Introducing Tennant Creek to Alice Springs
The gigantic boulders in precarious piles beside the Stuart Hwy, 105km south of Tennant Creek, are called the Devil's Marbles. Karlu Karlu is their Warumungu name, and this registered sacred site has great cultural importance. The rocks are believed to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.
According to scientists, the 'marbles' are the rounded remains of a layer of granite that has eroded over aeons. A 15-minute walk loops around the main site. This geological phenomenon is particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, when these oddballs glow warmly. The camping ground has remarkably hard ground, pit toilets and fireplaces (BYO firewood).
At Wauchope (war-kup), 10km south of the Devil's Marbles, you will find Bruce, the gregarious publican of the Wauchope Hotel. His budget rooms are dongas but the costlier rooms are more spacious, with bathrooms. Meals from the restaurant are more than satisfactory.
At the kooky Wycliffe Well Roadhouse & Holiday Park, 17km south of Wauchope, you can fill up with fuel and food (mains $15 to $20) or stay and spot UFOs that apparently fly over with astonishing regularity. The place is decorated with alien figures and UFO newspaper clippings. The park has a lawn camp site, an indoor pool, kids' playground, a cafe and a range of international beer.
Heading south, you reach the rustic Barrow Creek Hotel, one of the highway's eccentric outback pubs. In the tradition of shearers who'd write their name on a banknote and pin it to the wall to ensure they could afford a drink when next they passed through, travellers continue to leave notes and photos. Food and fuel are available and next door is one of the original Telegraph Stations on the Overland Telegraph Line.
The highway continues through Ti Tree, where you'll find a roadhouse and, off the highway, the Ti Tree Food Store, which has espresso coffee. About 12km south of Ti Tree, the Red Centre Farm sells unique Territory-style wine − made from mangoes. If that sounds a bit hard to swallow, try the other mango products, such as the delicious ice cream.
In the grand Australian tradition of building very big things by the side of the road to pull up drivers, Aileron, 135km north of Alice, has Naked Charlie Quartpot, the 12m Anmatjere (Anmatyerre) man, who cuts a fine figure at the back of the roadhouse along with his larger-than-life family. The Outback Art Gallery sells inexpensive paintings by the local Anmatjere community, as well as works from the Warlpiri community of Yuendumu.
Aileron Hotel Roadhouse has camp sites (power available until 10pm), a 10-bed dorm and decent motel units. There's an ATM, bar, shop, a licensed restaurant (meals $10 to $25) and not forgetting Bozo the wedge-tail eagle. The owner's large collection of Namatjira watercolours (at least 10 by Albert Namatjira) is displayed around the roadhouse's dining area.
About 70km north of Alice, the Plenty Hwy heads off to the east towards the Harts Range. The main reason to detour is to fossick in the gem fields about 78km east of the Stuart Hwy, which are well known for garnets and zircons. You're guaranteed to get lucky at the popular Gemtree Caravan Park.
For a taste of desert life, time your visit with the annual Harts Range Races (last weekend in July), one of the Territory's best outback rodeos.
The Alice, as it's often known, sprang from humble beginnings as a lonely telegraph station on the continent-spanning Overland Telegraph Line more than 140 years ago.
Central Rock and Canyon
A land coloured and contoured by ruggedly beautiful landscapes, endless vistas and the legends of the Dreamtime, Australia's Red Centre makes for a travel experience apart. Discover the stories surrounding the multi-hued monolith of Uluru, wander through the pristine beauty of Kings Canyon and experience a night camped under infinite Outback skies in spacious, permanent tents.
Become acquainted with the sensational landscapes and intriguing cultural heritage of Australia's iconic Red Centre on this spectacular 4x4 camping adventure. Catch a majestic Uluru sunset, wander the weaving trails and gullies intersecting Kata Tjuta, discover the hidden treasures of Kings Canyon and take part in a traditional dot painting class at Wallace Rockhole.