Australia is blessed with incredible natural beauty, be it in the form of monsoonal tropics, alpine heath, red deserts, and unbroken sandy beaches. Ahead of World Heritage Day on April 18, we take a tour around some of Australia’s most extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

Dorrigo National Park

Part of a large system of subtropical rainforest known as Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Dorrigo National Park is an ecological time capsule, offering a glimpse of what life on the Australian continent was like millions of years ago.

The rainforest covers mountainous remnants of ancient volcanoes, home to spectacular rainfalls and an array of wildlife, including red-necked pademelons, the brightly feathered wompoo fruit-dove and the striking regent bowerbird.

Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, comprising more than 1 million hectares, is a landscape of wonders, from extensive chains of subterranean limestone caves to pristine alpine lakes.

Magnificent mountains, gorges and valleys formed by glaciers hide pockets of unspoiled wilderness, home to many prehistoric species of flora and fauna, like the majestic trees that make up the area’s cool temperate forests.

Other remarkable species in the Tasmanian Wilderness include the much-loved Tasmanian Devil, and the Huon Pine, which can live for a staggering 3000 years. 

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is famous for its rich Aboriginal history, extending back 40,000 years. Thanks to its thousands of Aboriginal rock art sites, Kakadu has been recognised by UNESCO for its cultural significance, as well as for its unmatched natural beauty.

Each year 200,000 visitors come to Kakadu to see local wildlife, which could include any creature from Kakadu’s 77 species of mammals, 271 types of birds, 132 different reptiles, 27 species of frogs, 314 fish species, nearly 1600 plant species and over 10,000 species of insects.

Purnululu National Park

Located in the isolated north-west corner of the continent, Purnululu National Park gets its name from the local Kija Aboriginal word for the sandstone domes of the Bungle Bungle Range.

Orange sandstone and bands of grey caused by cyanobacteria living on the rock give the beehive formations of the Bungle Bungles their distinctive striped patterns.

Purnululu, which was little known to the rest of the world until 1982, when aerial photographs of the distinctive eroded cones of the Bungle Bungles were first released, was World Heritage listed in 2003.

Great Barrier Reef

One of Australia’s most famous natural phenomena, the Great Barrier Reef is truly colossal. Stretching 2600 kilometres along the north Queensland coast, not only is the reef the largest single structure made by living organisms, it’s also visible from outer space. The Great Barrier Reef, actually a network of 900 islands and over 2900 individual reefs composed of millions of tiny coral polyps, covers an enormous 344,400 square kilometres.

Worryingly, reports suggest that the mega-reef has lost half its coral due to bleaching since 1985, caused by climate change and other environmental problems.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island, located off the coast southern Queensland, is the largest sand island in the world.

Sand cliffs and crystal clear perched lakes dot the island, which was formed over 750,000 years ago as sand accumulated atop a foundation of volcanic bedrock. As well as its unique natural features, Fraser Island is home to one of the last “pure” populations of dingo in Australia.

Greater Blue Mountains Area

Literally at Sydney’s doorstep, the Greater Blue Mountains Area is a series of sandstone escarpments, gorges and plateaus, forested with 101 species of eucalypts. Its cliffs, canyons and waterfalls provide stunning scenery, just a couple of hours drive from Australia’s largest city.

The natural value of the Greater Blue Mountains Area was brought to the fore in 1994 with the discovery of the Wollemi pine, “a living fossil” hidden in near inaccessible gorges of Wollemi National Park. The location of the 100 or so trees growing in the wilderness is a closely guarded secret, but gardeners have been able to buy their own pine since 2006.

This story was originally published on 16/04/2014