Sturt Stony Desert

    An old wagon wheel is half buried in the Sturt Stony Desert close to the Birdsville Track, SA.

    At 29,750sq. km, Sturt Stony is Australia’s third smallest desert, located in the north east corner of South Australia, reaching into New South Wales and Queensland.

    It was named partially after Chales Sturt, who first came to the desert in 1845 while attempting to find an in-land ocean he believed Australia to have. Instead, he found a desert filled with rocks and gibber, pavement-like stones. 

    Photo Credit: Colin Beard/Australian Geographic

    Sturt Stony Desert

    Photo Credit: Colin Beard/Australian Geographic

    Brolgas in the Sturt Stony Desert

    A waterbird, the brolga is found across tropical northern Australia, central New South Wales to western Victoria, and southwards through the Sturt Stony and Simpson deserts, drawn to the Lake Eyre basins. One of Australia’s two crane species, the brolga is well known for its dramatic mating dance.

    Photo Credit: Mitch Reardon/Australian Geographic

    Sturt Stony Desert dunes

    Photo Credit: Colin Beard/Australian Geographic

    Sturt Stony Desert blooms

    Photo Credit: Colin Beard/Australian Geographic

    Tanami Desert

    Australia’s third largest desert, the Tanami Desert covers 184, across Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It provides habitat for 11 threatened species, including the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), the Masked owl (Tyto novauhollandiae), the great desert skink (Egernia kintorei), and the bilby (Macrotis lagotis).

    Photo Credit: Andrew Gregory/Australian Geographic

    The Canning Stock Route in the Tanami Desert

    Created in the early 1990s, the Canning Stock Route runs for almost 1800km, crosses 800 sandhills and four deserts – the Great Sandy, the Little Sandy, the Tanami, and the Gibson. Despite the time and expenses that went into creating the route, it was rarely used. Today, it is a popular tourist 4WD route.

    In this photo, smooth-barked coolibahs are in an ephemeral lake area caused by floodwater from Sturt Creek draining into Lake Gregory, the freshwater lake that sits between the border of the Tanami and the Great Sandy deserts.


    Photo Credit: Jeff Drewitz

    Lake Gregory, Tanami Desert

    Located in the Kimberely region of Western Australia, Lake Gregory straddles the Tanami and the Great Sandy deserts. It is Australia’s most popular inland lake with waterbirds, often supporting over 100,000 birds.

    The lake varies in depth from 0 to 10m, sourcing freshwater from Sturt river. The lake becomes saline as it evaporates. 

    It’s nearest community is Mulan, a population of 200 approximately 8km to the east. The lake is part of the Paraku Indidgenous protected area, administered by the Aboriginal Lands Trust.



    Photo Credit: Andrew Gregory

    Yuendumu, Tanami Desert

    Yuendumu, on the edge of the Tanamia Desert, 300km north-west of Alice Springs, is one of the largest Aboriginal communities in central Australia. Here locals play a game of Australian Rules Football.

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman

    Napperby Station, Tanami Desert, Northern Territory

    Napperby Station is a 5, cattle station which has been owned and operated by the Chisholm family since 1948. Located close to the Western Australia border off the Tanami Road, the cattle station is located squarely within the desert.

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman

    Mackerel sky over the Granites Tanami Desert Gold Mine, Northern Territory

    A new gold ore was discovered in 2012, prolonging the mine life to 2027. Another operational gold mine, The Coyote, is also within the Tanami desert closer to the Western Australia border.

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman

    The Serpentine Lakes, Great Vicoria Desert

    A chain of salt lakes, the Serpentine lakes run almost 100km along the state borders of South Australia and Western Australia. 

    The Great Victoria Desert is Australia’s largest desert – at 348,, it is slightly smaller than Germany. Stretched across the the southeast of West Australia into South Australia, the desert is mostly comprised of dunefields and gibber plains, where stones and pebbles cover the top soil.

    Photo Credit: Marian Deschain/

    Coober Pedy, South Australia

    The landscape outside Coober Pedy, a small opal mining town in South Australia east of the Great Victoria Desert. Much like the animals of the Great Victoria Desert, many living in Coober Pedy have below-ground lodgings as a way to escape the heat.

    Photo Credit: Thomas Wielecki

    The Great Sandy Desert

    As seen from the International Space Station.

    At 267,, the Great Sandy Desert is Australia’s second largest desert. 

    The scar-like grooves over the desert are dunes, approximately 25m high, separated in a fairly regular fashion, tending to be 0.5-1.5km apart. These are casused by winds blowing from east to west. Lake Auld, a salt lake, runs through the centre of the photo. It is white and blue due to its combination of salt flats and small pools of water.


