Spectacularly poised round granite boulders dot the landscape south of Tennant Creek, Northern Territory. Karlu Karlu (called “the Devil’s marbles by early European explorers) is easily accessible from the highway through a side-slip road where parking, information booths and a camping ground keep travellers informed and safe in their exploration of one of Australia’s most distinctive land formations.
We arrive after dark and find a place to park in the camping ground — unsure of what the landscape around us looks like — except for round boulders silhouetted against the stars.
We left Alice Springs very late today (all the better to give the girls one last day of playing with their friends!) and drove to Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, 400 km north on a very straight, almost featureless road. In many parts of the country, the number of roadkills off the side of the road indicate how safe it is to drive at night, but since entering the Northern Territory, we’ve only driven past a handful of dead roos or steers.
By mid-morning, the heat has woken us and driven us out of the bus, but the once-full camping ground is emptied of the travellers who stayed here last night.
The girls set about exploring the boulders. The rocks are weathered granite, easy to grip and climb. However, the outside layer of each rock is affected by chemical weathering and occasionally it "peels" off upon contact.
One of the traditional stories tells that the rocks were formed by the Devil Man who dropped clumps of hair here and later spat upon them.
Dry creekbeds criss-cross the flat land around the boulders, and I'm intrigued by the notion of visiting Karlu Karlu again when it's raining.
Each of the girls locates their own "nest" in the boulders. They find a shady spot flat enough to sit comfortably but not sheltered from the cooling wind that feels so nice in contrast to the already-hot sun.
Sure, there's a scientific explanation for the weathering of these boulders and their precarious arrangement, but it's also fun to imagine someone dropping them into place.
This is a sacred site for Indigenous Australians and has been given back to the Traditional Owners. The Parks Service leases the area and provides for public access, much in the same way as Uluru and Kata Tjuta's sites are managed.
We didn’t spy any wildlife at Karlu Karlu apart from a few birds, but we know they’re here. If we had gotten up before the heat of the day — or wait until later afternoon — we would have a better chance at identifying some reptiles before they disappear into the crevices. However, our journey today will keep us driving towards Queensland, and so after a couple of hours of play, we pack ourselves up and hit the road again.
Later on, we pass through this land: flat, dry and featureless... but we know it's only *this* section of the road!