Australia's Super Sand Dunes

Ron and Viv Moon — 3 March 2016

This time 12 months ago, CTA ran a trip across the Great Australian Bight. It’s a fabulous journey and I hope some of you have now done the same trip, or part of it, or are planning to do so.

That trip takes you past some of the most impressive dunes in Australia. The Bilbunya Dunes, about 80km north of Israelite Bay, WA, lie just back from the long sweep of beach and crowd up to the edge of the Wylie Scarp. At about 120m in height, they are impressive white mountains of sand and offer a great camping experience and a fabulous vista. But they are nowhere near the highest in Australia!

Mount Tempest on Moreton Island, Qld, cracks 280m and is the tallest dune in Australia. From there, it’s a big drop to the Bilbunya Dunes and another slide to the 100m Thurra Sand Dunes in Croajingolong NP in Victoria. Fourth on the list that I could discover are the 70m tall dunes of the ‘Little Sahara’ on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Then there is, of course, the Nappanerica Dune in the eastern Simpson, more famously named ‘Big Red’ by desert traveller Dennis Bartell, back when he was blazing trails across the Simpson Desert, way before anyone else. Big Red, though, only climbs to just 42m above the pans that line both sides of it, although I’m sure many people who have tried to climb it in their 4WD would swear that it was taller. It remains one of the great challenges of crossing the Simpson.

Still, these mountains of Aussie sand are mere tiddlers when it comes to the biggest dunes around the world.

A couple of years back, when we were driving through South America, we had wound our way down from the enormous mountain range of the Andes to the great desert that stretches along much of the west coast. The Atacama Desert here merges, almost imperceptibly, with the much lesser known Sechura Desert, but this desert does have one big claim to fame – it is home to reputedly the tallest sand dune in the world.

‘Cerro Blanco’ is visible from the main highway as the road switchbacks down the flank of the Andes and, even if you know nothing about sand dunes, this mighty mound of sand stands out from the crowd of hills and peaks around it. At 1176m from its base to wind-blown crest (or 3860ft in the old money), this pile of drifting sand gives some of our more well-known Australian mountains a good run for their money.

After this monster, the next biggest dunes in the world are the Badain Jaran Dunes in the Gobi Desert of China tipping the scale at 500m from base to crest. These dunes are reputedly the tallest stationary dunes in the world.

Over the last decade or so we’ve been lucky enough to travel to Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert of Namibia a couple of times and, here, a number of big dunes can be found. It’s a great drive and Dune 7, or ‘Big Daddy’ as it is known, tops the scales at around 380m, which puts it on par with many of the big dunes in the vast sand seas of Arabia.

There’s a few more big dunes in Algeria and Iran which top 465m from base to crest, while the tallest sand dune in the USA is found in the Great Sand Dune National Park & Preserve in Colorado where the ‘Star Dune’ measure 230m from base to crest. One thing the Star Dune excels at though, is the number of visitors that climb its flank – it is no doubt, the most visited big dune in the world!

Now, take a drive with the camper in tow and enjoy some of our great sand dunes!

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