Last Updated on August 18, 2023

Australia’s deserts cover over 18% of the continent, making them some of the most striking and unique landscapes on the planet.

These arid regions are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, as well as some of the world’s most iconic natural landmarks such as the stunning red sands of the Simpson Desert and the ancient rock formations of Uluru near Alice Springs.

Sunset view from Big Red sand dune. Simpson Desert, Queensland, Australia.
Big Red sand dune. Simpson Desert, Australia.

Australia’s deserts are primarily located in the central and western regions of the continent. The largest of these is the Great Sandy Desert, which covers an area of over 400,000 square kilometers in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Other major deserts include the Gibson Desert, which spans Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the Simpson Desert, which covers parts of South Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory, and the Tanami Desert, which extends from the Northern Territory into Western Australia.

Major Australian Desert Destinations

Australia’s deserts offer a range of unique destinations for travelers seeking adventure and natural beauty. One of the most popular destinations is Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, located in the heart of the country. This sacred site is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Australia, and offers visitors the chance to learn about the indigenous culture and history of the region.

The Kimberley region in Western Australia is another popular destination for desert explorers. This remote and rugged landscape is home to some of the country’s most iconic natural landmarks, including the Bungle Bungle Range, the Windjana Gorge, and the Mitchell Plateau. Travelers can hike through gorges, swim in waterfalls, and explore the stunning landscape of this unique region.

The Flinders Ranges in South Australia is also a popular destination for desert adventurers. This stunning region is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, as well as some of the country’s most striking natural landscapes, including Wilpena Pound and the Heysen Trail. Visitors can go on guided hikes, take scenic drives, or even go on a hot air balloon ride to see the desert from a different perspective.

Great Sandy Desert

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The southern margin of the Great Sandy Desert where it merges with the Gibson Desert (top of image). Photo courtesy of NASA Johnson is licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

Covering an area of over 400,000 square kilometers, the Great Sandy Desert is one of the largest deserts in Australia. Located in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, this arid landscape is characterized by vast expanses of red sand dunes, rocky outcrops, and sparse vegetation.

Despite its harsh conditions, the Great Sandy Desert is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including kangaroos, dingoes, and reptiles. The desert is also home to several Indigenous communities, who have lived in harmony with the land for thousands of years.

Visitors to the Great Sandy Desert can go on guided tours to learn about the history and culture of the Indigenous people who call the region home. Travelers can also go on scenic flights over the desert to see the landscape from above, or even take a camel trek through the sandy terrain.

Gibson Desert

Spanning Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the Gibson Desert is another vast and remote desert region in Australia. Covering an area of over 150,000 square kilometers, this arid landscape is characterized by its striking red sands, spinifex grasses, and rocky outcrops.

The Gibson Desert is home to several unique natural landmarks, including the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater and the Canning Stock Route. It is also an important cultural site for Indigenous Australians, who have lived in the region for over 40,000 years.

Visitors to the Gibson Desert can go on guided tours to learn about the history and culture of the Indigenous people who call the region home. Travelers can also explore the desert on foot or by 4WD, taking in the stunning natural beauty of the landscape.

Simpson Desert

Desert Travel: Simpson Desert, Australia
Simpson Desert, Australia

The Simpson Desert is one of the most iconic deserts in Australia, spanning parts of South Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory. This vast landscape is characterized by its towering sand dunes, which can reach heights of up to 40 meters.

Despite its harsh conditions, the Simpson Desert is home to a range of unique wildlife, including dingoes, red kangaroos, and numerous bird species. It is also home to several Indigenous communities, who have lived in the region for thousands of years.

Travelers to the Simpson Desert can explore the landscape on guided tours, or take a self-guided trek through the dunes. Visitors can also go on camel treks, take scenic flights over the desert, or even go on a hot air balloon ride to see the desert from above. The Simpson Desert is also home to several iconic natural landmarks, such as the famous Dalhousie Springs, which is a popular spot for swimming and relaxing.


Tanami Desert

Kings Canyon. Northern Territory, Australia
Kings Canyon. Northern Territory, Australia

Located in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, the Tanami Desert is a vast and remote region that covers over 184,000 square kilometers. This arid landscape is characterized by its red sands, rocky outcrops, and sparse vegetation.

Despite its harsh conditions, the Tanami Desert is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including bilbies, dingoes, and numerous bird species. It is also an important cultural site for Indigenous Australians, who have lived in the region for thousands of years.

Visitors to the Tanami Desert can go on guided tours to learn about the history and culture of the Indigenous people who call the region home. Travelers can also explore the desert on foot or by 4WD, taking in the stunning natural beauty of the landscape. The Tanami Desert is also home to several iconic natural landmarks, such as the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater and the Rabbit Flat Roadhouse.


Australia Deserts FAQs

What are some of the major deserts in Australia?

