Dancing with the Devil – and His Marbles

The Devil’s Marbles are one of Australia’s most fascinating geological wonders. This incredible site is nestled in the Northern Territory, almost in the middle of nowhere, allowing tourists to bask in the wonder of nature in one of its purest forms.

Where the Devil are those marbles?

Technically speaking, the Devils Marbles are located in the traditional country of the Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarra and Warlpiri people.

Geographically speaking, the Devils Marbles are located in the Northern Territory, just 110km south of Tennant Creek.

Never heard of Tennant Creek? Never fear!

Tennant Creek is approximately 500 kilometres North of Alice Springs and is located along the Stuart Highway, which in itself is a popular drive for tourists.

If you are worried that you may well drive past the Devil’s Marbles on your trip – which, let me tell you is near impossible – then take a deep, devilish breath and stop stressing. The Stuart Highway literally takes you through the reserve. In fact, you can capture the beauty of the Devil’s Marbles from within your vehicle, with the marbles visible on both sides of the highway. However, we highly encourage you to pull over and soak in the vast beauty that envelops this incredible place.

How did they form?

The Devil’s Marbles are famously known for their unusual, natural beauty. The most commonly shaped stones are perfectly spherical, although there are slightly oblong and rectangular stones present. It is this variety of shapes and the fact that most stones are placed precariously on top of each other (because, what is Gravity!?) – that make this such an attractive tourist destination.

These Marbles were formed millions of years ago when molten rock reached the Earths surface and spread out over the plains, forming a solid layer.

This layer eventually cracked and separated, creating a variety of different sized rectangle blocks.

As time wore on, the edges of these blocks were naturally worn away by erosion, taking away the sharp edges and smoothing away the rocks to form different shapes over the years.

Whilst some rocks have the “rounded” characteristics that come to mind when thinking of the Devils Marbles, some still wear their rectangular shape.Because these rocks are made of granite, erosion will continue to smooth and change these rocks over time, meaning that the Devils Marbles will always be an ever-changing landscape.

Did you know that the Devil’s Marbles is over 1800 hectares in size and has a variety of different marbles scattered around – it’s not just the two marbles you see in every picture!

The Aboriginal culture surrounding the marbles

The Devils Marbles are called Karlu Karlu in Alyawarre (pronounced Al-YOW-worrah), a local Aboriginal language.

Karlu Karlu literally translates to “round boulders”

.In traditional Aboriginal culture, Alyawarre (and other Aboriginal people) were not able to freely walk through all of Karlu Karlu, with a lot of places only accessible to Aboriginal Elders. This was because some places were deemed too dangerous, and only visited by elders for important ceremonial purposes.

The story behind the Marbles has been slightly warped by modern story telling, with some people incorrectly saying the Devils Marbles are “Rainbow Serpent” eggs. This story, whilst popular, is not true.

Ancient legends surrounding Karlu Karlu have been passed down by each generation, with some stories remaining secret to the indigenous people and not told to travellers.

According to Gary and Amanda from Travel Outback Australia, this is how Alyawarre people tell the story of how the Marbles were made: Arrange, the Devil Man, came from Ayleparrarntenhe (pronounced Ay-lep-URRA-airnt-ten-UH) and travelled through the area. During his journey, he was making a hair belt (as worn by initiated men). Twirling the hair into strings, Arrange dropped clusters of hair on the ground. These turned into the Karlu Karlu boulders that can be seen today. On his way back, Arrange spat on the ground. His spit also turned into the granite boulders which dot the central part of the reserve. Arrange finally returned to his place of origin, Ayleparrarntenhe.

Whilst quite a mouthful to pronounce, Ayleparrarntenhe is the indigenous name for the area, and refers to the twin-peaked hills located to the East of the reserve, where Arrange originated and returned to. Legend has it that he still lives in these mountains today.

Can I camp there?

Absolutely! We encourage you to absorb as much of the Outback beauty as you can – and the Devil’s Marbles is certainly one of the best places to do so.

In fact, visitors are encouraged to stay the night, as it gives them the chance to see the boulders glow and change colour as the spectacular sunset or sunrise washes the land with a palette of reds, purples, pinks and yellows.

Visitors are encouraged to bring their own supplies such as food, water and fuel, as the only accommodation on the reserve comes in the form of a camping site.

The camping site is simple, with the only facilities available being toilets, wood barbecues and picnic tables.


• The visitor’s camp in Karlu Karlua was strictly out of bounds for most Aboriginal people. Why? Because it is seen as a sacred site for both men and women.

• Campers are encouraged to bring their own firewood and pay for the experience via an honour system – sending $3.30 per person in an envelope.

• Finding the camping site is easy. Simply follow the access road to the Southern end of the reserve. The camping ground can be found at the bottom end of the biggest pile of marbles.

• It sounds like a bit of a crazy road map to follow, but will be much easier once you have your feet – or tires – on the ground at the reserve.

• June and August seem to be peak tourist times, so make sure you get in early to avoid the rush.

This article first appeared in The Australia Times Outback Magazine.

Published by

Jazmin Malcolm

Jazmin Malcolm is anan enthusiastic and energetic Journalist with a flair for writing and a passion for the industry.

Website: Jazmin Malcolm

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