If you travel far enough through Australia’s red centre, you’ll eventually come upon the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, more widely known as Devils Marbles. Although the closest civilisation to the marbles is Wauchope which is 9 kilometres south, but realistically it’s 393 kilometres north of Alice Springs or 760 kilometres south of Katherine – that makes it pretty much in the middle of nowhere, no matter where in the world you hail from. But what are the Devil’s Marbles? and where do they come from?
Just off the Stuart Highway which runs from Port Campbell to Darwin, at the aforementioned distances, you’ll find the marbles. They themselves are giant boulders which litter the landscape. There are absolutely loads of them, some that are massive, some that are tiny, and a whole bunch that are balancing in seemingly impossible positions; yet remain unmoved no matter how hard you try. Some of the first boulders you’ll see the famous twin boulders that you find on tons of photographs and postcards, and they’re probably the ones that you’ll want to take your “I was here, are you jealous yet?” pictures of – like the one above.
What is Karlu Karlu
In local aboriginal language, (Warumungu to be precise) the term Karlu Karlu translates to ’round boulders’, which follows the typical aboriginal naming methods of calling things what they are – and I have no idea why the rest of the world don’t use this ingenious method of naming.
What are the Devils Marbles made of?
The Devils Marbles are actually granite rocks which have formed from an enormous chunk of granite. They were formed by spheroidal weathering, which is why they’re all spherical, or close enough to being so.
That’s not to say that some of the boulders haven’t miraculously been split in half. This particular one managed to annoy Chuck Norris, so he decided to split it open with his bare hands.
Now, I’m no geologist, but my understanding is that the sandstone layer which covered the granite eventually shifted due to tectonic movements, and that caused the granite to become exposed, weathering and erosion kicked in and a few hundred million years later we have pretty round boulders. Pretty cool huh?
Speaking of cool, you should be wary of when you visit the marbles; as with the majority of northern Australia, the area is subject to tropical seasons, and depending which time of the year you visit you could see daytime temperatures from approximately 20 degrees to in excess of 40 degrees (centigrade), where during the nights, the temperatures can plummet below 0. Make sure you’re prepared especially if you’re out camping.
Karlu Karlu, as the marbles are known to the various local aboriginals, is a significant part of aboriginal culture (much like the Yourambulla paintings), and the rocks themselves are said to be the eggs of the rainbow serpent which laid them during dreamtime. The truth behind this belief is up for debate, as many aboriginal stories, particularly in regards to dreamtime, are not to be told to the uninitiated – aka you and I.
The other popular story regarding the formation of the marbles is tale of the ancient ‘Arrange’ who had made a traditional hair-string belt often worn by initiated aboriginal men. The hairs which fell while he was twisting the strands became the large red boulders, and he ultimately returned to ‘Ayleparrarntenhe’ which is a hill where he is rumoured to still reside today.
The area which the marbles lay originally belonged to the Alyawarre people, but the boulders hold cultural significance to a number of aboriginal peoples, including the Warumungu, Warlpiri and Kaytetye people.
What is there to do at the Devils Marbles?
Not a lot really. The vast majority is sightseeing, but there are a few self guided walks that you can do, and they aren’t particularly strenuous – besides, if you’ve just driven up from Alice Springs or down from Tennant Creek (even that is something like 113 kilometres) then you’ll be wanting to stretch you legs anyway.
There is a campsite which you’re free to use (it costs ~$3.00) and you’ll need to bring your own firewood from outside the reserve. That probably means heading to Wauchope to get some, but hey, it’s worth it.
The site has a couple of drop dunnies, so provided you can stand the smell, and really don’t mind filling up a hole in the ground, you’re essentially sorted.
What I would recommend though, is to stay at the Marbles for sunset. If you’re on a tight schedule, plan to be here at sunset. The views and colours are amazing; much like most of the Northern Territory. If you don’t believe me then check out this picture I took. I had to wait until the sun had dropped below the horizon for the vibrant reds and oranges, but it’s one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.