Skip to Content

Does Australia Have Deserts? (All You Need To Know!)

Does Australia Have Deserts? (All You Need To Know!)

Yes, Australia has deserts; the deserts are part of the Australian outback. Australia is the second driest continent in the world – and also the driest continent that’s inhabited. The country receives so little annual rainfall that most areas in Australia are practically deserts.

Australia’s Desert Landscape

Australian Outback

About 18% of Australia’s land area consists of desert, but nearly 35% of the mainland receives very little rain, which effectively makes it a desert land. Australian deserts are mainly scattered throughout the country’s interior lowlands and Western Australia.

Compared to other desert regions in the world, Australian deserts receive relatively high precipitation – no arid region in Australia receives an annual rainfall of less than 100 mm. Also, it’s important to understand that deserts, while featuring an arid climate, don’t wholly lack vegetation; it’s only that vegetation is limited.

Deserts In Australia

Here’s a detailed list of Australia’s deserts:

The Great Victoria Desert

Aerial View of Great Victoria Desert
Photo by Amanda Slater on Flickr

The largest desert in Australia, the Great Victoria Desert spans Western Australia and South Australia. Pebbled surfaces, grasslands, and small sandhills are characteristic of the desert. This massive desert stretches over an area of 348,750 square km.

The average annual rainfall ranges between 200 and 250 mm. While summer temperatures alternate between 32 and 40 degrees Celsius, winter temperatures range between 18 and 23 degrees Celsius.

The Great Victoria Desert is home to a few groups of indigenous people; the Kogarah, the Pitjantjatjara, and the Mirning inhabit the desert land. Due to arid climate conditions, a larger part of the desert remains uninhabited, while an area of the desert has been turned into a national park: the Mamungari Conservation Park.

Having adapted to the harsh weather conditions of the desert, plant species like eucalyptus and acacia plants thrive here.

What Can you do in the Great Victoria Desert?

Its vegetation is the main highlight; in fact, this is the most vegetated desert in Australia. Hiking, horseback riding, sandboarding, sand sliding, and hand gliding are some of the things you can do here.

The Great Sandy Desert

Great Sandy Desert
Photo by Michael Theis on Flickr

The Great Sandy Desert, the second largest desert in Australia, is located in the Northwest region of Western Australia. The desert occupies an area of 284,993 square km and is bordered by the Tanami Desert and the Gibson Desert. The Wolfe Creek, a known meteorite impact crater, is found here as well. Two aboriginal groups, the Pintupi and the Martu, inhabit the desert. The vegetation of the Great Sandy Desert primarily consists of spinifex.

What Can you do in the Great Sandy Desert?

The desert is home to two national parks: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Rudall River National Park; both are tourist hot spots. You can explore the desert on your own, but it’s best to sign up for a guided tour if you are inexperienced.

The Tanami Desert

Vegetation of Tanami Desert
Photo by Tor Lindstrand on Flickr

Another desert in Western Australia, the Tanami Desert has significance as it provides a home for a few endangered species; you will also find a few aboriginal groups here. The desert is dotted with rocky hills and can be reached via the Tanami Track.

What Can you do in the Tanami Desert?

You can camp here, and there are several aboriginal culture centres you can visit. The desert is also known for bird watching.

The Simpson Desert

Sand dunes of Simpson Desert
Photo by TheBluesDude on Flickr

The fourth-largest desert in Australia, the Simpson desert is also the world’s largest sand dune desert sprawling over a land area of 176,500 square km. The desert is located in Queensland, but it also occupies parts of South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The most noteworthy feature of the Simpson Desert is also its parallel sand dunes. The Great Artesian Basin is another important feature; this is the largest inland drainage basin in the world.

What Can you do in the Simpson Desert?

You can camp here, or if you are adventurous, you can enjoy some four-wheel driving.

The Gibson Desert

Gibson Desert
Photo by Ghreumaich on Wikimedia Commons

Occupying an area of 155,000 square km in Western Australia, the Gibson Desert is the fifth-largest desert in the country. The Gibson Desert is characterised by dune fields, rocky ridges, desert grasses, and red sand plains; you can also find several salt-water lakes. Aboriginal Australians inhabit the desert, and they are known to lead a traditional lifestyle.

What Can you do in the Gibson Desert?

You can sign up for a tour to explore the vegetation, the sand dunes, and the animals living in the desert.

The Little Sandy Desert

West of the Gibson Desert is the Little Sandy Desert. Another desert found in Western Australia, the Little Sandy Desert, is similar to the Great Sandy Desert – hence the name. The Mandilara indigenous people live in the desert.

What Can you do in the Little Sandy Desert?

You can get here by the Canning Stock Route. Visitors have the chance to spot several endangered species of Australia.

The Strzelecki Desert

Strezlecki Desert
Photo by Joe Engelman on Flickr

This desert encompasses parts of Western New South Wales, Southwest Queensland, and the Far North Region in South Australia. The Strzelecki Desert has an area of 80,250 square km. Cooper Creek, Strzelecki Creek, and the Diamantina River are the main highlights of the desert.

What can you do in the Strzelecki Desert?

You can visit the Sturt National Park, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, and Warraweena Conservation Park. You will also find a few historic sites, and don’t forget to visit Tome Kruse Museum, located around 143 metres from the desert.

