Major physical features
While Australia is largely considered to be a relatively flat landscape, it does have some landforms that deserve a mention. While some of these landforms are mountains and other high features, others are notable even though they are at a low elevation.
The Eastern Highlands region of Australia is the highest part of Australia, being a series of hills, mountains and plateaux. This area is also known as the Great Dividing Range, which is further subdivided into smaller ranges. These ranges include the New England Plateau, the Australian Alps, the Snowy Mountains (which are considered to be a part of the Australian Alps), the Blue Mountains and the Grampian Mountains. These landforms were made due to uplifting, folding and volcanic processes in the Earth's crust. (Refer Topic 1, Chapter 6)
Australia's tallest mountain is found in the Eastern Highlands. It is Mount Kosciuszko, which is found in New South Wales in the Australian Alps. Mount Kosciuszko stands at 2228 metres (m), which is less than half the height of the tallest mountain found in Europe. See image 1
This part of Australia also contains some volcanic plugs, or extinct volcanic mountains, that have been eroded until only strong volcanic rock remains. Some examples of volcanic plugs in the Eastern Highlands are the Warrumbungle Range in New South Wales and the Glass House Mountains in Queensland.
The Central Lowlands are very dry because rainfall is blocked by the Eastern Highlands. The Simpson Desert, which extends for 170 000 square kilometres (km2), is in the Central Lowlands. This desert is famous for its large red sand dunes which run north-to-south. The Simpson Desert is also famous for its salt pans, which are intermittent (occasionally appearing) lakes that only have water in them when it rains. When there is no rain, however, the salt pans dry up, leaving behind white salts. The largest salt pan in Australia, Lake Eyre, is found in the Simpson Desert. When it is full of water, Lake Eyre is the largest lake in Australia. The lake, however, only had water in it three times in the 20th century. Lake Eyre is also the lowest point on the Australian mainland at 15 metres below sea level. See image 2
The Central Lowlands have few tall mountains, but the Flinders Range in South Australia is an exception to this rule. The Flinders Range is located about 1100 km north of Adelaide and extends for 800 km. Its tallest peak, St. Mary Peak, is 1171 m tall. This mountain range was created through faulting.
The Western Plateau is a low, flat area that has been eroded over a period of millions of years. Indicative of this is the Nullarbor Plain, which is found in the southern part of the Western Plateau. Nullarbor comes from the Latin terms null, which means 'no', and arbor, which means 'tree.' This name is fitting, as the Nullarbor Plain is covered in limestone which was once a sea floor. Today, many fossilised sea creatures can be found here. In addition, a network of underground caves filled with water, called sinkholes, has developed. See image 3
The Western Plateau is also home to many deserts. Due to cold water currents off the coast of Western Australia, this region is very dry. (Refer Chapter 1) Some of the deserts in this region include the Gibson, Tanami, Canning, Great Sandy and Great Victoria Deserts.
The Western Plateau is not completely flat, however. Monoliths, or large, freestanding rocks, can be found throughout this area. These monoliths came into being when soft rocks surrounding them were eroded, leaving behind the stronger rock. The most famous example of one of these monoliths is Uluru, formerly called Ayers Rock. Uluru is 9.4 kilometres (km) in diameter and rises over 340 m above the plain. In addition, the Hamersley, Musgrave and MacDonnell Ranges are mountain ranges in the Western Plateau. The Pilbara, Arnhem Land and Kimberly plateaux are also high points in this area.