Day 10: That's a turn up for the books

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May 15th 2016
Published: June 25th 2017
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Geo: -25.2451, 130.986

In the countdown stakes this is the birthday eve but who had time to think about that with a 5.20 start to the day because we were chasing the sun again this morning. True to form we have been non starters for breakfast, opting instead for a juice and an apple. There is so much food during the day and we do wake up each morning feeling like we have just eaten!

The first trip today was with Lewis, a central coast NSW boy who has his degrees in Ecology and Conservation. So easy going and personable and has so much knowledge to share. The drive out to Kata Tjuta takes around 40 minutes at a leisurely pace and we are actually in the vehicle as the sun peeks over the horizon. Richard and Loraine were earlier risers and were all set and in place at the viewing platform to get premium views and were sending pics again from their vantage point. And it does seem that everyone is up. The road was busy and the car parks were full.

Kata Tjuta is Pitiantjatjara for "many heads." Formerly known as The Olgas, this collection of rounded conglomerate "boulders" is our walking venue this morning. The Walpa Gorge track is a 2.5 km walk over very uneven surfaces up a gently rising path. The end of the gorge offers a perfect view of the horizon which is reflected in the ever present pool. Lots of stops along the way to learn more about the plants and animals and the stories of the Anangu and more about the Tjukurpa (laws).

Lewis rounded us up, offered some morning tea and then took the group for a visit to the Cultural Centre. (No photos allowed.) Located within the precincts of the National Park it serves a combination of purposes. The Rangers can answer questions and queries, there are displays to introduce the flora and fauna, and includes storytelling videos that feature indigenous story tellers and a history of the reclamation of Uluru by the indigenous people. There are art and craft shops and a cafe. And the highlight for me.....a toilet!

The trip back delivers us "right on time for lunch" and the hot towels, table with a view, amazing menu choices, cold drinks and wines dished up with attentive service is repeated again.

And for us, it's off the reservation, without supervision this afternoon. We were driven
into town by Nathan (a Logan boy) to meet up with Richard and Loraine. Took a little bit of organisation - we thought that "perhaps" we could have jumped in the car with the Clews's but "outsiders" are not permitted to enter the private road. Any thoughts of walking were quickly dismissed!

Got a guided tour of Yulara, hit the two souvenir shops, loved the Ayers Wok restaurant and settled in for coffee at a cafe followed by drinks with a view at The Sails Resort. Again shared stories and details of similar adventures and hatched a plan for a new escape for the following day for a walk around the base of a birthday achievement.

We were promptly picked up at 3.45 and returned to Longitude so that we could shower and change ready for the exploits of the evening. Out to chase the sun again, this time for a long range view on a dune between Uluru and Kata Tjuta. There was a "relief" station set up halfway up the dune and we grabbed our cocktails and wine and took up pole position for the sunset. Another breath taking visit as the colours brightened and faded as the sun
hit the horizon. It is amazing to watch the cars and buses stream along the road as everyone finds a vantage point. Car doors open and close, buses grind to a halt and cameras and phones are out as enthusiasts try and harness the 10 to 12 minutes of sunset glory for future revisits.

We are no exception, only this time we are spilling and sloshing wine as we try and capture the rock reflected "upside down" in a glass of wine. Can't say we nailed it but certainly drank our way a little closer to the perfect wine depth in the glass.

Next stop, back towards home to see a man made wonder.

The Field of Lights is an art installation that has been set up in the sand dunes and will be on display for the next 12 months and it does conceptually seem a "little out of place." Conceived and created by Bruce Munro, Australia's field of lights is one of a series of installations of its kind by Bruce around the world but is the first fully powered by solar energy and the largest to date. According to the introductory material "Bruce's recurring motif is the use of light on an environmental scale in order to create an emotional response for the viewer."

Each version of The Field of Lights has stretched over fields, along city parks and through forested land, in urban squares on building roofs and over rocky foothills but Bruce did "imagine it" right here in Australia inspired perhaps by the blooms of the red centre. It is nestled in the valley of the red sand hills and looks like a mirage in the day but springs to life at sunset. It was at Uluru that Bruce first conceived of an installation that could grow from the ground like the small seedlings found in the desert after rain.

The Field of Lights Uluru features 50 000 optic fibre stems which come alive as the sun sets and the red earth is replaced by a gentle blaze of blooms in red, blue, yellow, green purple and orange. 144 rotating data projectors concealed within the field are responsible for the changing colour. As you stand above the light, it is as if a gentle breeze passes through the dunes and carefully moves the head of the blooms exposing new colours. The colours change in waves. There was a white
light pathway that snaked and twisted through the blooms with detours and alleyways to be explored. While we were walking the field, Richard and Loraine were perched on the adjacent sand dune sipping on champagne and nibbling on canapés as a prelude to their Dinner Under the Stars.

Aided by a continuing stream of text messages, we managed to meet Richard at the end of a sweeping avenue of "blooms" to compare notes. With the help of a Field of Lights minder we were guided in an appreciation of some of the intricacies of the installation and were able to make our own memories.

We parted ways once again. And headed to "our" dune top dinner.

For us this evening, it was a family dinner at Table 131. And the setup reminded me so much of @AuntyGail&Paul's Christmas dining. Long tables stretched across the top of the dunes, burgeoning with delicate red lights and candles, each place set with care with cutlery and glassware "announcing" that something special was about to be served. Each family member was seated at the one long banquet table and we found ourselves again opposite Annette and Gregory. The arrival of the warm hand towels was the
prelude to a feast and we were entertained by a didgeridoo player perched on the edge of the dune. Warm gas fires wrapped us in a cocoon of intimacy.

We could see the lghts of the blooms and we could also see the bright lights of Richard and Loraine's venue in the distance.

The conversation, wine and food flowed, the voices and laughs rolled up and down the table and the hours (and food and wine) just disappeared. As the temperature dropped under the clear starred sky, warm enveloping ponchos and the ubiquitous brown kangaroo water bottles provided the extra snuggle factor that ensured we could prolong the evening.

No worries about "the drive." Each couple was provided with a torch and, accompanied by giggles and sand in our toes, we traversed the dune for the short walk to Number 15 to be welcomed by cognac, Baileys and port set up temptingly on top of our swag. Yep, the housekeeping ninjas had been again. The fire on the balcony was calling. The double swag was heated with two more kangas, the pillows were plumped and the stars were the light that guided the way. We had been given an astronomy lesson over dinner so we somehow mustered the energy to sit up in the swag, sip on a Baileys and make an attempt at identifying (with the help of a phone app) the mysteries of the known universe.

Rolled back, squiggled down a little further in the swag and had no need of sheep. We were goners. Woke at around 2 am and relocated the 10 metres to our bed inside the tent. Didn't even make the connection that it was "tomorrow already" and he was a senior citizen!

And just BTW thinking there is a slight possibility that if we had known that tents and swags were this much fun, we could have been into camping years ago!

PS second birthday in a row today - this time with Jacquie! Travelling with Stephanie, these ladies are from the USA and are the glue that is binding the group. They are interested in all things Aussie, but most importantly "people." They introduce themselves to all, remember the names and gather everyone around them in an ever growing circle. Lots of fun.

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