The Devils Marbles (or Karlu Karlu as they are known by the local Warumungu Aboriginals) are a collection of large rounded granite boulders. Many of them are precariously balanced on top of one another. Some of the boulders have diameters up to 7 metres.
Geologically, the marbles were formed from an upsuge of molten rock that cooled and became solid beneath a layer of sandstone. The solidifying granite caused vertical and horizontal fractures creating rectangular blocks. Over time water infiltrated the cracks breaking down the sandstone, and then the granite.
This 1,802 hectare Reserve is spiritually significant and a sacred site to the Aborigines. It is of great cultural importance and became a jointly managed park in 2009. It is located nearly 400km north of Alice Springs and 100km south of Tennant Creek. The nearest settlement is Wauchope, 9km to the south.
Almost the entire Reserve is a registered sacred site and many stories and traditions are associated to the area.
In the creation story of the Dreaming, the Rainbow Serpent fashioned the earth and then returned to a spot east of the Kimberleys at a place where the rainbow meets the earth. The Rainbow Serpent's eggs fossilised and became what non-Aborigines now call the Devils Marbles. The Aborigines know them as Karlu Karlu.
The traditional Aboriginal owners of the area regard the marbles as having extraordinary powers. Damage to them can have life threatening consequences for their custodians.
One of the marbles was removed from a formation in 1953 and taken to Alice Springs to form a permanent memorial to John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia. At the time, this was seen as a way of remembering his link to the outback, but in later decades it was a source of great controversy because the rock was removed from a sacred site without the direct permission of the tribal elders.
The marble from Flynn's grave was eventually returned and replaced with another rock, identified by and taken with the permission of the Alice Springs Arrernte people. But it took 45 years for that to happen.
The Devils Marbles granite was formed millions of years ago as a result of the hardening of magma within the Earth's crust. Thick layers of sandstone on top of it put a lot of pressure on this granite. After the folding of the Earth's crust, which led to the lifting of the granite and the erosion of the sandstone, the granite came to the surface. The pressure was gone, letting the granite expand; cracks formed, and it fell apart in big, square blocks.
The second phase of the formation of the Marbles started when the blocks were exposed to water. The surface of the blocks began to decay under the influence of the water, and a layer of loose material surrounded the individual blocks. When they came to the surface completely, this layer was flushed away by water and blown away by wind.
The rounding of the granite blocks is a result of both chemical and mechanical weathering. Firstly, exfoliation plays a part. Chemical processes cause the surface of the blocks to expand and/or shrink. Thin layers of rock come off the boulder. This rounds the granite block, because the chemical processes have more effect on areas with edges. These processes cause the rock to look like it is made of layers like an onion. In effect, only the outer few centimetres are affected by chemical weathering. This process is called spheroidal weathering. Secondly, the boulders are suffering from solarisation. Because the temperature differences between day and night are so great, the rocks expand and shrink a little bit every 24 hours. This causes some rocks to crack, sometimes even splitting them in half.
You can see the later stages of that process all across the reserve. Some parts still have their original rectangular shapes, some blocks have their corners worn off and some are totally rounded.
Every marble looks different. You can walk around for ages and find new and interesting views. Most of the big piles are fairly easy to climb, and you really have to get right amongst them to appreciate their size. The further you go, the more impressive the area becomes.
If you want really spectacular photos and to see the Devils Marbles at their best you have to be here for sunset.
We camp here overnight (pit toilets only). Since the campground is on the eastern side you can watch the Devils Marbles at sunset from the west and then see them glow in the early morning sun from our campsite at the east.
The Devils Marbles are amongst the most famous Australian rocks, right up there with Uluru and the Olgas.
Have a look at where the Devils Marbles are part of our Ultimate 37 Day Tour.
Contact Us here for more information or ring Ian on 0437 948 535.