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Tennant Creek attracts only a small number of travelers, who mostly stop for a short visit to see the Devils Marbles. Travelers visiting the area might want to check out some more popular nearby destinations. If you do travel to Tennant Creek, please add your favorite spots in this Tennant Creek travel guide.
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Unfortunately, there is always one person in every holiday group who seems determined to annoy as many people as possible, and at breakfast today she decided to join me at my table. This lady - we'll call her Betty - must be in her late 50s and seems to think that she's done pretty well for herself over the years and should share all her knowledge with everyone, whether they want to know or not. So over my cereal this morning I found myself being subjected to a lecture on the art of filling in tax returns, and she would've got much further in her attempt to tell me how she'd gone to England as a young woman and made her fortune if I hadn't suddenly remembered something important I had to be doing elsewhere. According to the literature at the hotel, Katharine Gorge boasts facilities for hiking, boating, canoeing and scenic flights along the Katherine River. As our time in the area was limited, AAT Kings had arranged a boat cruise for us which would allow us to see the gorge and also get to do some limited hiking within Nitmiluk National Park, home to the indigenous Jawoyn Aborigines (1) to whom it is a major cultural site. At the moment, the Katherine River is pretty tranquil and the cruise was relaxing, but it isn't always that way - much of the "top end" of Australia is prone to flooding from Cyclones and rising river levels, and in the wet season it really is pretty much touch and go whether any of the attractions and parks will be able to open from one day to the next. The last major flood in Katherine was in 1998 when the Katherine River rose twenty-three meters and flooded the town and surrounding areas, causing mass evacuations and the region to be designated as a national disaster zone (2). The cruise turned out to be about thirty of us crammed into what didn't amount to much more than a large raft with seats, but we didn't mind because Katherine Gorge can't be described as anything less than incredible. In fact I honestly don't think I could come up with a word to describe the intensity of the scenery as you sail along the river between towering rock walls seventy metres high, the silence only broken by the clicking of camera shutters and the screeches of birds. It's difficult in Europe to go anywhere where there is no sound of traffic to distract you - but here in Katherine Gorge, you really can forget that such things exist. Surrounded by rock faces, banks of grass and with birds wheeling overhead, it doesn't seem such a stretch to imagine that you've travelled millions of years back in time and that up ahead there'll be a brontosaurus wading across the river. Although the gorge is around twelve kilometres long, there are areas of the river which are full of rapids and dangerous to pass unless you're in a canoe. The boatman tethered us to the shore just before we disappeared over the edge of a mini waterfall and those of us who felt up to it got out for a leisurely scramble across loose sandstone and through narrow gaps in the rock walls. Striding off ahead as though expecting us all to be Olympic athletes, our guide obviously took his job very seriously and seemed very excited to have us following him around - occasionally he would seem to vanish altogether, and just when some of us were starting to wonder how to get back without him his head would pop out of a hole in the rock face and he'd call out excitedly "Come on, come on, this way. Nearly there" as though somehow whatever we were going to see would run away if we didn't get a move on. Eventually, we reached a point at the base of the gorge, obviously inaccessible by boat, where the rock face was literally covered in Aboriginal paintings - clearly, this area has been a significant place to the Jawoyn for a long time, because it seems that these works of art run the entire length of the gorge and tell numerous stories of Aboriginal history in the area. I had not been expecting to see so many paintings in one place, and to be able to make them out so clearly - in some places, the rocks are so well protected from the elements that the paintings look almost untouched since they were originally created. Back on the boat, we headed back downstream for a bit before being ushered off again for another walk, this time with a stern warning that this one was a bit more strenuous and that some of the older members of the group may wish to remain on the boat. The rest of us happily scrambled through tree-lined walkways, dangled precariously over the rapids on narrow rope-bridges and generally cut ourselves to shreds until we finally emerged into a clearing in which a quite spectacular waterfall cascaded into a crystal clear lake. Miss know-it-all from breakfast this morning was so surprised that she tripped over a rock and we got to watch her expensive new camera arc through the air in slow motion and land with a satisfying plop in the middle of the pool, which would've mean much more pleasing if we hadn't been distracted by the guide plonking a big blue box down on the floor and cracking it open to reveal drinks and sandwiches. Mind you, she did manage to lock herself in the toilet on the way back to the dock on the boat, so we all had a good laugh then instead. Those of us who had come prepared stripped down to our trunks and dived in. Oh, it was bliss - I couldn't wait to see the faces on the people back at the boat when we told them that we'd been swimming under a waterfall and sitting by the pool eating sandwiches while they sat and waited for us to return. My only regret about today has been that we have to stay in a hotel tonight. Nitmiluk provides perfectly good camping facilities, and I would've been quite happy to sleep under the stars surrounded by Aboriginal paintings and the sound of the river. Maybe next time.

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2

(1) In the Jawoyn language, Nitmiluk means "the place of Cicada Dreaming" (2) In April 2006, the Katharine River once again rose to around twenty meters and flooded the town with very little warning. Homes were once again filled with water and millions of dollars worth of damage was done. A state of emergency was declared in the area, but this time little damage was done to the houses themselves and the town quickly got back to normal. Needless to say, Home Insurance is at a premium in this part of the world.
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Travelling North from Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway, the coach crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and we were all encouraged to be true tourists and get off for a look. The actual line between South and North is, um, a line drawn across the road - giving several of my fellow passengers the opportunity to make idiots of themselves by demonstrating a total lack of understanding of the difference between the Tropic of Capricorn and The Equator and leaping back and forth across it going "Look, I'm in the Northern Hemisphere... Look, I'm in the Southern Hemisphere" while we all smiled politely and wondered if anybody would notice if we drove off without them. Our coach captain, having a particularly wicked sense of humour, went and got a funnel from the back of the coach and used it to demonstrate to anybody gullible enough to fall for a simple magic trick that water drained clockwise on one side of the line and anticlockwise on the other (1). I am now officially back in the tropical zone, which means nothing other than I can expect to be attacked by a different species of insect from now on and I can sweat buckets again without being a whinging Pom. Tennant Creek is the main town on the junction of the Stuart Highway which runs almost the entire way up the middle of Australia and the Barkely highway which heads off Eastwards back towards Mount Isa and eventually Townsville. It is therefore also a major terminal and stopover for the many coaches heading between the red center and the East coast and is positioned almost exactly half way between Alice Springs to the South and Katherine, where I will be stopping tomorrow on the way to Darwin, to the North. The town is named after a nearby Creek which was given it's name by John McDouall Stuart, the most well known of the Australian pioneers and a man who dedicated most of his life to exploring and mapping great chunks of the country and presumably saying "Oh look, some more desert" every few miles. Stuart had already made several expeditions across the outback by the time he reached Tennant Creek, losing companions and catching Scurvy in the process, finally arriving here as part of an attempt to explore the country from South to North - an attempt thwarted soon afterwards by a tribe of Aborigines who obviously hadn't learned that thwarted white men often came back later with guns. Stuart is such a popular figurehead in Australia, in fact, that Alice Springs was actually called Stuart until 1933. In the 30s, Tennant Creek was a major destination for miners keen to take advantage of the Gold Rush sweeping the area. These days, however, it is just a sleepy outback town on the way from somewhere to somewhere else, but nevertheless seems to suffer from the slightly over-inflated ego that Australian towns often do. I don't mean to suggest for one moment that it's not a perfectly nice place for a stopover or a bit of a walkabout, or that the people are anything less than charming and welcoming, but if you're looking for nightlife in a typical outback settlement you're probably going to end up with your backside firmly planted on a barstool in the town pub, talking to the same three people for your entire stay. The Tennant Creek tourist literature describes it as the only major town in the middle of the Northern Territory, which really is about as meaningless as saying that London is the biggest city in the London area. The only other signs of civilisation for hundreds of kilometres in any direction are small Aboriginal settlements and cattle ranches - In fact, there are only a handful of towns of any decent size in the Northern Territory and four of them are larger than Tennant Creek. I have to admit that I've never really understood patriotism for the sake of it - after all, nobody gets to choose where they're born and surely in a free world someone is entitled to grow up, weigh up all the options and then decide they'd rather be elsewhere. This, after all, is the basis on which many people spend their life travelling. The Australians seem to have local pride almost down to street level - so much as mention to an Australian that the town he was brought up in doesn't have streets paved with gold and he'll shout at you until he's hoarse and then head off to find his knuckle dusters. I remember making the mistake when I came through here on a previous trip of suggesting to my previously chatty and light-hearted coach driver, who turned out to have lived here for several years, that Tennant Creek was perhaps "not as nice as Alice Springs". Not only did he never speak to me again, but I suddenly found myself allocated to the only broken seat on the coach. I was just glad I didn't point out the graffiti on the door of the bus station toilets. Another thing you should probably not do is listen carefully to a local guide telling you that the town hall dates back to the 1920s, and then point out casually that your front door is slightly older. Trust me on this.

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2

http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/devilsmarbles.html
http://www.tennantcreek.nt.gov.au

(1) This isn't true, by the way. The Coriolis Effect, which is supposed to account for water draining in different directions on either side of the Equator, isn't anywhere near strong enough to create such a noticeable effect. It's an urban legend. Tell your friends.
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One hundred kilometres to the South of Tennant Creek, my brief stop for the night, is what must be one of the most photographed attractions Australia has to offer - The Devil's Marbles. Aboriginal legend has it that these massive round boulders standing mysteriously on their ends and scattered around a small area of the desert are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent, a spiritual being who helped to create the world in the Dreamtime by forcing up the land from below to create the mountains and terrain. The Marbles provide welcome shade from the burning sun, as long as you can cast off the niggling thought that the one next to you is about to fall over and squash you flat, and the odd Goanna can be seen darting in and out of the shade if you stand around long enough. This is also one of those truly spiritual places in Australia where you really do have to sit down on the edge of a rock and just go "wow" - I'd like very much to know what it's like here with nobody else around, with total peace replacing the clicking of camera shutters and kids laughing and screaming as they try to knock the boulders over. If you've seen Billy Connelly's World Tour of Australia, this is where he suddenly decides to take all his clothes off and dance naked around the rocks while people watching at home regurgitate their lunch. To each his own. Upon first inspection, there seems to be no logical explanation for how these perfectly round granite boulders come to be standing here, clearly worn away from beneath by ancient forces, right up until the point where they are about to topple, and then left alone as a puzzle to visitors for centuries to come. Of course, there's probably a perfectly good geological reason why they look this way, but that would mean that the Rainbow Serpent story wasn't true so I don't want to know. Actually, in recent years the Australian government has done something of a U-turn on the issue of Aboriginal rights - these days, and quite rightly too, the Aboriginal culture is taken very seriously and everything is being done to put right the mistakes of times gone by. The Devil's Marbles are considered to be sacred by the Aborigines, so you can imagine that they were just a little annoyed at the beginning of the 50s when one of the marbles - and remember that these are believed to be the eggs of one of the creatures who created the world - was plucked away and put on display in Alice Springs without anybody thinking to ask what the local tribe thought of the idea. This, to me, is a bit like somebody walking into a graveyard, digging up your grandmother and putting her on display in the natural history museum. In the last few years, the "egg" has been returned to it's rightful place in the desert and has been replaced in Alice Springs with a large boulder which somebody presumably found by the side of the road. If there are four things you must see in Australia, forget the Opera House and all that modern junk and head straight for the natural marvels - Uluru, The Devils Marbles, The Barrier Reef and Wave Rock in Western Australia, among others. I'll be getting to Wave Rock later in this trip.

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2
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Recent Updates for Tennant Creek
5 years ago
Arrived at the pub at daly waters...fantstic...had a great night good tucker great entertainment..see the pics when i get time to download.. (More)
Michael P. wrote a tip on Tennant Creek
6 years ago
devils marbels (karlwe karlwe), barkly tablelands (More)
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