then, we were both tired and in need of a proper horizontal, no interruptions from flight announcements, screaming children or loud-talking businessmen on mobile phones. We were given our room about half an hour later, got in and promptly went to bed for a few hours.

We woke up at 5:15 when the alarm rudely shook us out of our slumber. We had dinner/tour reservations and needed to get going, but that awful tired/sick feeling took a while to shake off. However, we were out the front of the hotel and waiting for our bus with time to spare.

Field of Lights

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In the evening we went on the A Night at Field of Lights experience. British artist Bruce Munro created a light installation using 50,000 lights and a lot of optic cables that was so popular it’s now being kept until March 2018. It covers 49 square kilometres and is powered with solar power. When the sun goes down, the lights turn on to create, literally, a field of light. It was one of the reasons we wanted to come to Uluru in the first place.

Our experience, however, began before the sun set. About a hundred people got off the buses and walked up to a spot where we were served drinks and canapés (crocodile, kangaroo, prawn and some other vegetables) while the sun gradually set. This gave us the chance to see Uluru and a silhouetted Kata Tjuta. Two American couples struck up a conversation with us so we had a chat with them about their two-week holiday in Australia and New Zealand and a bit about earthquakes in California before being directed to our tables for dinner.

Glen and I were the last to be seated and joined a table of three other couples: a 51-year-old mother and her 19-year-old daughter; senior husband and wife from England; and two young English male doctors working in Cairns. Normally the idea of making small talk with random strangers is our version of hell, but everyone (including us) was friendly and fun.

Dinner was huge. After a starter of soup (with the perennial favourite lemon myrtle), the main was a buffet that consisted of salmon, kangaroo, beef, chicken and prawns, as well as vegetables and other sides. We were stuffed by the end of it (yet still managed to sample a wide variety of the desserts that were available later).

In between the main and the dessert, we were treated to a short astronomy presentation that was full of small bits of interesting information and terrible-but-oh-so-good jokes. The presentation aside, however, the stars, when the lights were turned up, were astounding. The night sky looks a little different in this part of the country from what I’m used to and of course the sheer number of stars was staggering. Makes such a difference when there’s little-to-no light pollution around.

After dessert, we were given about half an hour to walk through the Field of Lights as they changed colour. It was a subtly beautiful experience, as the lights aren’t turned up as bright as they could be but instead the colours are muted across the landscape and seemingly go on forever (until you reach the edge and realise you have to hurry to not miss the bus).

We left at 10 and happily climbed back into bed.

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