Exploring Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory

Last Updated on February 11, 2021 by Red Nomad OZ

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory, Outback Australia
Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory, Outback Australia

It’s just a 20 minute drive from the Wycliffe Well roadhouse to the stunning natural attraction of Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles.  But other than distance, these two places could not be further apart.

Wycliffe Well, known as Australia’s UFO capital, is full bizarre extraterrestrial figurines, spaceships, mural-covered buildings and other oddities dotted throughout the campground.  On the other hand, the Devil’s Marbles, or Karlu Karlu as it is known to the local Indigenous people, is a magnificent and totally natural tumble of massive granite boulders.  Rounded by wind and weathering into ‘marbles’, the rocks are a standout feature rising above the surrounding plains.

Travelling the short distance from Wycliffe Well to Karlu Karlu is like going from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Late Afternoon at Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory
Late Afternoon at Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory

The weird and wonderful world of Wycliffe Well is about four hours drive north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway.  After checking in to the bizarrely decorated campground, parking in the ‘Elvis’ campsite, then exploring the other oddities, we drove north to see the Devils Marbles by sunset.

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles at Sunrise
Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles at Sunrise, Northern Territory, Australia

With two such  extremes, we thought a day like this would be pretty hard to top! But after a meal at Wycliffe Well’s Galaxy auditorium followed by the strangely appropriate first episode of a new Dr Who series, we found that it could … but I digress.

During the Australian winter months (June – August) it’s standing room only at the Devils Marbles at sunset.  If you can fight your way through the other sunset photographers (that’s what ‘elbows’ are for, right?), Karlu Karlu gives amateur photographers (like me!) an unparalleled chance to take shots that look like they were taken by someone else good.

It’s one of those sadly all too rare places where it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo.

Karlu Karlu, meaning ’round boulders’, is sacred to the local Indigenous people, who believe the rocks are the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.  After creating the earth, the serpent returned to this place where the rainbow meets the earth, leaving the eggs behind.  Stand among the imposing granite boulders when they are lit up by the sun at sunrise or sunset and it’s easy to feel a connection to the Aboriginal Dreaming lore.

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Sunset, Northern Territory
Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Sunset, Northern Territory

The scientific explanation is that Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles were originally rectangular blocks caused by molten rock as it cooled under a layer of sandstone. As the sandstone eroded, water, wind and sand weathered away the edges and corners of the rocks into spheres.  This is because a sphere is the shape with the smallest possible surface area.

And here we see in action the great divide between science and art – this explanation seems just a little too prosaic for a place so magical, doesn’t it??

Evening light at the Devils Marbles, Northern Territory
Evening light at Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Northern Territory

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles was returned to the traditional owners in October 2008, and interpretive boards tell the Dreamtime story. The conservation reserve is open to day visitors, and easily accessible from a carpark just off the Stuart Highway.  The  campground (with its excellent Aussie Scenic public toilets) makes it easy to take both sunset and sunrise shots, as well as explore the many rock stacks in the reserve.

Karlu Karlu Campground, Northern Territory
Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Campground, Northern Territory

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  1. Love the photos, Red! Guess we were there “pre-loo-time”! At least we cannot remember a loo being there back in 1999 (buhu, that IS a long time!)… I would´ve managed without elbows, kinda, too (still glad to have them, ha-ha).

  2. @kiwivic – welcome and thanx!! Look forward to sharing more adventures – and reading about yours!!

  3. Red, thanks for your comment, we clearly share the same travelling soul! I love your photo’s, you absolutely capture the look and feel of OZ, and you sound like you are having a ball!

  4. @bettyl – Wow! I’d like to see the Split Apple! I’ve had people tell me these rocks almost look fake!
    @SFlaGuy – In virtual blogland, nothing is too far away!
    @Linda – Welcome! You’re right – just appreciating the rocks for what they are is more important than knowing everything about them. Some things are just meant to be mysteries!

