New Red Centre tourist attraction Wintjiri Wiru immerses viewers in an Indigenous creation story. Natalie Marsh heads to Australia’s Northern Territory to see this innovative show
As we take our seats on the viewing platform, gazing up at the star-studded sky, I know we’re about to experience something special. What’s left of the sunlight fades by the second and the sacred rock of Uluru is enveloped in darkness.
I’m one of the (very) lucky few to be at the world premiere of Wintjiri Wiru – an immersive sound-and-light show that uses around 1,100 drones to tell a section of the Mala story, a creation narrative of the local Indigenous communities.
Our small group has come to Uluru specially to watch this show, which took years of preparation and planning.
Launched by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia and produced by world-renowned studio Ramus, the show was created in very close collaboration with Anangu (the local people), from its inception to the finished result. This included deciding which story to tell, the language to use in the script, and exactly how the story is told through the drones.
“The consultation process was literally sitting with the reference group and [going through it] frame by frame,” explains Matthew Cameron-Smith, chief executive of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia. “Everything had to be approved.”
This reference group comprised 10 senior Anangu from communities at Kaltukatjara (Docker River) and Uluru – both areas featured in the Mala story.
Cameron-Smith says every element of the story and how it’s conveyed went through this consultation process. “We did nothing until they signed it off,” he adds.
The name Wintjiri Wiru translates as “beautiful view out to the horizon” in the Pitjantjatjara language, and that’s exactly what this was.
In the lead-up, we were referring to the event informally as a ‘drone show’, and yes, the drones are a core part of the experience, but there’s much more to it than that.
Lights and lasers dart across the desert floor, illuminating the trees and arid landscape below. Speakers built into the viewing platform help to make it a truly immersive experience.
Inma (sacred stories) sung by members of the Indigenous community filled the air, as the drones rose off the ground, forming shapes and characters, including trees, paw prints and depictions of Luunpa, the Kingfisher Woman, among others key to the story. And with no spoilers to read beforehand, or testimonials to hear from previous viewers, it made the experience even more special.
Since May 2023, guests at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort have been able to watch Wintjiri Wiru for themselves, and there are now two experiences to choose from.
The fuller option is the three-hour Sunset Dinner. This includes return transfers from the resort, cocktails and canapes, plus picnic baskets full of salads, cheeses and fruit, paired with premium Australian wines, to be enjoyed before the show starts. This experience, for adults only, is priced at $385.
Then there’s the After Dark experience, suitable for all ages, which also includes return transfers from the resort, as well as gelato and snacks for the show made with Indigenous ingredients, such as wattleseed caramel popcorn. This option cost $190.
Developing an experience of this cultural and technical magnitude didn’t come without its challenges, however – one of which was constructing the purpose-built platform.
“It had to be done right,” says Cameron-Smith, also alluding to the winding path connecting the road to the viewing platform and the challenge of ensuring its twists and turns caused minimal disruption to the landscape. “It had to be done culturally and environmentally appropriately,” he adds. “It’s as light-touch as possible.”
Decibel testing, light testing and environmental impact studies with the relevant authorities were among the extensive tests carried out in preparation.
Then there are the drones themselves – all 1,100 of them – that need to be recharged in between shows. They’re kept in air-conditioned drawers to maximise their charging efficiency, all of which is hidden from view from the platform.
As the show comes to a close, there are a few seconds of silence before everyone bursts into whoops and cheers, the reality of what we’ve just seen sinking in. Wintjiri Wiru is a spectacular display of old meets new, of ancient culture depicted in a very modern way. It’s truly unforgettable.
Book it: Freedom Destinations offers a 15-day Australia package from £3,399. This price includes international flights from Heathrow with Emirates, and internal flights from Sydney to Ayers Rock airport and from there to Brisbane. The package includes five nights in Sydney, four nights at Sails in the Desert at Ayers Rock Resort, and two nights in Brisbane. Wintjiri Wiru’s After Dark experience is also included, as well as a Field of Light Star Pass and a Blue Mountains small-group excursion in Sydney.
PICTURES: Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia
Anangu hold the Mala story, from Kaltukatjara to Uluru, through a drone, sound and light show designed and produced by Ramus