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How many Australian sites are on the UNESCO List?

Did you know there are 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia including 3 cultural sites, 12 natural sites and 4 mixed sites? How many have you been to?

“World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”  United Nations

The United Nations body has made the protection of these sites the common goal of humanity, following the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.  Almost every nation on the planet has signed on and submitted its own list of treasures.

So how easy is it to make the list?

To be considered, a site must meet at least one of ten selection criteria. These range from “a masterpiece of human creative genius” to “natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.”  Submitted sites are evaluated by expert bodies on the World Heritage Committee.

UNESCO’s World Heritage List

Australia currently has 19 World Heritage sites. They’re dominated by 16 natural sites, although four of these are joint natural-cultural entries.

I’m on a mission to visit as many as I can.

Cultural Treasures

[bctt tweet=”Did you know that Australia has 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites registered? How many have you ticked off?” username=”territorymob”]

Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens

Royal Exhibition BuildingOne of the oldest exhibition buildings in the world and located in the suburb of Carlton, in Melbourne.  The Royal Exhibition Building was built in the 19th century to host the World Fair in 1880 and notably hosted the first session of Australian Federal Parliament in 1901. It wasn’t until 2004 that it achieved UNESCO World Heritage recognition.

Carlton Gardens surround the Royal Exhibition Building and showcase Victorian landscape design of the era. The garden also features plant species that are only found in the state of Victoria.

Read more:  Royal Exhibition Building

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is one of the 20th century’s greatest works of architecture and has been cited for its “creativity and innovation” and “enduring influence on architecture”.  It made the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007.  This iconic performing arts complex is located on Sydney Harbour in New South Wales, and is one of Australia’s most popular attractions.

Read more:  Sydney Opera House

Australian Convict Sites

Port Arthur

These World Heritage Sites were included for their cultural importance in 2010.  There are 11 penal sites that are included in the Australian Convict Sites registration.  These 11 sites were built to house prisoners transported from England to Australia and are located in Western Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania and Norfolk Island.  All 11 sites tell a dark story of harsh punishment and forced labour in grim conditions.

These convict sites can be found at Cockatoo Island, Great North Road, Hyde Park Barracks, Old Government House, Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area, Brickendon and Woolmers Estates, Cascades Female Factory, Coal Mines Historic Site, Darlington Probation Station, Port Arthur and Fremantle Prison.

Read more:  Australian Convict Sites

Islands and reefs

Heart Reef - AustraliaGreat Barrier Reef

The largest coral reef in the world and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.  The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world.  With stunning scenery and an important eco-system, the Great Barrier Reef is home to over 3,000 individual coral reef systems and over 900 islands.

This vast coral structure off the Queensland coast and is the largest structure in the world made of purely living things. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef is visible from the outer space.

Read more: The Great Barrier Reef

Fraser Island

Fraser Island, Queensland

Known as the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.  The official citation quotes “exceptional natural beauty” referring to long uninterrupted sandy beaches, coloured mineral sand cliffs and tall rainforests growing on low nutrient sands.

Read more:  Fraser Island

Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe IslandLord Howe Island and its neighbouring islands are a part of New South Wales and was noted as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.  The Island is the remains of a volcano that has gradually eroded over a 7-million years and a protected nature preserve, popular for birdwatching, aquatic activities and a tourist holiday destination.  These islands are also noted as the world’s most southerly coral reef.

Read more:  Lord Howe Island

Macquarie Island

King Penguin

Macquarie Island is a sub-Antarctic island located in the Southern Ocean, approximately half way between Australia and Antarctica about 1,500km southeast of the Tasmania.  It is the only place in the world where rocks from the Earth’s mantle are exposed above sea level.  Listed for its value for geological study, the Macquarie Island was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997.

Home to a population of elephant seals and penguins (both Royal and King), Macquarie Island is a human monitored scientific base although there are occasional tours available.  It takes about three days to reach Macquarie Island from Hobart, Tasmania … in good weather.

Read more:  Macquarie Island

Heard and McDonald Islands

Recognised in 1997 as a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site these two islands are also active volcanoes under research for their value in geomorphology and glaciology studies.  Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) is a sub-antarctic island group located in the Southern Ocean, about 4,000 kilometres south west of mainland Australia.  Heard Island is almost entirely covered by glaciers.

Local birds, seals and macaroni penguins remain uncontaminated by introduced species or permanent human occupation. There are no commercial tours to the islands and access is strictly regulated.

Read more:  Heard & McDonald Islands 

National parks

Kakadu National Park

Aboriginal rock artThe Kakadu National Park was recognised for it’s cultural and natural value by UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.   Archaeological research into the area shows evidence of human settlement in the area for over 60,000 years.

The Kakadu wetlands are the most prominent feature of the park, making up a third of the park. The National Park hosts plentiful wetlands and river systems and a magnificent rocky escarpment containing unique waterbirds, fish, frogs and reptiles, including the saltwater crocodile.

