Far from tales of crocodiles, cyclones and the Northern Territory’s tropical Top End, The Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve sits in the middle of the spectacular Australian desert. Pinpoint Tennant Creek, the geographical heart of the state, then head 100km south from there. Alice Springs lies a further 393km to the south of the 1,802-hectare Reserve, and just four hours’ drive away. The Stuart Highway – also known as the Explorers Way, connecting Darwin to Adelaide – is the lifeline of the Northern Territory and dissects the Reserve as it travels north/south.


The Devils Marbles are piles of huge, and some not so huge, red and orange-coloured granite boulders, which look as though they’ve been dropped in the middle of the desert. Known as Karlu Karlu (‘round boulders’) by the traditional owners – the Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarra and Warlpiri people – the Reserve is protected under Northern Territory law as a Registered Sacred Site.

Many of the Karlu Karlu dreamtime stories remain top secret, passing from generation to generation. One story that is shared is the legend of Arrange that tells the story of a traveller from Ayleparrarntenhe. During his journey, as he was making a hair belt (as worn by initiated men), he twirled the hair into strings, dropping clusters of hair on the ground. These clusters then turned into the Karlu Karlu boulders we see today.

In 1870, while surveying for the Overland Telegraph line, surveyor John Ross named the boulders the “Devils Marbles”, stating “This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!” The name stuck, and in October 1961 the area was officially named “Devils Marbles Reserve”. Since then, the Reserve has been given back to the traditional owners and is co-managed with the NT Parks and Wildlife.

Enough of legends, how were they formed? The “marbles” are basically the eroded remnants of a solid mass of granite, which was formed when molten rock was pushed to the earth’s surface millions of years ago. Cooled and solidified beneath a layer of sandstone, the granite began to crack both horizontally and vertically, splitting into rectangular blocks. Erosion set in, and over millions more years the round boulders that you see today were formed.

Varying in size from 50cm to 6m in diameter, some of the marbles sit precariously on top of others, seeming to balance dangerously. Peek under the boulders and look for the native Rock Fig or the bottle-shaped mud nests of Fairy Martins, and keep an eye out for the small Black-headed goanna that favours the crevices.

The Reserve is open all year round, but the cooler months from April to September are typically the best time to visit.


Camping is definitely the most popular choice for this region. Roll out a swag and camp under starry desert skies at bush camping site at the Reserve. Simple and unpowered, the camp offers basic facilities such as fire pits and pit toilets, with camping fees payable onsite (cash only). Otherwise, 5km north of the reserve, there’s a free roadside campsite at Bonny Well. All campers should be well equipped, carrying fuel, wood, and plenty of food and water.

Looking for more creature comforts? Wauchope is an oasis in the desert, and just 8km south of the Reserve. The local watering hole – the Devils Marbles Hotel (formerly the Wauchope Hotel/Roadhouse) – serves cold beer and hearty meals. There’s a variety of accommodation ranging from single rooms, deluxe cabins, powered and non-powered van and tent sites, all offering clean amenities. It’s the ideal place to cool off in the swimming pool and stock up on supplies from the shop, before hitting the road again.


It’s definitely all about the marbles! These boulders come into their own at sunrise and sunset, when the soft light illuminates the changing colours of the granite, transforming them from stunning pinks to bright reds.

By day, explore the boulders on foot. An easy self-guided 15-minute-return walk starts at the carpark on the eastern side of the Reserve, connecting to a network of informal tracks meandering through the marbles. There are information signs along the way explaining the formation of the boulders, and by getting among them, you’ll discover how different from each of them are.

At night, look up! There are advantages to being in the middle of the desert, with low light pollution and dry air. Here, the sky lights up like a Christmas tree, with a million stars and the Milky Way staring right back at you! Stargazers and astrophotographers, be prepared for some awesome evening entertainment.

Plan a visit between May and October to coincide with one of the activities organised by the Parks and Wildlife rangers and staff. It’s part of the “Territory Parks Alive Program”, which includes free-guided walks, talks and spotlight activities. Be sure to phone either the Top End office (ph: 08 899 4555) or the one in Central Australia (ph: 08 8951 8250) to see what’s available.


Australian Tourism

Northern Territory Government

Devils Marbles Hotel

Outback Australia Travel Guide

Devil's Marbles