Hidden Gems, Part 3: Karlu Karlu

This Karlu Karlu/Devils Marble geological wonder is sure to capture your imagination

Ever dreamt of camping under the stars, surrounded by massive boulders that look like they’ve been dropped from the sky?

Alright, so picture this: you’re driving along the Stuart Highway, miles from anywhere, when suddenly – you’re face to face with a bunch of huge, round rocks balancing on each other like some kind of giant’s game of Jenga. That’s Karlu Karlu for you!

The local Aboriginal people have been calling this place home for ages, and they’ve got some pretty cool stories about how these rocks came to be. 

The Shaping of the Marbles

The process spanning countless millennia and shaped by the relentless forces of nature

So how did these rocks really form? The granite blocks were subjected to the relentless forces of weathering. Here’s how:

  • Water seeped into cracks and crevices, gradually rounding the edges of the boulders
  • The extreme temperature variations of the desert climate cause the rocks to expand and contract, further contributing to their rounded shape

This process, known as spheroidal weathering, is ongoing. Even today, the Devil’s Marbles continue to change. Some boulders have split cleanly in half due to these natural forces, while others balance precariously atop one another, creating the iconic images that have made Karlu Karlu famous.

The Cultural Significance of Karlu Karlu

Visitors are encouraged to engage with local perspectives upon this ancient and sacred land

Dreaming Stories

For the Aboriginal peoples, Karlu Karlu isn’t just a bunch of cool rocks. It’s tied into their spiritual beliefs in a big way.

There’s this one story they share with visitors about the Devil Man named Arrange, who came from a nearby hill called Ayleparrantenhe. He was walking through the area, making a hair-string belt, as you do. As he was working, he dropped bits of hair on the ground, which turned into big red boulders. On his way back, he spat, and his spat turned into the smaller rocks. Wild, right?

A Controversial History

Back in the 1950s, someone thought it’d be a great idea to move one of these boulders to be a gravestone and take it to Alice Springs to form a memorial for John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. 

Unbeknownst to those who move it, the boulder has been taken from a sacred women’s site. After 45 years of controversy and extensive negotiations, the boulder finally returned home in 1999, and a similar but non-sacred boulder was placed at Flynn’s grave.

This incident serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting and preserving Aboriginal cultural sites and the need for open dialogue and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Camping Under the Stars (and Rocks)

Camping at Karlu Karlu lets you get out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by unique, ancient landscape

Now, let’s talk about the real reason you’re here – camping! Karlu Karlu isn’t just a day trip kind of place. It’s where you want to kick back, light a campfire, and watch the sunset turn those red rocks into something straight out of a painting.

Here’s what to expect when camping at Karlu Karlu:

  1. Campsite vibes: the campground is pretty basic, but that’s part of the charm! You’ve got 24 spots for caravans or trailers, plus an area for tents. It’s first-come, first-served. So get there early if you’re picky about your spot
  2. Booking the basics: before you rock up, you’ve gotta book online. It’s not like you can just slip the rocks some cash for your stay!
  3. BYO everything: this is outback camping. There’s no water on site, so bring plenty. And when we say plenty, we mean it – the outback is thirsty work
  4. Fireside: there are fire pits with BBQ plates so that you can cook. But remember to bring your own firewood – the local trees aren’t for burning
  5. Toilets: there are pit toilets, but that’s about it for facilities
  6. Nighttime noise control: keep it down after dark. The only nightlife here should be the nocturnal critters, not your impromptu karaoke session
  7. Pets: sorry, but no pets are allowed in the campground
  8. Power down: this is all about unplugging and unwinding. Generators are not permitted so it’s best to leave them at home
  9. Campground hosts: during peak season (May to September), there’s usually a campground host around. They’re great for local tips.
  10. Stargazing: the night sky here is insane. There are more stars than you’ve ever seen so bring a star chart and prepare to have your mind blown

Visiting Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve

If you get the chance to visit, don’t just sleep on it. It’s a true bucket list destination

Wanna check this place out for yourself? Here’s what you need to know:

When to Visit

Karlu Karlu is open all year round, but the best time to visit is during the cooler season from April to September (unless you’re into extreme heat). During this period, temperatures are more comfortable for outdoor activities, and you’ll have the opportunity to join ranger-guided programs.

How to Get There

It’s right off the Stuart Highway, about 100 km south of Tennant Creek and 393 km north of Alice Springs. The nearest settlement is the small town of Wauchope, just 9 km to the south, where you can refill your fuel and obtain limited supplies.

What to See and Do

Take advantage of the network of walking trails that wind through the reserve

Visitors to Karlu Karlu can enjoy a range of activities, including:

  1. Short walks: several walking trails allow you to explore the boulder fields up close. It’s an easy 20-minute return trip that starts from the day-use area parking lot and features informative signs explaining the formation of the marbles.
  2. Nyanjiki Lookout: this point offers a panoramic view of the reserve, perfect for photography enthusiasts.
  3. Nurrku walk: for those looking for a longer trek, this 4 km walk provides a chance to experience the wider reserve and discover more of its ancient granite boulders.
  4. Wildlife spotting: keep an eye for the diverse flora and fauna that call the reserve home. You might spot small black-headed goannas in boulder crevices or flocks of zebra finches and painted finches throughout the reserve.
  5. Sunset viewing: many visitors consider sunset the most spectacular time to experience Karlu Karlu. The changing light brings out the deep red colors of the boulders, creating a truly magical atmosphere.

Respect the Rules

Take the time to learn about Karlu Karlu, follow the rules, and show some genuine respect

When you visit, remember that these are sacred rocks, not jungle gyms. So:

  • No climbing on the marbles
  • Take your trash with you
  • Don’t pocket any rocks as souvenirs
  • Keep the noise down, especially at night

Things to Remember

As the day begins and ends, the boulders take on a truly mesmerizing array of colors and shadows

Here are some frequently asked questions because, as we know, you’re curious.

  1. Amenities? Basic stuff like toilets and picnic tables
  2. Can I fly my drone? No.
  3. Accessibility? It can be a bit tricky. It is best to check with the park service
  4. Guided tours? Yes, during peak season (May to September)
  5. Can I touch the marbles? Look, but don’t touch (or climb). It’s a respect thing.

Take Aways

The way they’re managing Karlu Karlu now is pretty cool. The traditional owners and the park rangers work together, mixing old-school knowledge with modern conservation. It’s good for the land, good for the culture, and creates jobs for Aboriginal people.

Karlu Karlu isn’t just a quirky roadside attraction. It’s a place where nature gets weird, culture runs deep, and the stars put on a killer show every night.

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