How To Visit Those ‘Big Red Rocks’ in the outback?
The Devils Marbles are one of those legendary outback places that everyone wants to visit and take a photo.
We’ve all seen the photos of someone ‘surfing’ on one of the Marbles, or someone else ‘holding’ one in their hand – you know, those big red boulders that are somewhere in the outback.
But did you know that that entire area is a sacred site to Aboriginal people, and it’s also the cross-roads of four different Aboriginal language groups?
Or that since 2008, the Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve has been owned by Aboriginal people, and jointly managed with rangers?
This page will introduce you to the Devils Marbles and tell you something about their significance to the local Aboriginal people of the area, the conservation reserve, accommodation and activities.
The Devils Marbles are located within the ‘Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve’, on the Stuart Highway, 393 kilometres north of Alice Springs (almost 4 hours drive) and 105 kilometres (an hour’s drive) south of Tennant Creek.
The nearest roadhouse to the Devils Marbles is Wauchope, which has recently put in some very nice ‘donga’ style accommodation. Wauchope is about 12 kilometres from the Marbles.
The Conservation Reserve is 1802 hectares in size, and has camping, picnic, BBQ and toilet facilities.
The Devils Marbles are called ‘Karlu Karlu’ in Alyawarre (pronounced Al-YOW-worrah), a local Aboriginal language.
However, the area is not just significant to Alyawarre people. It’s the meeting place of four different language groups: Alyawarre, Kayteye, Warumunga and Warlpiri people also have spiritual connections and responsibilities for the Marbles.
Like Uluru, Karlu Karlu is simply the place name for the area.
The Alyawarre name for the entire area is Ayleparrarntenhe (pronounced Ay-lep-URRA-airnt-ten-UH.).
The Dreaming Story for the Marbles is also associated with a Devil Man, called Arrange (pronounced Ah-RRUNG-uh: trill the double ‘r’ as in Spanish).
Some websites claim that the Marbles are the ‘eggs of the Rainbow Serpent’. I can tell you that this is absolutely WRONG!
I worked with the Aboriginal Owners of Karlu Karlu as part of the Reserve’s joint management program, and they were very upset to learn that people were telling this story.
If you are a website owner, I urge you to visit the link below and read the REAL story of Karlu Karlu -and correct it on your website!
The European name ‘Devil’s Marbles’ came from John Ross, who lead a team of men surveying for the Overland Telegraph line in 1870:
‘This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!’
The Marbles also has also been the site of the Overland Telegraph Line, a tungsten mine, and several World War II depots. The remains of these structures still exist on the Reserve today.
One of the most interesting recent events was the return of one Marble from Flynn’s Grave on the outskirts of Alice Springs, to the Traditional Owners of the Reserve in 1999.
What to Do
The Marbles sit on both sides of the Stuart Highway. It’s pretty easy to find – if you’re going north or south between Darwin and Alice Springs, you have to drive right through the middle of Karlu Karlu.
Don’t whiz straight past on your way to Tennant Creek or wherever. Take the short 5km detour, which winds through the Reserve.
You’ll quickly find yourself in a big parking area, with a shade shelter, BBQs, toilets, picnic facilities and a campground.
However, it does get crowded during the winter months. There are only 20 car parking spaces and three bus parking sites. Lots of coach tours stop for about 2 hours at the Marbles during the day, and also, it’s a favourite with international backpackers and Aussie Grey Nomads.
There are three pit toilets (gotta love those long drops!) and about 13 or 14 free gas BBQs. There’s a few picnic tables scattered about. These are those big, flat square tables you find in most NT parks.
There’s a short walk with interpretive signage that winds for about 2km though the boulders -it wanders across the highway and around some of the more distant boulders.
However, it’s just as good to wander around the boulders yourself and climb up on some of them, walk around them, take photos of them … just enjoy them.
Photography of the Marbles is best at sunrise or sunset, and I promise you, it’s really hard to take a bad photo!
Camping and Accommodation
Ok. I’m going to tell it to you straight up: camping at the Devils Marbles during June-August is AWFUL!
I have only done it once and would never do so again.
The main problem: too many noisy people, and very rude people running generators until very late at night. If I have to stop near Karlu Karlu overnight, I go to Wauchope or camp in the bush elsewhere.
There are several other accommodation options near the Devils Marbles, such as Wauchope (paid, nice roadhouse campground, only 15km south) and Bonney Well (free roadside campsite – about 5km north of the Marbles).
I’ve stayed during the summer, which was much quieter, but extremely hot and sticky.
The Marbles gets twice the amount of rain that Alice Springs gets, so if you’re here in summer, bring a mosquito net because I can tell you that there’s lots of the little blood suckers about!
The cost of the camping at Karlu Karlu is $3.30 per person per night.
There is water available, but no showers.
Firepits are provided, but you will need to drive a couple of kilometres out of the Reserve to collect firewood.
For a relatively small Reserve, the Devils Marbles also has some remarkable wildlife, plants, birds and even a very special species of land crab. Some early morning birdwatching on the western side of the Stuart Highway, near the small creek after rain is a must if you’re a birder.
Please visit the other pages about the Devils Marbles that we’ve written you’ll be truly surprised by the history, culture, flora and fauna associated with this place that many people miss when they zoom straight past on the highway.