Across much of Kalamurina, the landscape is characterised by a variety of spectacular, wind formed dunes which stretch from horizon to horizon over an essentially flat claypan. A series of elongated parallel dunes oriented to the north-northwest dominate the eastern side of the sanctuary. Dune length varies widely, but some run continuously for over 20 kilometres. These massive dunes are up to 18 metres high and can be 100 metres wide at the base.
On the western side of the property, north of the Macumba River, crescent and parallel dunes have branched out and reconnected to form an intricate, irregular pattern with a much less pronounced northerly elongation. Of particular interest, the property contains both red sand dunes and white sand dunes: elsewhere in the Simpson-Strzelecki Deserts, the sand dunes are a deep red.
Numerous large claypans ranging in size from a few hectares to several thousand hectares are scattered across the landscape. These pans, euphemistically called lakes, are briefly inundated after rare local rainfall.
The defining features of the property, however, are the three desert rivers and the north shore of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is the largest lake in Australia and the fifth largest terminal lake in the world, highlighting the national and international significance of the region.
The Warburton Creek is the major source of water for the Lake. Large flows in the Warburton originate from flooding rains in northwest and central Queensland, taking around a month to travel over 1,000 kilometres before arriving in the Warburton Creek on Kalamurina. The Warburton meanders across Kalamurina for over 100 kilometres before, joined by the Macumba River, it enters Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre through the Warburton Groove.
The floodplain of the Warburton Creek on Kalamurina is, in places, several kilometres wide. Major floods create a dramatic splash of green ephemeral growth through the middle of the desert, attracting waterbirds from across the continent. Combined with the inland sea of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, this is one of Australia’s most spectacular natural events.
The Kalamurina section of the Warburton Creek is the only stretch of this nationally significant waterway that is managed for conservation, emphasising the crucial importance of Kalamurina. The Warburton Creek flows, on average, every two years. However, major floods which provide water to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre occur, on average, only every 5 – 10 years.
The acquisition of Kalamurina linked Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park and the Simpson Desert Reserves, creating a contiguous protected area larger than Tasmania.
Locally, the climate on Kalamurina is harsh. Average annual rainfall is less than 150 mm, while summer temperatures regularly exceed 45 degrees Celsius.
Local rainfall supports thinly scattered Sandhill Canegrass communities over the dunes and chenopod communities in the clay inter-dunes. Floodwaters from the Diamantina, Finke and Georgina river catchments, originating hundreds of kilometres away, join to nourish the floodplains of the Warburton, Kallakoopah and Macumba Rivers which support narrow corridors of Coolibah and lignum woodlands and shrublands.