Real Life

Parrtjima; The Insta-worthy Aussie light festival that'll blow you away

The Northern Territory's Parrtjima - A festival in light is a cultural delight.

Take 5's Mitchell Jordan is dazzled by the light fantastic in Alice Springs.
You know that you've reached the Northern Territory when you look out of the plane window and see nothing but red.
And Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia, is very, very red.
But as I discovered, it's a place filled with lots of other colours, too.
I flew there for Parrtjima – A Festival in Light, an annual event that stretches from the town centre through to the desert, showcasing Australia's Indigenous culture through light shows, sculptures and interactive art, turning the whole of Alice Springs into a daring dreamscape of possibilities.
At Todd Mall, the main shopping strip, I witnessed a light installation representing caterpillars – an important part of the local Arrernte Aborigine's cultural heritage – before getting on a bus to Alice Springs Desert Park, just a short drive from town.
As a Sydney-sider, I always make a point of attending Vivid light festival in my city each year.
What could possibly compare to the illuminated Opera House or Harbour Bridge? I thought.
The light shows took my breath away.Photo credit: James Horan
But my jaw dropped in wonderment as the bus drew closer and closer to the flashing lights darting around the MacDonnell Ranges.
Using one of Alice Springs's most defining landscapes as a canvass, the 2 km light show was a mesmerising backdrop for other pieces, like an installation that projects light from above onto the rich red desert sands.
Unlike an art gallery or museum, where the work remains in frames or behind glass, so much of Parrtjima is hands-on.
Children had the chance to play on a giant jumping castle with the MacDonnell Ranges in the background, while visitors could also control the colour and movement of lights flashing into the bushland in front of the ranges.
The spectacular light show at Desert Park. Photo credit: James Horan
For Benedict Kngwarraye Stevens, one of the traditional owners and forces behind Parrtjima, it's an important way of developing an understanding of the land.
"We want to show people that the country is alive, so that visitors and all the non-Indigenous people who live here can have deeper respect for it, and start to see how much it means to us," he says.
Time seemed to fly by as I stood transfixed by the ever-changing lights.
That night I returned back to my hotel, guided by a full moon that glowed like honey and wished I didn't have to go to sleep.
I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Photo credit: James Horan
Day breaks
A trip to Parrtjima means that your nights will be fully occupied, but Alice Springs – while only a tiny town – has plenty to do during the day time.
A trip to Araluen Arts Centre is a great way to see more Indigenous art works, or even catch a film at its cinema, while the Museum of Central Australia is a history-lover's delight.
If nature is your true calling then Alice Springs has attractions in abundance.
It's easy to drive out to Simpson's Gap and relax by the water hole surrounded by sweeping red cliffs that can make you feel as small as an ant.
Without a car, your best bet is Olive Pink Botanic Garden, home to over 600 central Australian plants, and wallabies too. Part of its charm is that, unlike most other botanic gardens, the landscape here is far from lush green and, despite being a close walk to town, gives you a feeling of escaping in the middle of nowhere.
The hill walk, a 30-minute ascent, takes in more of the local flora with sweeping views out over the town. Reward yourself for your efforts on the way back by stopping at the Bean Tree Café for a cool drink and slice of cake.
Me in the botanical gardens.
Rise and shine
Waking up at 5.30am isn't something I do often.
In fact, I'd go as far as to say it should be illegal!
But, when you're in the desert, it would be a shame to miss out on watching the sun rise.
After pulling on a jacket, I made my way out into the almost-empty town and up to the top of ANZAC Hill.
The famous lookout has 365-degree views over the MacDonnell ranges, which appear all the more impressive as, little by little, they lit up as the sun rolled over the hills, heralding the start of another day.
Better still, only a few other tourists were there.
That type of peace and quiet is definitely worth getting up early for.
The sunset over the MacDonnell ranges was the perfect start to the day.
Lights, camera, action!
To enjoy a meal in the most Aussie of locations, head out along the red dirt road to Ooraminna Homestead in Hale, a 40-minute drive from Alice Springs.
Ooraminna, which means "hot tucker", serves many purposes: bush-style accommodation, a restaurant that's open to the public and a large film set used for shooting country and western films.
If you make an appointment, you too can visit the set and be a star. But if you prefer watching films to acting in them, Ooraminna also runs a deckchair cinema, showing classics like The Man From Snowy River.
Ooraminna was so much fun!
The details
This year's Parrtjima will run from the 5th to the 15th of April, 2019.
Qantas flies to Alice Springs daily.

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