Before you go on a trip to Australia, you might be fantasizing about what the places looks like in reality. If you study a map of the country, you will soon discover that most of the country looks like desert. And the reality is the same. Even so, few tourists visit these areas. Instead, most of them go to the coast. There are probably some who get disappointed when arriving, realizing that many cities in Australia are like any other big city in the world. But you might dream of experiencing something else, like the hot deserts of the Northern Territory. You want to sit around a campsite fire, together with Australia’s indigenous people, listening to stories all night long. And perhaps discover some long hiking trails were you barely meet a single person.
Just remember that Australia is large, almost gigantic. Those hot deserts you dreamed of are waiting to be discovered. But it requires time and patience to get there. And one of those different areas you seek can be found around Tennant Creek, in the country’s centre. Tennant Creek is the fifth largest town in the Northern Territory and has over 3,000 inhabitants. In other words, the state is sparsely populated. The country stretches far, and the roads are often dead-straight, without the slightest bend. Located between Katherine and Alice Springs, the town is usually a resting place for long distance travellers travelling along the remote Stuart Highway.
If you come here to discover and experience new things, you have come to the right place. The region may be dominated by a desolate desert. But the people who live here are lively. If you like animals and physical work, you have good opportunities to stay and work for a while. The surrounding region, called Barkly, supplies large parts of the country with meat. The cows have endless lands to roam and not a fence is visible as far as the eye can reach. Alexandria Station is Australia’s second largest producer of beef and is a few hours’ drive from Tennant Creek. This area is nothing for those who only accepts ultimate comfort and luxury. Tennant Creek is a simple rural town in the middle of nowhere. It is just the remote and different that makes the place so exciting. The feeling of being in the middle of the dry desert while the sound of the car’s stereo echoes out in eternity is special. Adventures can take many forms. To visit Australia’s centre is undoubtedly one of them.
Sights and experiences
Camping in the Barkly area
An experience you should try out in the area is camping. The possibilities to camp are almost endless. It’s just a case of deciding where to put up your tent. Wilderness comes in plentiful, but official campsites are almost as easy to find if you are willing to drive for a while. Many people choose to camp near Tennant Creek to have access to necessities, while others choose a more adventurous campsite, for example in the vicinity of Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles) (northernterritory.com/tennant-creek-and-barkly-region/destinations/karlu-karludevils-marbles-conservation-reserve). Exact rules for where camping is allowed can be found by visiting Tennant Creek Tourist office (barklytourism.com.au).
Another way to experience the vast and almost endless lands up in the Barkly Region is by hiking. There are many trails to choose on, both longer and shorter hikes. For example, it is possible to walk five kilometres from Tennant Creek to Lake Mary Ann where you can have a picnic or just cool off in the water. If you like to hike further than that, try the Overland Telegraph Line on 3,200 kilometres, a trail that goes all the way from Darwin to Adelaide. Just walk until you choose to call it a day. For more choices and opportunities, take a look at the local tourist website (northernterritory.com/tennant-creek-and-barkly-region).
Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre
At Nyinkka Nyunyu (nyinkkanyunyu.com.au) you can learn about the way the indigenous people live, as well as their background and their relationship to Tennant Creek. The combined museum- and art gallery is a place where tourists can talk to the indigenous and where they can see a garden with ancient shrubbery and plants. And of course, you can visit the museum just to see paintings and other types of Aboriginal art. There is a café on the grounds, a great place to rest your tired feet at, or to watch the performances showcased by the Aboriginals themselves. This museum is owned by the indigenous people and completely independent.
Discover and explore
Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve)
A very popular attraction is Karlu Karlu (or Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve as it is also called) which consists of several large granite stones. Considering the sizes which varies from half a meter to up to six meters, they are more like large boulders than marbles. What is interesting about them is the way they balance on each other. The area formerly belonged to the Aboriginals but is now stately owned. It is possible to camp here, and many say that the surroundings make the camping a memory for life. For the indigenous, this place is sacred, and you should respect this and neither litter nor climb the stones. The reserve around Karlu Karlu (nt.gov.au/leisure/parks-reserves/find-a-park-to-visit/karlu-karlu-devils-marbles-conservation-reserve) spreads over 1,800 hectares, and is located about 100 km from Tennant Creek.
If you like horses, don’t miss Kelly’s Ranch (kellysranch.com.au). Whether you’re accustomed to horseback or a beginner, this is the place to go. Located in Tennant Creek, the ranch offers various lessons. Anyone who wants to can come and visit Jerry Kelly’s ranch, regardless of age or level of skills.
Tennant Creek Memorial Club (tennantcreekmemorialclub.com). This establishment has kept their doors open since they first started in 1944. Besides a bar with eight types of draught beer, they also have a nice restaurant with entertainment. Other facilities include pool tables and dartboard. They offer pick-up and drop-off with their own minibus around Tennant Creek. They serve simple but delicious pub food. Think homemade meat pies, filling burgers and fluffy mashed potatoes. They change the menu slightly every month.
