Darwin to Alice, Part IV

September 22, 2007 by

Australia & the Pacific, Places to Go, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about Darwin, Alice Springs, and the quirkiness that is the Northern Territory of Australia by Jack Brown. You can read Jack’s first, second and third posts posts to catch up on where the road’s taken Jack.

After 1,000 weary kilometres, hopefully you’ve managed some rest and taken some time to prepare yourself for the sights and encounters that await you in that dusty jewel – the territory’s Heart of Gold (well that’s what the signs say), the regional service centre otherwise known as Tennant Creek.

No doubt you elected to skip the Three Ways Roadhouse (gateway to Queensland and the verdant east coast of Australia) with its gentle awakenings: a morning beer with a truckie with a story to tell. Upon approach to Tennant Creek, you are also, no doubt, worried by the back of the road sign emblazoned with “Kevin Rules TC”.

Who is Kevin? Does he rule fairly?

And you are no doubt unable to breathe easily from laughter for minutes on end when you see one of the best pieces of graffiti in Australia: upon a shipping crate which advertises the opportunity “U Pack It”, the TC boys, perhaps even ruling supremo Kevin, has replied “We’ll Smoke It”. And they no doubt would.

Tennant Creek advertising Alice to Darwin
Tennant Creek advertising

As the first real taste of a town in the desert on your southern sojourn, Tennant Creek is quite something – its outskirts plying pinnacles of pointillist Spinifex grass motifs upon cone-shaped hills that imply a grand sky, rather than simply stating that it’s “there” in all its deep blue glory. It’s a town of about 3,000 people which now primarily services the Barkly Region (about the size of New Zealand but with less sheep) and is borne from a strong gold-mining heritage that’s easy to read from the signs to Battery Hill.

The Nyinkka Nyunyu Cultural Centre is definitely a “must see” in TC. And should your nerves be the kind that rattle without coffee, they have a proper machine and know how to work it, too. Although they are a little short-staffed at present, just ask the general manager to pop over and make your cupachino. (Well, that’s what the sign says at the roadhouse in the centre of town. Culture, you gotta love it.)

Further out is the aqueous wonder, MaryAnne Dam, a palatial reservoir of the precious commodity, here on open display for all to bask in its wet glory and is also ideal for a swim (which the seasoned traveller knows isn’t the same as a shower. Fortunately there is a cold one on offer if you can brave the occasional school group.) TC also marks your last chance to purchase supplies and perhaps some fuel before the final 500 kilometres to Alice Springs. (Some of the fuel prices on the next stretch would be easier to believe if the cashier had a parrot on his shoulder. But if that is your thing…)

Darwin to Alice by road
Wycliffe Well, UFO Capital

Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve, or Karlu Karlyu as the Warumungu people call it, is a valley 100km south of TC, bearing witness to a series of four-plus-metres high spheroid rocks, lying, stacked and scattered in formations across the area. Eerie by twilight, this wonder of prehistoric geology is an intriguing place to stop and show some respect to the landscape. Standing abruptly amid the widening arid vista, the rocks resist the passage of time as they did the erosion of former inland seas, shifting to a deep red in the sunset and sunrise hues.

Should you have purchased a postcard earlier with some nothing-in-particular in mind – well, here comes something to write home about. “Way Out In Front” the signs of the buxom lass unashamedly proclaim – way out in front for what? Flies? Beer? Statues of Elvis and the incredible Hulk? The answer is the UFO centre of the arid centre: Wycliffe Well.

Aliens and UFOs at Wycliffe Well, Australia
“It” by the bucket-load

This place truly has to be seen to be disbelieved: from the sizable UFO parked out the front and the small green round-headed man standing before it, to the realistic and astonishing sculptures residing within the campground, in competition only with the green ants for local supremacy. If ever there was an “It” then Wycliffe Well has “It” by the bucket-load. And that’s without the beer selection that is a true extension on the usual range of substandard poisons that do the rounds of front bars Territory wide. The frontier is still out there, but sometimes only between the ears of a brave few.

Barrow Creek is one of the last bastions of outbackdom on the trail to serendipity. Home to the legend of the strange disappearance of the Ford Falconio – not to mention the horseshoe moustache that made the alleged perpetrator famous. One man was tried and jailed, although the body is still missing – a piece of roadside folklore that inspired the film Wolf Creek. But for the many messes of our marsupial friends the perpetrator is obvious and still at large.

The many kangaroos that meet their maker in this stretch bear testament to their unusually large numbers round the many mesas and topological anomalies that make Barrow Creek whatever it is. Still a mystery to me, as is the level of UK well-spokenness of the licensee, stranger than anything else…

And, so (ahem). If it’s truth that you’re after then this tale has a shortcut to Alice Springs over the remaining 250kms. Now, if it was the wheel nuts, then that doesn’t really explain the same wheel popping out of the steering and turning perpendicular to the car only days later (after it was “fixed” the first time)…

But picture if you will: the final highway oddity – a man standing by the side of the road, walking back north, looking surprised and scratching his head. You’re sitting on a sensible century (100km/h) and he overtook you a little while before and, now, is looking for his front wheel. That’s right, exit stage left at 130 kilometres per hour, my front left tyre. One minute after my car stopped, with what I thought was a blow-out and discovered was a six and out* – with the ball in question still firmly out of play (and as yet unfound) – I was in said Other Car and on my way to my rendezvous in Alice.

Suffice to say I was talking to my new best friend for a while trying to calm my nerves and also convince him (and maybe me) that I wasn’t another of those wacky things on the roadside, so a few details like strange people in far-away roadhouses passed me by completely. I got some interesting stories out of him for his troubles but I don’t think he bought mine at all…

Jack Brown

* Backyard cricketing term, where hitting the ball over the fence means you are out.

If you missed Jack’s first installment of Darwin to Alice by road, you can read it here. Planning a trip? Browse all of Viator’s Darwin tours and things to do in Alice Springs.

3 Responses to “Darwin to Alice, Part IV”

  1. Tennant Bloke Says:

    There is no doubt the Kevin that rules Tennant Creek is Big Kevin Hinkston. A great Bloke but a mountain of a man who takes no rubish from anyone. A local legend with his fists and his humour.