The Great Victoria Desert

4th July 2016 | Places

Great Victoria Desert:

Melaleuca – Great Victoria Desert
Logo – Friends of Great Victoria Desert


Some facts about the Great Victoria Desert.  This is the area which Laura and Jason flee across at night before coming across Milijun.

The Great Victoria Desert is the largest Australian desert. Its size is roughly 424,400 km2 (163,900 miles2) although this is an estimate only as the area seems to depend on the information source. Taking this number as correct, the Great Victoria Desert in Australia is the third largest desert in the world, after the Sahara and Arabian Deserts.
Whichever figures you choose to take, the Great Victoria Desert is the largest desert in Australia. It spans over 700 km/435 miles from west to east, with the western part of it belonging to Western Australia, and the eastern part extending into South Australia. It can take several days to cross this desert. The Great Victoria Desert is not in the State of Victoria.
On the borders of the Great Victoria Desert you find — more deserts. The Gibson in the north, the Little Sandy Desert to the north-west, the Nullarbor Plain in the South, and the Tirary and the Sturt Stony Desert to the east.


The Great Victoria Desert in Australia was first crossed by the European explorer Ernest Giles in 1875 and named after Queen Victoria of England.
David Lindsey’s expedition crossed the area from north to south in 1891. Lime Juice Camp is named to remind us of one of their mishaps: it was there that the group decided to have a celebration and open their supply of lime juice. It was mixed with whisky and water in a galvanized tin; everybody became sick with zinc poisoning.
The next major explorer was Frank Hann, who was looking for pastoral lands and for gold in the area between 1903 and 1908. He named a few more places and features.
And last but not least there is Len Beadell. He worked as a surveyor for the Australian army, and surveyed and built roads in the 1960s. If you read any of the books he wrote about his time in the Great Victoria Desert you will understand that the Anne Beadell Highway (named after his wife) is not exactly a highway in the normal sense of the word.


The Great Victoria Desert receives little rain, though not as little as one might suspect for a desert. The rainfall range is 200 – 250 mm a year [up to 10 inches], but the rain is unreliable. Southern parts receive some winter rainfall, further north the only water comes from thunderstorms, which are isolated and unpredictable.
The days in summer are hot, anything between 30 and 40°C (90 – 105F), but the dry heat is not as uncomfortable as the humid swelter of tropical Australia.
Winter temperatures range from a comfortable 20 to 25°C, but the nights can be freezing. Frosts are quite common.


Many people hear the word desert and expect endless sand dunes, or barren stony plains without vegetation. The Great Victoria Desert is nothing like that. It’s called a desert because there is little rain, not because it is dead or boring.
The amount of vegetation will surprise you. Australia as we know it has always been a dry continent, and the plants are well adapted to living with very little water. Marble gums, mulga and spinifex grass thrive here. You will find a huge variety of shrubs and smaller plants.
When it does rain the transformation is total. The desert bursts into bloom seemingly overnight. Fields of wildflowers, accentuated with flowering grevilleas and acacias, yellows, whites and mauves against the red sands. If you are lucky enough to cross the Great Victoria Desert after a big rain the sight of the blooming desert is something you will never forget. But even without any rain the Great Victoria Desert is a sight to behold. Rocks and ranges, caves and gorges, bluffs and breakaways … and plentiful wildlife.


Great Victoria Desert
Great Victoria Desert

The desert provides an important wildlife corridor between the mallee scrub in the east and the west. The bioregion, which is mostly on Arangu Pitjantjatjara and Maralinga Tjarutja land, includes a number of conservation parks, such as the Mamungari Conservation Park, recognised by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve. It also contains the disused nuclear testing sites at Maralinga and Emu Field.
Some of the varied and bountiful wildlife includes rock wallabies, parrots, snakes, bilbies, and even feral camels. Despite the  low rainfall — the desert is home to a diverse range of plants and animals, including rare and threatened species such as Eucalyptus articulata, princess parrot, Major Mitchell cockatoo, malleefowl, and the sandhill dunnart.

Travel in the Great Victoria Desert:

The most common route simply follows the Great Central Road from Leonora via Laverton and Warburton to Ularu. This road is sometimes referred to as the “new” Gunbarrel Highway. Len Beadell’s original Gunbarrel Highway starts further north in Wiluna and most of it is no longer maintained. It was realigned, and the new road renamed, in the nineteen seventies. (There are ongoing plans to upgrade this road as a part of the “Outback Highway”, an all weather road through the centre of Australia that connects the east coast with the west coast.)
You will be passing through Aboriginal lands. If you want to leave the main route you need to organize the required permits in time.

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