  5. I would love to see a closeup of the split rock. I hope you have a photo as it’s a bit of a drive from Florida.

  6. Those are some amazing photos! There is a rock in NZ similar to your second shot called ‘Split Apple Rock’ and I had some folks tell me it looked fake!

  7. @Carolyn – Lucky you like rocks; there’s a helluva lot of them about down here in OZ!!
    @River – You got that right, girlfriend!!
    @PDP – some people say I’m obsessed with toilets, but I don’t believe them!!! Thanx for the kind words!!
    @Pinay Travel Junkie – Welcome! The outback’s great – don’t worry about the cold!! Come back anytime!!

  8. Such fascinating marbles! Can’t wait to head to the outback… but then it’s bloody cold right now 🙁 My first time here, love your posts!

  9. Yup, what can I say, love it….!! You do write one heck of a good story Red, and yes I’ll go with the ‘dreamtime’ story too, much more romantic. Haha! the fantastic ‘toilet’ story lives on!!

  10. @SaucyKodz – Yeah, I had no end of trouble actually posting this one! Of course Uluru is WAAAAAY bigger than these little rocks …

  11. Tried to leave u a comment yesterday and of course blogger would not let me?? Anyway, just wanted to say that the photos and post are wonderful. Really enjoyed reading about the “Boulders” – NICE – have never seen any this big, except photos in New Zealand where there are round rocks on the beach. Thanks and absolutely enjoyed this post Red
    Take care

  12. @Magsx2 – well, glad to provide a virtual tour! A VT is just a teaser though, nothing beats the real thing …
    @Alessandra – Maybe your dad was right and the best rocks ARE in Italy! But I’ll settle for these until I see for myself!!
    @Windsmoke – Haha! Maybe you’re right!!
    @Sailor – Glad you like them! It’s almost like they were taken by an actual photographer, not just me!!!

  13. @Courtney – Ah c’mon! Just admit you REALLY want to visit the UFO capital of OZ/the world!!!
    @Andrew – The Dreaming is WAY more poetic!! I changed my blog name when I changed the template a few weeks ago – but may change it again, not sure if I’m happy with it!
    @TGN – Well, my work is done! But I guess the chances of yr hub getting an ice hockey gig downunder are pretty remote …
    @Aleah – ALL sizes! The bigger ones (like my sunrise shot) would be several metres in diameter, others a metre or so. I’ll see if I’ve got a pic with people in it for perspective.

  14. Look how cleanly the rock in the 2nd photo is cut in two as if struck by an axe or a meat cleaver. I reckon they are called the Devil’s Marbles because the devil lost a game of marbles spat the dummy, went home and left them all behind for us to enjoy :-).

  15. When I see images like these I think of my dad and how he liked rocks, If he saw a nice rock or stone e would touch it and admire it and talk about it for ages. When he saw a stone wall he could tell which kind of stones they were and all the differences. Of course being who he was he thought that the best stones were in Italy and in my travels every time a met a good rock I though that it would have been nice to introduce it to my father. He made it to NZ, and it was enough to give him a larger perspective of the world, but never Australia and it is a pity because you have some amazing rocks there, and I really wish that he seen them.

    And me… I have been to Australia a few times, but never seen anything like it, and still have to go to the big one :-0!!!

  16. Hi,
    This is one of the places I have really wanted to go and see, really amazing I feel, maybe one day we will get there, it certainly is on the bucket list.

  17. Beautiful! And how unique looking. Would love to see these (or really, any part of Australia) one day!

  18. Yeah, I will wear the Dreaming. Could have happened several thousand years ago. Who knows what went on then. You’ve changed you blog name? Or have I just noticed it?

  19. How pretty those rocks are! WOW! Such formations. Your photos are wonderful. Love how you make sure to include so many in your posts. Australia is someplace I’ve always wanted to go, but haven’t made it there yet. Your blog lets me indulge! (And see some neat things I’m sure I would most likely not get to see because there wouldn’t be enough time to see it all there.)

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