    Photo Credit: NASA

    The Simpson Desert in bloom

    In 2009, the floodplains of Eyre creek filled with water after some of the heaviest rain in decades. The Simpson Desert erupted into a bloom of daisy flowers, life, and colour.

    At 176, the Simpson Desert is Australia’s fouth largest desert. It is Australia’s most popular desert tourist desination, situated in the southeastern corner of the Northern Territory, spreading into Queensland and South Australia.

    Photo Credit: Mitch Reardon

    Purnie Bore, Simpson Desert

    The artifical wet area created by the outpourings of Purnie Bore, in the Simpson Desert, South Australia. The man-made wetland was creatied when the bore was intentionally sunk below ground. Just below the Northern Territory border, Purnie Bore is a popular stopover on 4WD trips to the Witjira-Dalhousie Springs, a national heritage site consisting of 60 natural spring lakes about 250km southeast of Alice Springs.

    Photo Credit: Edward Stokes

    Emily Gap waterhole, Simpson Desert

    Located 10km east of Alice Springs, Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park is a popular tourist destination.

    A sacred site, the park is filled with Indigenous rock art referencing the Dreaming story of the caterpillar trail. Emily Gap is the first site of the story where the caterpillar beings of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) originated. The caterpillars formed Emily Gap and Alice Springs, crawling outwards to the edge of the Simpson Desert.




    Photo Credit: Chrissie Goldrick/Australian Geographic

    Dingo in the Simspon Desert

    The dingo (Canis lupus dingo) once inhabited all major parts of Australia, before European settlers culled many to protect live-stock. Today they are not considered threatened, but no longer live throughout most parts of New South Wales, Victoria, the south-eastern third of South Australia and from the southern-most tip of Western Australia. 

    While they prefer woodland and grassland areas, Dingos, such as this one, can be found on the egdes of Australia’s deserts so long as they have access to water sources.

    Photo Credit: Colin Beard/Australian Geographic

    Dingo puppies in the Simpson Desert

    Dingoes produce one litter per year, ranging from 1 to 10 puppies. Mating in autumn, the dingo will give birth about 60 days later.

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman/Australian Geographic

    Tirari Desert, South Australia

    An ariel shot, as seen from space. At 15,, Tirari Desert is the second smallest in Australia. In the northern ends of South Australia it is bordered by deserts – the Simpson Desert is north, the Sturt Stony Desert is north-east, and the Strzelecki Desert is located to the east. 

    Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/

    A pack of feral camels

    Introduced to Australia as pack animals in the 1840s, camels were set free in the outback when cars became more popular. It is estimated that the camel population may have reached 1 million in the past. Considered a pest and a threat to our ecosystems, culling programs involving shooting and transportation to abbatoirs have successfully reduced the population – in 2013, the Australian Feral Camel Management Project estimated numbers at about 300,000, half the estimated 600,000 of 2008.

    Photo Credit: Nick Rains

    Spencer’s burrowing frog

    The Spencer’s burrowing frog lives throughout central Australia and the Simpson Desert. It survives dry periods by slowing its heart rate and breathing while burrowing underground, sometimes for years at a time.

    Photo Credit: Richard Thwaites/Australian Geographic

    Strzelecki Desert

    A bogged 4WD beneath a storm on Cobbler sandhills, Strzelecki Track. The Stzelecki Track is a popular 4WD track that cuts through the Strzelecki Desert in South Australia, next to the often dry Stzelecki creek.

    The Strzelecki Desert is 80,, located in the north of Western Australlia and reaching over the border to Queensland and New South Wales. It is covered by dune fields that extend from the west of New South Wales towards Cooper creek, its north eastern boundary and the infamous site where explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills died in 1861.

    Photo Credit: Mitch Reardon

    Strzelecki Desert blooms after rainfall

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman/Australian Geographic

    Strzelecki Desert

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman/Australian Geographic

    Shingleback lizards in Strzelecki Desert

    Two shingleback lizards (Trachydosaurus Rugosus) in the Strzelecki Desert. The largest of the blue-tongues, the shingleback lizard is common throughout low rainfall areas west of the Great Dividing Range, meaning they feature in most Australian deserts.

    Large snakes and birds are the shingleback’s largest predators. When threatened, shinglebacks will open their mouths wide and stick out their blue tongue, hiss and flatten out their body to look bigger. 

    Photo Credit: Bill Bachman/Australian Geographic

GALLERY: Australia’s desert landscapes

By AG STAFF | April 13, 2016

An arid country, 18% of Australia is considered desert and it is home to the sixth biggest desert in the world, the Great Victoria Desert. Virtually uninhabited by humans, Australia’s desert landscapes contain unique and resilient endemic plants and animals.