10 Interesting Great Victoria Desert Facts

One of the most fascinating deserts in the world can be found in Australia.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting Great Victoria Desert facts.

1. The Victoria Desert is the largest in Australia

The Australian mainland consists of about 18% of deserts collectively referred to as the “Deserts of Australia.” These are only the officially recognized areas, though, because about 35% of the country receives so little precipitation that it’s effectively desert as well.

All deserts combined cover an area of 1,371,000 square kilometers (529,000 square miles) and the Victoria Desert is the largest of them all, with a width of about 700 kilometers (430 miles) and covering an area of 348,750 square kilometers (134,650 square miles).

Great Victoria Desert seen from space
The desert as seen from space / Wiki Commons

2. It covers large areas in 2 Australian states

Even though the Great Victoria Desert is the largest desert in Australia, it only covers about 4.5% of the country’s total area.

It’s located within the borders of 2 Australian states called “Western Australia” and “South Australia.” Some of the aridest parts of the country can be found in South Australia.

3. It’s bounded by multiple other deserts and mountain ranges

The desert mostly consists of small sandhills and extended grassland plains. Some of its most remarkable features are salt lakes and a desert pavement also referred to as “gibbers,” an extended area covered with small pebbles.

The desert is bounded by various deserts, regions, and mountain ranges, including:

  • To the west – The Eastern Goldfields region and the Western Australian mulga shrublands ecoregion.
  • To the northwest – The Little Sandy Desert.
  • To the north – The Gibson Desert and the Central Ranges xeric shrublands.
  • To the east – The Tirari-Sturt stony desert
  • To the south – The Gawler Ranges and the Nullarbor Plain.

The Nullarbor Plain, an enormous arid and semi-arid region consisting of an almost treeless landscape in South Australia, separates the Great Victoria Desert from the Southern Ocean.

Nullarbor Plain Great Victoria Desert
Nullarbor Plain / Bahnfrend / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

4. It was named after the Queen of England

William Ernest Powell Giles (1835-1897), best known as “Ernest Giles,” was a British explorer who was the first European to ever cross the Great Victoria Desert in the year 1875.

He named the desert after the Queen of Great Britain at the time, Queen Victoria, similar to how Lake Victoria and Victoria Falls in Africa were named after the British Queen as well.

5. Most of the rain in the desert falls during severe thunderstorms

One of the most remarkable Great Victoria Desert facts is that even though it’s one of the aridest places in Australia, thunderstorms are actually quite common. Between 15 and 20 happen every year which is how the area gets most of its precipitation.

The amount of rainfall in most parts of the desert ranges between 200 and 250 millimeters (7.9 and 9.8 inches) per year.

Great Victoria Desert facts
The desert landscape / Marian Deschain / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

6. The temperature during the winter months is rather enjoyable

The summer months are defined by excruciating heat, with average temperatures ranging between 32 and 40 °C (90 to 104 °F) in the daytime.

The winter months, on the other hand, are quite enjoyable with the average daytime temperature ranging between 18 and 23 °C (64 to 73 °F).

7. Very few plants and trees can survive here

The desert is defined by extremely hot summers, regular thunderstorms with heavy rain, and a complete lack of precipitation in between. What plants on earth could survive these extreme conditions?

Well, not that many, that’s for sure. There are, however, a lot of steppe areas that are home to a couple of types of eucalyptus trees called Eucalyptus gongylocarpa, better known as “marble gum,” and Eucalyptus youngiana, known as “large-fruited mallee.”

Other plants that grow in the desert are the resilient “mulga shrubs” (Acacia aneura) and desert grasses known as “Triodia basedowii.”

Eucalyptus tree / John R. Connors / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en

8. The desert’s most prominent inhabitants are lizards

Not a lot of animals can survive this desolate landscape and harsh conditions as well. The most commonly found species are different types of lizards that have managed to adapt by burying themselves into the sand to escape the hot sun.

Some of the most remarkable lizard species are the “sand goanna” (Varanus gouldii) and the “perentie” (Varanus giganteus). The latter is the 4th-largest lizard in the world!

Because the desert is located north of the Dingo Fence, a fence built in the late 19th century to keep dingos out of the fertile lands of southeastern Australia, these predators can also be found in some parts of the Great Victoria Desert.

Perentie lizard in the Great Victoria Desert
Perentie Lizard / Masteraah / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en

9. Over 21,000 square kilometers consists of a protected area

Part of the desert has been protected by the Australian Government and is referred to as the “Mamungari Conservation Park.” This park has been established in 1970 and has been referred to as a National Park ever since.

This UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 21,289.45 square kilometers (8,219.9 square miles) of so-called arid zone wilderness.

Only experienced people can enter the park and trips must be arranged well in advance as well to secure various permits!

10. Parts of the desert are contaminated with radioactive material

One of the most tragic Great Victoria Desert facts is that this remote area has been used in the 1950s and early 1960s by the British Government to conduct various tests with nuclear weapons.

This has resulted in parts of the desert being contaminated with plutonium-239 and multiple other garbage radioactive materials. This has resulted in the Maralinga and Emu Field (named after the popular bird in Australia) areas being completely Inaccessible until today!

Great Victoria Desert fun facts
The site / Wayne England / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en