The road network is pretty good. The great ribbon
of the Stuart Highway cuts right through the centre, from the Northern
border all the way north to
. Do not
expect dual lanes, but it is a good road. The Barkly Highway comes in from
, across the billiard table flatness and golden grasses of the Barkly Tablelands, meeting the Stuart at Three Ways, and the Victoria
Highway heads west from Katherine, as part of Highway 1, into
. Add the Kakadu Highway, the Roper, the Tablelands, and the
Lasseter Highway out to Uluru (Ayers Rock), and you have all the main bituminised roads. Even on these highways, the blacktop can be just one
lane wide -you will need to drop a set of wheels into the dirt when
passing another vehicle. If a road train is approaching, do not expect it
to move off the bitumen.
Most of the rest of the blacktop goes out to
tourist attractions -to Litchfield National Park, around the southern edge
of the West MacDonnell Ranges and to Kings Canyon. The Territory prides
itself in the fact that 90 per cent of the major tourist attractions are
accessible by conventional vehicles.
Much of the road network and the blacktop is a
result of the planned expansion and upgrading of the beef road network of
the 1970s. Before then most of the roads, even the highways, were dirt;
only the Stuart between Alice and
Darwin was blacktop, a hangover from
World War II. The Stuart Highway owes its existence to John McDouall
Stuart, who in the early 1860s led a number of expeditions north from
Australia and finally crossed the continent in 1862. The Overland
Telegraph line followed his route and a track sprang up beside this ribbon
of wire, dotted with signs of civilisation in the form of repeater
stations -Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Elliott, Katherine and others.
Until 1911 the Northern Territory was part of
Australia, then the federal government took over for a while.
Between 1926 and 1931 the Territory was divided in two, with Northern
Australia being looked after by
Darwin, and Central Australia being
administered from Alice. In 1931 the federal government took control
again. It was not until 1978 that the Territory was finally granted
self-government, although not full Statehood. Many decisions, much to most Territorians' grief, are still made in far-away
Stretching from the arid interior north into the
tropics, the Territory has extremes in climate and vegetation. Around
the country is dry, with sand ridges and sand plains, cut
here and there with low rocky ranges covered in arid landscape vegetation.
The weather varies from hot, dry summers, with the occasional storm, to
drier, cooler winters. In summer, temperatures of 45 degrees C are not
uncommon, and winter day temperatures are a mild 15-23 degrees C. Rainfall
varies, with September being the driest month (an average of 10 mm), and
February the wettest (an average of 50 mm) of rain.
The Top End the climate is tropical, with two
distinct seasons, the Dry from May to November, and the Wet. Most of
Darwin's 1500 mm of rain falls during the Wet, especially in the first
three months of the year, with virtually no rainfall in June, July and
August. The temperature range is rather static, with maximum temperatures
in the low thirties nearly all the time, and minimums in the
mid twenties. In the three driest months already mentioned,
the minimum temperatures are around 20 degrees C. Some people find the Wet's high humidity almost unbearable -the month before the Wet is the
It is no wonder that the Dry is the most popular
time to visit the Centre and
The Top End of the Northern Territory, but
during the Dry you see a drier, tamer country than you would see in
summer. With a good road network and air-conditioned cars and motels, it
may pay to see the Territory when most other travellers are not there.
Certainly the Wet shows a more verdant countryside, a landscape that is
more subject to the vagaries of the weather; you will capture a wilder
side of the Territory then -one that is closer to its reputation.
These fascinating spherical or egg-shaped granite boulders, often balanced
precariously on top of one another, are the main feature along the Stuart
and Tennant Creek. The shape of these
boulders was fashioned by weather as the boulders originally had joint
fractures at right angles. Over the millennia the edges have been eroded
and eventually weathered to rounded edges leaving this spectacular natural
The Devils Marbles are situated on either side of the road 122 km south of
Tennant Creek along the sealed Stuart Highway. Bush camping facilities are
provided which include shaded picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets. There
is ample parking for caravans. A nominal camping fee applies.
An easy walking track with interpretive signs is situated on the western
side on the access road. There are also many informal walking tracks where
the visitor may wander through the boulders for a chance at that
quintessential photograph. Clusters of fairy martin nests are found
attached to the underside of the boulders. Sometimes you may be lucky
enough to spot a spiny-tailed gecko or a sand goanna. Zebra and painted
finches abound and clumps of spinifex have taken root in the crevices
between the boulders.
The Devils Marbles is a registered Aboriginal sacred site and visitors are
asked to respect the cultural heritage of the area. For more details,
contact the Tennant Creek Regional Tourist Association, ph: (08) 8962