Australia is home to a number of impressive deserts. The largest of these is the Great Victoria Desert, which spans over 340,000 square kilometers in the southern part of the country. The Gibson Desert is another massive expanse of arid land, covering more than 156,000 square kilometers in the Western Australian region.

Other notable deserts include the Simpson Desert, the Tanami Desert, and the Strzelecki Desert. These vast, barren landscapes offer a unique and awe-inspiring experience for those brave enough to venture into them.

How much of Australia is desert?

Around 18% of the Australian mainland is classified as desert, with the largest of these being the Great Victoria Desert. However, it’s worth noting that about 35% of the Australian continent receives so little rain that it can be classified as a desert or semi-desert, including areas such as the Nullarbor Plain and the red sand dunes of the Simpson Desert.

Sand dunes are a defining feature of many Australian deserts. For example, the Simpson Desert is home to the world’s longest parallel sand dunes, which stretch for over 1,100 kilometers, including the popular Big Red sand dune.

What is the most famous desert in Australia?

Without a doubt, the most famous desert in Australia is the vast, red expanse of the Outback known as the Simpson Desert. Spanning over 176,500 square kilometers, this remote and arid region is located in the heart of the country and is home to some of the most stunning natural landmarks in Australia, such as the aforementioned Big Red sand dune.

One of the most popular ways to explore the Simpson Desert is by embarking on the iconic Birdsville Track, a 517-kilometer route that crosses the vast plains of the desert and takes adventurers through some of the most beautiful and isolated parts of the Outback. Visitors can also explore the region on foot, taking in the awe-inspiring scenery of the desert’s endless red sands and unique flora and fauna.

What are the best desert hiking destinations in Australia?

Australia offers a wide variety of hiking trails for those looking to explore its beautiful and rugged deserts. One popular destination is the Larapinta Trail, a 223-kilometer trek that winds through the stunning West MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory. This challenging trail offers hikers a chance to experience the beauty of the Australian Outback up close, with stunning views of the desert landscapes, rocky gorges, and ancient Aboriginal sites.

Another great option for desert hiking is the Bibbulmun Track, a 1000-kilometer trail that traverses the deserts and forests of Western Australia. This trail offers a range of hiking experiences, from short day hikes to multi-day treks, with opportunities to spot native wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies, and emus along the way.

For those looking for a more unique experience, the Purnululu National Park in Western Australia is home to the Bungle Bungle Range, a series of striking sandstone domes that rise out of the desert and offer some of the most spectacular desert scenery in Australia. Visitors can embark on a range of hikes throughout the park, including the iconic Piccaninny Gorge walk, which takes hikers through narrow gorges and past towering rock formations.

Additionally, the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) in the Northern Territory is a collection of large domed rock formations that are also popular for hiking. Visitors can take the Valley of the Winds walk, which takes them through a maze of rocky valleys and breathtaking views of the desert landscape. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a unique adventure, Australia’s deserts offer endless possibilities for exploration and discovery.


Desert Travel: Simpson Desert, Australia
Simpson Desert, Australia

Australian Desert Facts

  1. The Australian desert covers a whopping 70% of the country’s landmass, making it the world’s largest arid region. Its sheer size alone is enough to leave you in awe.
  2. The desert is a land of extremes, where summer temperatures can soar up to a scorching 50°C (122°F), and winter temperatures can plunge as low as -5°C (23°F). It’s a place where survival is a daily challenge.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, the Australian desert is not just a barren wasteland. It’s home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, snakes, lizards, and a plethora of bird species. You’ll be amazed at the life that thrives in this harsh environment.
  4. The desert is not just a physical landscape; it’s also a cultural landscape. Indigenous communities have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years and have a deep connection to the land. Their rich history and traditions add another layer of complexity and fascination to the Australian desert.
  5. The Australian desert is a land of iconic natural landmarks, such as the majestic Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), the breathtaking Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas), and the vast Simpson Desert. These landmarks have captured the imaginations of people all over the world.
  6. The desert is also a treasure trove of mineral resources, including gold, copper, uranium, and iron ore. These resources have played a crucial role in Australia’s economy, but they also pose questions about the impact of mining on the fragile desert ecosystem.
  7. The Australian desert is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world, with much of the area uninhabitable due to the extreme climate and lack of water. It’s a place where solitude and self-reliance are essential for survival.
  8. The desert has also provided the backdrop for some of the most iconic movies and TV shows in Australian cinema, including Mad Max, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Crocodile Dundee. Its stark beauty and otherworldly landscapes have served as a canvas for creative expression.
  9. The desert is a place for adventure and exploration, with visitors coming from all over the world to hike, camp, and experience the unique landscapes and wildlife of the region. It’s a place where pushing boundaries and testing one’s limits is the norm.
  10. Finally, the Australian desert is an ecosystem that has a crucial role in the global climate system. Its unique climate and geography influence weather patterns and ocean currents around the world, making it a place of global significance.
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