While Australia is culturally rich and history significant in general, one worthwhile way to explore the best the country has to offer is through its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These sites are particularly noteworthy in terms of culture and physical significance, and are often beautiful, as well. If you’re planning a trip to Australia, here are 10 must-see UNESCO World Heritage Sites to add to your itinerary.
Great Barrier Reef
Off the east coast of Queensland
Probably the most famous of all Australia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this area contains the largest collection of coral reefs and the greatest biodiversity of all the World Heritage Sites. The are is home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk. Within the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll find 2,500 unique reefs and over 900 islands. Some species of animals in the area that scientists are particularly interested in include the dugong (sea cow) and the large green sea turtle, which could soon become extinct.
Kakadu National Park
A unique example of complex ecosystems, Kakadu National Park includes tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateaux and habitats for rare and endemic species. Because of this, Kakadu is one of the world’s richest wildlife parks. Moreover, rock carvings, cave paintings and archeological sites provide information about the area’s 40,000+ years of inhabitants, from pre-historic hunter-gatherers as well as the aboriginal people still living there today.
Located at the most western part of Australia, Shark Bay has three noteworthy features: its sea-grass beds, which are the largest and richest in the world, its large dugong population of about 11,000 and its stromatolites, which are colonies of algae that create hard deposits and are among the most ancient organisms on the planet. Additionally, Shark Bay is home to five species of endangered mammals, including the boodie, rufous hare-wallaby, banded hare-wallaby, the Shark Bay mouse and the western barred bandicoot.
Australian Convict Sites
Although thousands of penal facilities were constructed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the British Empire in Australia, this UNESCO World Heritage listing contains 11 of them. These include:
- Old Government House and Domain (Parramatta)
- Hyde Park Barracks (Sydney)
- Cockatoo Island Convict Site (Sydney)
- Old Great North Road (near Wiseman’s Ferry)
- Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (Norfolk Island)
- Port Arthur History Site (Pictured, Tasman Peninsula)
- Cascades Female Factory (Hobart)
- Darlington Probation Station (Maria Island)
- Coal Mines Historic Site (via Premadeyna)
- Brickendon-Woolmers Estates (near Longford)
- Fremantle Prison (Western Australia)
Between 1787 and 1868, about 166,000 people were sent to Australian convict colonies by Britain. Each institution had its own purpose, although all implemented forced labor to help build the colony. The facilities listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites represent the “best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.”
At about 76 miles long and 15 miles wide, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. Half the planet’s perched freshwater dune lakes are found here, as well as rainforests, wallum peat swamps, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove jungle, sand dunes and uncultivated coastline. The island is also home to one of the world’s weirdest beaches at Lake McKenzie, where the fine white silica sand is so pure, you can brush your teeth and clean your jewelry with it.
Greater Blue Mountains Area
New South Wales
The Greater Blue Mountains area is made up of eight protected areas, and is mainly praised for its ability to clearly show how the eucalypts in post-Gondwana isolation has changed and adapted over time. Furthermore, the region significantly represents the biodiversity of Australia, as 10% of the vascular fauna as well as many rare, threatened and endemic species live here. Visitors will find the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve here, as well as seven national parks, including the Blue Mountains, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone, Thirlmere Lakes, Wollemi, Yengo and Nattai.
Sydney Opera House
An iconic symbol of Sydney, Australia, this unique piece of architecture brings together various forms of creativity and innovative. By showing a radically new way of building, the structure has greatly influenced archeciture and design. Furthermore, the opera house serves it’s function of providing a world-class performing arts space, while also responding to its environment and being accessible to the community as a major cultural center.
Purnululu National Park
Purnululu National Park covers almost 240,000 hectares of remote land. The most prominent feature of the Purnululu National Park is the Bungle Bungle Range, a deeply dissected range made of Devonian-age quartz sandstone which has eroded over the past 20 million years to form the beehive-shaped cones shown above. Not only are they bizarre looking, the process by which they came to be involved the interacting of biological, geological, erosional and climatic phenomena. What’s really unique about these formations is they change in appearance depending on the weather, sun position and season.
Lord Howe Island Group
New South Wales
Created by volcanic activity more than 6,562 feet under the sea, these islands feature unique topography and a wealth of endemic species. Some of these include the flightless Lord Howe Woodhen, which was once thought to be one of the rarest birds on the planet, and the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, the world’s largest wood insect which was once thought to be extinct. In terms of landscape, sheer mountain slopes, lagoons, a broad arc of hills and remnants of a shield volcano and caldera can be seen. Moreover, this is where visitors will find the world’s most southerly true coral reef.
Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens
The original purpose of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was for the international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888. Designed by Joseph Reed and constructed from timber, steel, slate and brick, the structure features elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance styles. The venue reflects “the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”