Devils Marbles

A tiny human figure, on top of a huge bolder backlit by a wonderous sunset, at Devils Marbles near the town of Wycliffe Well in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Devils Marbles, also known as Karlu Karlu, is a unique and iconic rock outcrop in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The interesting shapes of the gigantic boulders at Devils Marbles provide an interesting and welcomed break for travellers on the long drive between Darwin and Alice Springs.

It's a long and straight road and the Devils Marbles provides a visual respite amongst the immense space and harsh landscape that is the Australian Outback.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to see and experience in the Northern Territory. You just have to be prepared for the long driving distances between many of these iconic locations.

Karlu Karlu

Devils Marbles, also known as Karlu Karlu in the local indigenous languages, is located in an extremely isolated and harsh landscape.

The name Karlu Karlu refers to both the rock features (i.e., round boulders) and the surrounding landscape at what, to non-indigenous Australians, became known as the Devils Marbles.

Ownership of the Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve was officially given back to the site’s traditional owners in 2008.

Karlu Karlu is now jointly managed between the indigenous owners and Parks and Wildlife rangers.

Wycliffe Well

Want to be spooked?

Situated 393 km north of Alice Springs Karlu Karlu is just 13 km north of the tiny hamlet of Wycliffe Well where the trip north starts to get interesting, if not a little strange.

Wycliffe Well is on of the most famous areas for UFO sightings in Australia and the local roadhouse at Wycliffe Well has some fun paintings and statues of aliens on display.

The Wycliffe Well Holiday Park looks like one of the best options for accommodation close to Devils Marbles.

Wauchope Accommodation

The small town of Wauchope in the Barkly Tablelands region is located just 9 km south of the Devils Marbles.

The Devils Marbles Hotel in Wauchope looks like a pretty good option for folks visiting the region.

Devils Marbles Camping

Camping at Devils Marbles is an option, though most folk would probably stop at the site simply to stretch their legs and take a break from what’s a long and pretty monotonous journey along the Stuart Highway.

I’ve driven to Devils Marbles twice before. The first time was on a quick overnight dash from Alice Springs.

I drove all day to get there, stopping along the way to explore opportunities to make photos.

I arrived at Karlu Karlu just as the sun was setting and immediately began to chase the light in search of a great photo.

I camped overnight at Karlu Karlu, sleeping in a swag in the back of a borrowed ute, prior to getting up for a windy and wet dawn.

Sadly, there was no sunrise to speak of. I then had to make the dash back to Alice for my return flight to Melbourne.

Devils Marbles | Travel Only By Day

The problem is that you really don’t want to drive at night in this part of the world. It’s just not safe to do so as large animals (e.g., kangaroos, cattle) tend to find their way onto the road at night.

Apparently they do so because the asphalt retains heat longer than the surrounding landscape.

By the time your car lights illuminate these animals it’s likely too late for all concerned.

Do be careful and, please, drive only during daylight hours.

How To Photograph Devils Marbles

My best memory of the Devils Marbles is associated with the photo at the top of this post which I produced, I think, in the early 90’s.

I made the photo with the incredible Leica M6 camera and a Leica-M Summicron 35 mm f/2 lens on Kodak Ektachrome Elite 100 film.

I remember making the image at the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve as the setting sun began to fade and give way to the quiet of night.

It was a wonderful, though short lived sunset and I was fortunate to have made the image just as another visitor reached the top of a distant rocky outcrop.

It was good timing as he added a sense of scale to the image which suggests the majesty of nature by showcasing the immense size of the larger granite boulders at Devils Marbles.

Devils Marbles and Bright Light Photography

Most folks only experience Devils Marbles during the harsh midday sun. That could be extremely uncomfortable for tourist and camera alike.

The dynamic range you’d likely find yourself photographing under will often be extreme in this part of the world and textures and surface color can be subdued by the harsh sunlight.

Devils Marbles is certainly an iconic location. The deep red color of the huge granite boulders are particular striking when sunlit against a clear, blue sky.

But there are other, often more emotive ways to photograph the landscape and I think it’s important to ask yourself what you’re trying to explore or communicate through your images.

If you photograph with the light behind you the color of the rocks and surrounding landscape at Devils Marbles will be emphasized. Yes, it’s that easy.

You might also choose to employ a polarizing filter to minimize color and texture being reflected off the surface of rock, earth and foliage and to deepen the color of an already blue sky.

Polarizing filters are particularly useful when photographing with the light coming from behind the photographer.

Devils Marbles | Shape and Texture

Alternatively, photographing side on to the light will allow you to emphasize the inherent shape and texture of what it is you’re photographing.

The good news is that you’ll find plenty of shape and texture to explore at Devils Marbles.

Devils Marbles Photographed in Silhouette

Silhouettes can be extremely powerful and dramatic and are a great way for photographers to communicate mood or message through their images.

If I was running a photography tour along the Stuart Highway I’d definitely include Devils Marbles on the itinerary.

Karlu Karlu is the perfect location to explore the descriptive qualities of light.

You can start doing that by changing your camera position, in relation to the sun, and photographing those huge granite boulders from different angles and, ideally, at different times of the day.

Devils Marbles | The Return Journey

My second encounter with Karlu Karlu was during an extended 3-month stay in Alice Springs. A former love interest of mine, with whom I shared an 8-year, long distance relationship, came to visit.

Lucy and I met up in Alice Springs, from where I showed her much of Central Australia, prior to heading up to Darwin and Kakadu National Park before making the long drive all the way back to Melbourne.

Our visit to Devils Marbles was on a dreadfully hot, late December afternoon.

Despite the heat we had fun clambering around the rocks prior to heading onto, what was then, poor quality and even more oppressive conditions at our accommodation in Wycliffe Well.

I understand the accommodation at Wycliffe Well, while basic, is much improved these days.

At the very least the alien paintings and statues make it a fun place to explore and a good place to fuel the car and top up your supplies of drinks and snacks.

If you decide to camp overnight at the Devils Marbles or, heaven forbid, your car breaks down those drinks and snacks could become particularly important.

Devils Marbles | The Great Lesson

Have no doubt Karlu Karlu is a surreal site that does lend itself to interesting photography opportunities.

Just be aware that photographing too far away from sunrise or sunset can be challenging.

If you find yourself making the long drive between Darwin and Alice Springs it’s well worthwhile exploring Devils Marbles.

If you’re looking to make an iconic image at sunrise or sunset then you might want to camp overnight at Karlu Karlu or, alternatively, stay in the nearby settlements of Wauchope or Wycliffe Well.

If you do decide to stay outside of the Devils Marbles, be extremely careful driving prior to sunrise or after sunset. Frankly, you shouldn’t do it.

However, because the distances to either Wauchope or Wycliffe Well are not great, driving extremely slowly won’t seem like much of an inconvenience.

But, by significantly slowing down the time it takes to drive those short distances, your chances of avoiding a car accident will be greatly reduced.

Stay safe and enjoy the majestic beauty iconic and isolated locations like the Devils Marbles hold for travellers exploring Australia’s Northern Territory.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru