Around Australia Week 20 – Devils Marbles to Banka Banka

Well, all good things come to an end… and the time came to leave Alice and point the caravan north. We’ve been looking forward to this stretch: we didn’t have time to call in and check out the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve on the way to Alice, so we were determined to call in and have a look on the way back.

This Reserve (1,802 hectares of it) extends along both sides of the Stuart Highway around 400 kms north of Alice Springs and 9 kms north of Wauchope.

We tossed up whether or not to stay at the Marbles or go on to Wycliffe Well (which we’d noticed on the way past last time) but after a couple of other travellers said that they’d just been to the Marbles and found it windy and dusty we decided to leave it for another stay. BUT… we did call in to see it, and took a few photos. (How could you not?) The Devils Marbles are impressive, and when the sky is blue you can get some great shots. You’ll find a bush camping area with fire places and pit toilets at the southern end of the Reserve. No water or firewood is provided, so campers should come well equipped – but you can’t beat FREE camping! You can also take a short walk (about 15-20 minutes) and find out how the Marbles were formed (and are still being formed) and about the plant and animal life here. Note that dogs are allowed in the car park area only, and generators are not permitted.

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Then it was on to Wycliffe Well, the “UFO capital of Australia”. The literature promised that you’d be unlucky NOT to see a UFO, since there have been so many sightings here. Well, guess what?

Not an alien was to be seen. No little green men (other than those painted on the walls and perched on the roof of the service station). No strange flying objects (other than flies and bugs). No beams of light from sinister ships, waiting to take us far, far away to another galaxy… or perform unmentionable operations on board the ship. And here I was all ready with my little red book of how to cope with all manner of disasters, including UFO abductions.

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Just in case you want to know: here’s a snippet of advice from my manual: Point 2 in “How to Foil a UFO Abduction”:

“CONTROL YOUR THOUGHTS.

Do not think of anything violent or upsetting – the EBE [extraterrestrial biological entity] may have the ability to read your thoughts. Try to avoid mental images of abduction (boarding the saucer, anal probes); such images may encourage them to take you.”

There you are. Simple, isn’t it?

However, Wycliffe Well did boast a good restaurant (although we mistimed it for the entertainment – the singer was performing the next evening!)  And we also met fellow travellers Bill and Joan Kerry (see photo) who had some good stories to tell about their travels. Joan told us not to miss going to Fran’s at Daly Waters… “Absolutely the best cappuccino in the Territory!”

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We bade a fond farewell to Wycliffe Well (we’ll come back again one day and have another go at UFO-spotting) and went bowling along the road to Banka Banka Station, which had been dubbed a ‘must’ by Helen when we met her at Uluru.

Banka Banka was a real treat. We turned in the flower-framed gateway and pulled into position in the large oval in front of the reception shed after being welcomed by Alex. Plenty of people were already happily settled, and more came in through the afternoon, until there were about 40 vans in place. We caught up with fellow travellers Ray and Jillian Lorkin who showed us the modifications they’d made to their 22 ft. Boroma to make it suit their lifestyle: they’d fitted footrests to the end of the café seats, and inserted a wine/drink cooler under the seat where there had previously been a drawer. Nice work!

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We also had a chat to Susan Paparella who gave us the name of a mobile caravan repairer to take a look at our hot water system (fast becoming a ‘lukewarm water system’) when we reached Darwin. Susan happened to have the name handy after having a tree branch fall on her awning – quick repairs needed! Susan, a keen knitter, also passed on a handy tip for those who knit in the car. She occasionally does cable stitch, but found that the needle kept falling out and dropping onto the car floor. Well, you can imagine how annoying it became to try bending down with a seat belt on and scrabble around looking for something as small as a cable needle! Susan’s solution: tie the cable needle to the door and just pull it back up again. Love it.

As the sun went down, a few dozen of us hauled our chairs (and blankets: it got COLD!) to where Alex had a slide show set up to tell the history of Banka Banka: one of the Kidman stations. Now this was an unexpected treat. How many campground hosts bother to set up a slide show and entertain the guests as part of their camp fees? Alex’s humorous dry delivery made it all come to life. (He started with a picture of an emu, and went on to tell us that this used to live on the station… until a caravanner ran over it on the way out one morning. It was all uphill from there.) The future of Banka Banka as an inexpensive rest stop is in some jeopardy, from what Alex said… by the time you read this, it may or may not be still in operation. But just in case… here are some details:

You have to provide your own power at Banka Banka, but there’s an abundance of water: you’re welcome to fill your tanks and wash the car/van. The amenities are just as good as those found in smaller caravan parks, with toilets and showers in a separate building, but the timer on the lights could be set for a bit longer. When I was in there having a shower there was a blood-curdling scream from a child caught in the dark when the lights went out, until her sister ran to the door and punched the button again. From then there was a tag-team operating so everyone could have time to shampoo/shave.

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One thing I did notice was a ‘Help wanted’ notice on the door of Banka Banka reception building. Alex said that from time to time work came up both at Banka Banka and the nearby Helen Springs. It pays for travellers looking for work to keep an eye out for signs like this. We have spotted SO many opportunities for people to earn a bit of money while seeing Australia, and some of them (like this one on a working station) offer the chance to see a different lifestyle.


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