At the small place Top of Town Café in the middle of Tennant Creek you can get everything you need. The coffee is said to be the best in the area and if you fancy something to eat there are sandwiches, salads, burgers, pies, soups and more. Then finish off with homemade pastries and cakes.
Good to know
Tennant Creek is in the middle of the Northern Territory and is thus far away from the sea and its cooling breeze. The average temperature is about 25 degrees Celsius, but over fifty days or so each year, the temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius and above. Between November and April is the rainy season, although it does not rain very much. On average, it falls 773 mm of rain per year. The dry season is from May to October and offers no rain at all. This makes it difficult for the locals to keep cattle or to farm the land. Therefore, cows walk freely over huge open areas, just to be able to find enough water and food.
Tennant Creek Visitor Information and Tourist Centre is happy to help and answer questions and provide more information about the areas around and in Tennant Creek. You will find information on their website (barklytourism.com.au) as well as on site at Battery Hill, 73 Peko Road in Tennant Creek.
It is possible to stay in hostels, motels or campsites. Many choose to sleep in their own car or to put up a tent somewhere near a good vantage point. Some want to have peace and quiet in the middle of nowhere while others prefer to sleep near other people (hotelscombined.com/Place/Tennant_Creek.htm).
Safari Lodge Motel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Safari_Lodge_Motel.htm) offers its guests a good night’s sleep just like Bluestone Motor Inn Motel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Bluestone_Motor_Inn.htm). Bluestone is one of the better motels and offers accommodation in one of its 65 rooms. Here you can book everything from a single bed to a family room. All rooms are well-kept and clean. There is a swimming pool to cool off in, as well as a good restaurant. Bluestone even offers a conference room for those who need to work during the journey. This motel is right in the middle of Tennant Creek and parking is available.
Staying at a hostel when you’re on the road is a great way to save some money. There are several options if you don’t wish for a hotel or want to camp in Australia’s Outback. Tourists Rest VIP Hostel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Tourists_Rest_VIP_Hostel.htm) is a perfect place to rest your tired feet at. This hostel is located just outside the town centre closer to the desert and has pleasant viewpoints close at hand. This place brings together all sorts of people, ranging from young backpackers to lively retirees. The hostel offers entertainment and amenities to suit everyone. There is a swimming pool, air conditioning, fans and many shaded places. But also, TV, Internet and fridge in the room. Check-in is possible around the clock. They have rooms suitable for families or people travelling solo. Their facilities are about a 5-minute walk from the centre of Tennant Creek.
Caravan Park & Camping
One of the most popular ways to travel in Australia’s Outback is to stay at a Caravan Park. Given that many often drive here to see as much as possible, this is a perfect option for those travellers. In Outback Caravan Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Outback_Caravan_Park.htm) it is possible to stay even if you do not have a vehicle.
A Thursday in Tennant Creek
06.30 – Up with the cows during sunrise
Tennant Creek and the whole surrounding region are above all known for one thing, the huge amount of wildly roaming cows. You wake up early in the morning in the minibus that you parked at Tennant Creek Caravan Park. On foot, you get out into the wilderness. It does not take very long. You see not only cows, but also a wild dingo or two. But don’t worry, they run away as soon as they become aware of your presence.
10.00 The Devil’s Marbles
Head back to the camping area to eat your breakfast. Then you take the camper to Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve) to see the famous stone boulders located in the middle of the desert. After about 100 km along an everlasting straight road, which will take you an hour to drive, you have reached your destination. The marbles are just as amazing as you imagined, and the surroundings are wonderful.
12.30 – Landscape views
After a few hours out in the field, you are satisfied after seeing the stone marbles from all sides and angles. You feel inspired by the beautiful surrounding nature and the time to visit the rest of the national park has come. On the way to Karlu Karlu, you bought sandwiches and water from the Top of Town Café, so you don’t have to go hungry or thirsty.
18.00 – Satisfying pub dinner
Since you have heard plenty of Tennant Creek Memorial Club Restaurant, you decide to spend the evening at the restaurant. Hop aboard their pick-up bus and order some cold beer once you have arrived. For dinner, you might choose a pie made of lamb or a lighter seafood pasta. If you rather stick to a few starters that is ok too, just ask the staff for advice.
20.00 – Quiet evening out in the open
After a good evening meal, head back to your camping area at Tennant Creek Caravan Park. During the day, many holidaymakers have arrived at the campsite. You will certainly meet some tourists and some domestic travellers to have a chat with while relaxing out in the open. Maybe you will be discussing travel plans and exchange experiences. Time flies, and suddenly it is bedtime.