It’s a long way to Hell

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Oct 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Devil's Marbles (Free-ish) Campground
What I did
Explore the Devil's Marbles

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Thursday, July 21, 2011

…or at least to where the Devil left his marbles. And to get there we had a 5hr drive ahead of us – so an 8:00am departure from Gemtree (booty aboard) was called for.

Last night was cold and the "24 hr" generators stopped at the customary 10:30pm!  The dilemma for the park is that while running the generators provides constant power, the noise from the generators is constant – there's nothing to baffle it from spreading right across the park – and that destroys any tranquillity that would be present in the middle of nowhere.  We would have drowned out the noise of the generator with the noise of our fan heater given the opportunity, but since that that was denied, wrapping our ears and toes in anything warm up was the order of the night.

It was clearly freezing cold because the car was covered in a thin sheet of ice in the morning.  Mathew carved his name through the white sheet on the bonnet and we set off back up the Plenty towards the Stuart Highway.

It must have been rush hour in the opposite direction on the Plenty because we started to loose count of the number of cars and (worse) trucks that we had to pull over to let pass – a more difficult exercise when towing the van and dipping of the wheels into the soft and loose stones on the side of the single lane highway to create enough passing space.  Numerous cattle (slow, watch closely and avoid), 16 cars and trucks (slow right down and pull over), and 2 road trains (get totally off the road and stop completely) in the 70km to the Stuart.  The party must have been at the other end.

We’d calculated that we could get to Aileron before needing to refuel and the km’s remaining on the display said we’d do it, except the number of stop-starts that we did on the Plenty ate up a lot of fuel and made our calculation a borderline proposition.  I don’t think we’d ever got that low and Megan had to consult the car manual to see when we’d get the second warning to say 5 litres remaining – 30km!  (And don’t go to zero or you’ll damage parts of the car!!)

Aileron: Another 1 horse town – less horse

We made it to Bizarreville with a whiff of fuel to spare (and 20 litres in the emergency jerry can) to be greeted by a 50ft rusted steel man, spear in hand, towering over the fuel station, two confused foreign tourists (who were reluctant to pay $5 for a shower) and the obligatory dozen wandering aboriginals/dogs/kids sitting across from the bowsers doing – well, just what do they do there all day?  They’re not exactly doing anything really, just waiting.

Fuel: $2 a litre – that’s the price of milk these days.  Methinks I should get a fuel producing cow – or a lactose tolerant car…

On the way out another 50ft rusted steel (nude) woman, with child in one arm and spear in the other skewering a writing lizard farewells visitors.  Bye, by Bizarreville.

We come (and go) in peace

The plan was to crack on through and get to the Devil’s Marbles as soon as possible.  There’s no caravan park there as such, just a 'free’ camping ground which fills on a first come-first serve basis – so it’s important to get there ahead of the crowds.

On the way, we poked our nose into Wycliffe Well – a place self famed for the most UFO sightings in the world.  We read earlier in the year, that the annual international UFO conference held here had to be cancelled due to the amount of rain the area had received and because 2/3 of the caravan park was under water.

The Big4 park did look nice and green, and there were vacancies if the Marbles were full, but a few pictures next to the fluro-green statues and Malien and Femalien toilets was enough for this team of invaders from the planet of Adelaide, so we jumped back into our Tardis and teleported back onto the highway out of there.  (Chris did note that it was ironic that the green alien statues were right next to a Telstra phone booth, but they’d not called to say that ET had landed.  Perhaps that’s why Wycliffe Well isn’t on the 10 most visit places on the planet – by humans that is.)

A Top Spot

We lobbed at the marbles at 1:30pm, and a fair collection of caravans, cars and tents (where do they put the pegs in a rock carpark?) were already in the area next to the marbles.  A scrawny looking dingo was laying across the roadway as we passed the ‘camping fee’ box (an impressive $7.70/night for a family – 2 adults and 4 children) and looked for a site.  (Caitlyn though that the ‘doggie’ looked cute – sure; got a spare baby as breakfast?)

We couldn’t believe our luck as we pulled up to the end and scored a park right next to the marbles, under a shady tree and with a BBQ bench.  Surely a no-parking sign or a concealed park ranger waiting to leap out and fine us, but no, just a top spot!

You know anything about fridges?

We hadn’t long finished levelling everything up (chocks under the rear wheels to lessen the load on the tow-ball – because we didn’t want to unhitch) and pop the top in this top spot, when a guy came up and asked if we knew anything about running fridges on gas in Jayco’s.

Being the seasoned expert (we’d run the fridge on gas once to make sure it got cold), Chris claimed guru status and went to sort it out.

Bruce, Kate and their daughters Gemma and Ella have a Jayco Flamingo (same size as a Swan, but different internal layout) and a couple of tweaks and button presses later they were cooling with gas.  Chris is sure it was all working OK before he messed with it, but perhaps Bruce hadn’t pressed the pietzo enough times to light the gas under the heat exchanger.

Then off to explore the marbles.

Some facts:
  • The marbles are known as Karlu Karlu in all four local Aboriginal languages
  • The marbles were formed from an upsuge of molten rock that cooled and became solid beneath a layer of sandstone
  • The marbles are located approximately 400km north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway
Plus they’re incredibly sharp and hard!  Clambering up them can be skin scraping, but the view and closeness is a very personal experience – much more so than Ayres Rock, or perhaps even the Olgas.  Even though the traditional owners prefer that the Karlu (Marbles) are not climbed.  Oops, we read that information too late – along with everyone else there!

The wind and erosion of millions of years has shaped these massive pieces of granite into almost perfect egg and sphere shapes that perch on top of each other in a most un-natural way.  Any minute you think that one of these million tonne balls of rock will dislodge and roll down the hillside crushing people like ants.  But they stay there perfectly balanced just as the Devil placed them.

The physics of freeze-thaw erosion can be seen all over the landscape where ends of the marbles have been dramatically severed from the main rock by the wedge of water-ice-water working to cleave the rocks apart.  Millions of years parted in a split second.

We came across Bruce, Kate and the girls on the rocks again and the ‘big men’ decided to go look at a perfect marble in the distance – and we struck off on an unmarked path with sharp spiny grasses cutting our legs to bits to get there (only to discover that the easy path was slightly to our left).

The late afternoon light casts a reddish glow on all the rock and I was keen to get some (no people in them) photos, which I duly did – plus a couple of Charles Atlas poses lifting the marble.

Crackers and Dip

We marked sunset by sitting on a perch, with home-made spicy curry dip and a beer (no champers!), looking back over the rocks as the sun dropped in the west and turned the marbles through different shades of red through to black.

And then with Matthew and Caitlyn snugly tucked up in bed, we sat under a cloudless sky with a canopy of stars – waiting for the Aliens to miss Wycliffe Well and beam down to say gudday.  Thankfully they didn’t – just four meteors streaking across the sky.
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Grandma on

The 3 new entries all excellant reads !

Lesley on

Still loving it! Please don't stop.

anna marcoionni on

u guys look like ur having a ball. i look forward to reading ur blogs each day.
stay safe. missing u megan.

Kris on

It's great to hear your having a great time, it truly is an amazing place, love the blogs

mary g. on

Sounds like you are having a wonderful trip apart from price of fuel.

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