Read more:   Escape to Kakadu | 6 Seasons of Kakadu

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Kata TjutaUluru and Kata Tjuta have both a natural and cultural listing with UNESCO and are one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Australia.  Formally known also as Ayers Rock and the Olga’s, these sites are culturally sacred to the Anangu Aboriginal people who inhabit this region. As evidenced by ancient cave paintings, the desert people are spiritually connected to the land, the animals and the elements of this region.

Read more:   Australia’s most famous Rock

Purnululu National Park

Bungle Bungle RangeRecognised by UNESCO as a natural site in 2003, the Purnlulu National Park in Western Australia.  The 240,000 hectare national park, incorporates the Bungle Bungle Range which is a series of curving beehive-shaped sandstone domes.  Aboriginal people have lived in the area for thousands of years, however due to it’s remote location it remains difficult to access.  One of the most popular ways to see it is by helicopter.

Read more:  The Kimberley Region

Coastal Sites

Ningaloo Coast

Whale SharThis coral reef system in Western Australia is valued for its natural and marine importance and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 2011.

This northwest Western Australian coastline hosts over 700 species of fish, turtles, coral and crustacean within the Ningaloo Reef region.  It is also an important migration route for humpback whales, dolphins, manta rays and dugongs, many of them endangered species.  Up to 500 whale sharks gather here each year between March and July drawing visitors in for one of Australia’s biggest tourist highlights ‘Swimming with Whale Sharks’.

Read more:  Ningaloo Reef 

Shark Bay

DugongShark Bay was listed in 1991 because of its beauty and abundance of evolving habitats and rare endangered species.  It is a wildlife refuge with colourful and diverse landscapes which are home to a a number of unique of animals and plants, found nowhere else on Earth.

The largest and most abundant seagrass meadow in the world is located in Shark Bay. These meadows are important habitat for dugongs, which are considered as endangered species. About 12% of dugongs call Shark Bay home.

Read more:  Shark Bay

Wet Tropics of Queensland

RainforestThis World Heritage UNESCO site stretches 450km along the coast of far north Queensland. It covers almost 900,000 hectares of tropical rainforest with stunning waterfalls, gorges, beaches and rivers including the famous Daintree Rainforest.  UNESCO listed in 1988, the wet tropics support a high level of biodiversity where at least 85 species can only be found in the rainforest of Far North Queensland.

Endangered marsupials such as cassowary, flying possums, tree kangaroo and other rare birds and wildlife live in this region. Walking trails and scenic drives are popular for visitors.

Read more:  The Wet Tropics | Daintree Discovery Centre


Gondwana Rainforests

Sunshine CoastAustralia was once part of a vast super-continent called Gondwanaland, with a green arc of rainforest stretching from southeast Queensland to northeast New South Wales.  This site was recognized in 1986 for its importance to the conservation and geological features in the region. There are numerous of unique songbirds in the region, including lyrebirds.

It’s a popular area to visit as it’s easily accessible from Gold Coast. It is also the largest subtropical rainforest in the world with over 200 threatened or rare flora and fauna species.

Read more:  Gondwana Rainforests

Greater Blue Mountains Area

The Blue MountainsThe Blue Mountains of New South Wales was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in the year 2000.  This protected area consists of sandstone tablelands and gorges, and forests of eucalyptus trees. It is made up of 8 different protected areas that serve as natural habitat for various endangered species, including the platypus and echidna.

The Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s most popular weekend-away escapes, easily reached from Sydney.

Read more:  The Blue Mountains

Tasmanian Wilderness

Cradle Mountain

The Tasmanian Wilderness makes up 20% of the southernmost state of Tasmania and was included in this World Heritage site in 1982.  It is considered the last temperate wilderness in the world.  From Cradle Mountain in the north, to the Maatsuyker Islands in the south, the Tasmanian wilderness is known for it’s stunning gorges, wild rivers and temperate rainforest.

Archaeologists who studied the Tasmanian wilderness have documented significant rock art and other evidence of early Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.  The area is particularly popular for bush-walking, wild water rafting, fishing and camping.

Read more:  Tasmanian Wilderness


Fossil Mammal Sites

This UNESCO Site listing is unique because it refers to specific areas in Australia where fossilised mammals have been found.  These were listed by the UNESCO World Heritage in 1994.

Believed to have originated during the Cainozoic era, the fossils preserved in limestone left significant evidence of the evolution of Australian mammals. The Riversleigh site in Queensland and Naracoorte in South Australia, are considered of natural importance.  Extinct marsupial fossils have been found on these sites.

Read more:  Riversleigh | Naracoorte

Willandra Lakes Region

Recognised by UNESCO World Heritage in 1981 as key evidence of human habitation. Remarkably, fossils up to 60,000 years old have been uncovered well-preserved.

When this lake system in southwest New South Wales dried up some 18,000 years ago, it left an important record of climate fluctuations in the soil.  As a cultural site, it features ancient evidence of human activity, including a 40,000 year old cremation site at Lake Mungo.

Read more: Visit Mungo

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Did you know there are 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia

With so many spectacular UNESCO World Heritage sites in Australia, I’m on a mission to visit as many as I can.  How many have you been to so far?  What are your favourite heritage sites?