10 Interesting Great Sandy Desert Facts

The vast majority of famous deserts in the world could be named the same as this massive arid region in Western Australia.

This huge desert covers a large space in this barren part of the country which is extremely sparsely populated, for good reason.

Despite this remote location, far away from the bustling urban centers of Sydney and Melbourne, it offers some remarkable features.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Great Sandy Desert, one of the most desolate places on the planet.

1. It’s located in the northeastern part of Western Australia

The Great Sandy Desert is a big arid area that is located in Western Australia. Although it covers large areas of the eastern part of Western Australia, it runs all the way through to the coastline.

The Pilbara, another large arid area, region borders it to the south and it also reaches the Kimberley region in the utmost northern part of Western Australia.

The desert is so big that it runs from the Indian Ocean right to the Northern Territory of Australia, the region that covers the entire central part of northern Australia.

You won’t come across any major cities in this part of the country, nothing more than flat desert landscapes is what you’ll come across.

It also borders two other major deserts, the Tanami Desert to the east and the Gibson Desert to the south.

Great Sandy Desert road
A road in the desert / Michael Theis / Wiki Commons

2. The Great Sandy Desert is the second-largest desert in Australia

The map below allows you to see just how vast this desert really is. It borders some beach towns in Western Australia and extends right into the Northern Territory, hundreds of kilometers to the east.

The Great Sandy Desert covers an area of 284,993 square kilometers (110,036 square miles), making it the second-largest desert in Australia.

Only the Great Victoria Desert, one of the largest deserts in the world, is significantly larger as it covers an area of 422,466 square kilometers (163,115 square miles).

How big is the Great Sandy Desert
Map of the desert’s location in Australia / Hesperian / Wiki Commons

3. The desert is best known for its massive dunes

The main reason why these areas aren’t classified as a single desert is that they feature distinctive characteristics.

In the case of the Great Sandy Desert, this reflects in large dunes also known as ergs. These linear dunes extend all across vast parts of the desert.

Ergs are formed because of wind that sweeps up the sand to form extremely long dunes. This phenomenon can be seen clearly in images taken from space such as the one below.

Great Sandy Desert dunes from space
The desert’s dunes seen from space / Wiki Commons

4. A large meteorite crater can be found in the northern part

The large dunes are notable features of the desert but nothing compares to the attraction that can be found in the northern part.

Wolfe Creek Crater has a diameter of about 875 meters (2,871 feet) and the rim is located about 60 meters (200 feet) above the crater floor.

This meteorite impact crater is situated in Sturt Creek and about 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Halls Creek, a small town in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Scientists have estimated this crater to be less than 120,000 years old. It was formed by an impact with a meteorite that had a diameter of about 15 meters (49 meters) and weighed about 17,000 tonnes.

That must have been quite a powerful bang, don’t you think?

Wolfe Creek Crater
Wolfe Creek Crater / Wiki Commons

5. It’s far from being the driest desert on the planet

The conditions inside the desert are harsh, and that’s putting it euphemistically. The area hardly receives rain throughout the year.

Despite the fact that it’s an extremely arid desert, it receives more rainfall than some there deserts in the world. The regions near Kimberley receive over 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rainfall on average every year.

The driest places in the desert receive less than 250 millimeters (9.8 inches), which is little, but still a lot more than the driest places on Earth.

Great Sandy Desert dunes
A dune inside the desert / Christopher Watson / Wiki Commons

6. You will hardly a hotter place in Australia than in this desert

The temperature in this place can be excruciating. Many places in Australia are hot during the Summer months, but very few compare to those in the Great Sandy Desert.

The average temperature during the Winter months is between 25 and 30 °C (77 and 86 °F). During the Summer months, these can rise to between 38 and 42 °C (100 and 108 °F).

The best months are the Winter months June, July, and August. After this short Winter break, the agonizing heat continues for 9 months once again.

Great Sandy Desert temperature
A truck driving through the desert / Michael Theis / Wiki Commons

7. There’s a reason why this desert experiences relatively high rainfall

Perhaps you already figured out why this very hot desert receives a lot more rainfall than some other deserts in the world.

That’s because the extreme temperatures create a strong evaporation cycle which results in heavy rainfall for several weeks every year.

Tropical cyclones and monsoon rainfall are common in this region. These skyrocket the average annual rainfall, even though this only happens between 20 and 30 days every year.

Great Sandy Desert parking lot
A very hot parking lot in the desert / Michael Theis / Wiki Commons

8. The desert is home to one of the largest mines in Australia

You will hardly find people in this unforgiving landscape, let alone people who actually live here. Regardless of this, there’s plenty of action going on in some places.

The Great Sandy Desert is home to some of the largest mines in Australia. This includes gold, uranium, copper, and iron mines.

The Telfer Gold Mine and Nifty Copper Mine are some of the largest in the country. Other important mines are the Mount Whaleback Iron Mine and the Kintyre uranium deposit.

Mount WHaleback Iron Mine Great Sandy Desert
Mount Whaleback Iron Mine / Graeme Churchard / Wiki Commons

9. One particular type of plant dominates the Great Sandy Desert’s landscape

So little rainfall every year makes it no surprise that there are hardly any plants that can survive this harsh desert landscape.

The dominant type of plant in the desert is Triodia, commonly referred to as “Spinifex,” a type of bunchgrass that is endemic to Australia. It is known as “tjanpi” in central Australia.

These plants have been important for aboriginal people for many centuries because they are used for basket weaving.

The seeds have been used to make seed cakes and they also used these plants to deliver smoke signals to neighboring villages.

Triodia Spinifex
Triodia or “Spinifex” / Mark Marathon / Wiki Commons

10. This arid region is inhabited by a wide range of desert animals

Just like the desert’s flora, its fauna is only inhabited by desert animals that are adapted to living in extremely arid regions.

Common animals inside the Great Sandy Desert are feral camels, dingoes, and goannas.

Other animals that can be found here are bilbies, mulgara, marsupial moles, rufous hare-wallabies, thorny devils, bearded dragons, and red kangaroos.

Three types of beautiful birds can be found here as well, including Alexandra’s parrot, the mulga parrot, and the scarlet-chested parrot.

Australian Feral camels
Australian feral camels / Mark Marathon / Wiki Commons