The Tirari Desert

Located in South Australia, the Tirari Desert occupies an area of nearly 16000 square km; the desert also encompasses a part of the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park. You can find numerous salt lakes and sand dunes here, and there’s some vegetation as well. The Tiwari Desert receives very low rainfall, and harsh weather conditions are prevalent.

What Can you do in the Tirari Desert?

Sign up for a camel ride, and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime. Camping is also one of the things you can do.

The Sturt Stony Desert

Sturt Stony Desert
Photo by Arthur Chapman on Flickr

Named after Charles Sturt – who explored the desert in 1844 – the Sturt Stony Desert occupies a region in South Australia; it also reaches into Queensland. The desert is fringed by the Simpson Strzelecki deserts. The Sturt Stony Desert mostly features gibber, and you will also see several ephemeral lakes here.

What can you do in the Sturt Stony Desert?

Join a guided tour to explore the desert, and you will encounter a lot of Australian wildlife.

Pedirka Desert

The Pedirka Desert is a desert located in South Australia, consisting of red sand and mulga woodlands. The desert is rather small and stretches over an area of 1,250 square km. The dunes of the desert are sparsely located and eroded. The desert is currently being transformed into a pastoral land.

What Can you do in the Pedirka Desert?

You can join a guided tour, and you will be taken to explore the desert flora and fauna, and the spectacular sunset will be an added bonus.

Australia Desert Map

Australian Desert Facts

There are several interesting facts that describe the uniqueness of Australian deserts, and they are as follows:

  • Despite the arid conditions, people and wildlife species inhabit the desert regions of Australia
  • You can find salt lakes and natural lakes in Australian deserts
  • During summer, the temperatures can rise above 120 degrees Fahrenheit – the Simpson Desert, in particular, is extremely hot during summer months, and there can be sandstorms
  • Some Australian deserts are home to national parks – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Great Sandy Desert is an example
  • Australian deserts feature beautiful red rock formations
  • Most Australian deserts are tourist hotspots
  • Some Australian deserts experience thunderstorms, which are also called dry storms because the rain evaporates before it hits the ground
  • The Big Red kangaroo is native to Australian deserts

Australia Desert Animals

Australian Desert Camel

In spite of the high temperatures, some animals do thrive here. They’ve had to adapt and develop some nifty survival mechanisms.

The Bilby

Bilbies are delicate, and you’d think that they cannot survive in harsh desert conditions, but they can. They hide in burrows during the daytime and only venture outside at night. Bilbies used to live in most of the Australian deserts, but now they are restricted to the Gibson, the Tanami, and the Great Sandy.

The Perentie

This huge monitor lizard lives in burrows and comes out in search of food during the nighttime. Their burrows are quite large and have so many escape routes, but they don’t usually need them as they are one of the top predators in the desert land.

The Thorny Devil

This is one of the most unusual-looking animals you’ll ever find. They are very adept at camouflage. Thorny devils use their spikes to retain water, and their brown and yellow colours blend right into the shades of the desert.

The Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons, one of the most popular pet lizards, are native to deserts. In fact, they originated here before they moved across the world. They too live in burrows to avoid the extreme heat of the desert.

The Red Kangaroo

The most famous animal species in Australia, red kangaroos, live in the driest part of the outback. Hopping is their adaptation to the desert conditions – they can cover large distances through hopping without having to spend too much energy.

Camels  

Camels aren’t native to Australia, but once they were introduced, they did an excellent job of adapting to the desert climate. In fact, there’s a huge community of camels in the Australian outback, so much so that camel rides have become a popular desert activity and camel meat has become a regular feature on restaurant menus.  

The Desert Dingo

Dingoes were introduced to the desert around 3,500 years ago. They were one of the top predators back then, but now their numbers are dwindling due to human activity. If they are not conserved, they could go extinct within decades.

Desert Communities

The total number of people living in the desert regions is 800,000, which is less than 5% of the total population. Most of the communities in the desert regions are inhabited by Indigenous Australians. They have been living in the deserts and the adjacent areas for thousands of years.

Why is Australia Such a Dry Continent When it’s in the South?

Australia being a dry continent has nothing to do with its location in the South. The difference between America, New Zealand, and Australia comes down to the distribution of mountains. Compared to European countries and the USA, Australia doesn’t have many mountains.

Australia’s mountains are located in the Southeast, which has a climate akin to Europe. The Southeast is wet because the mountains retain the rain, and the water flows down in streams and creates lakes; this happens in regions like Tasmania, Sydney, and Melbourne. The exact opposite of this phenomenon takes place in the vast terrain of the outback.

The humid air that comes from the sea continues to blow across the country because there aren’t any mountains to retain the moisture. As for rainfall, some of the desert regions experience thunderstorms, but they are called dry storms because the rain dissolves before it hits the land due to high temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the largest desert in Australia?

The largest desert in Australia is the Great Victoria Desert. It encompasses an area of over 348,750 square km.

Where is the Great Australian desert located?

It’s located in central Western Australia, but it also reaches into the Northern Territory.

How many Deserts are there any Australia?

There are ten deserts in Australia. Most of them are positioned in Western Australia and the interior lowlands of the country.

Did Australia always have deserts?

Not always. A new study has found that Australia’s deserts are only 1.5 million years old, making them the youngest deserts in the world.