Australia is more than the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef and cute koalas. One of the first nations to become a member of UNESCO back in 1947, nowadays it has no less than 19 sites listed in the famous heritage list, including the two acclaimed ones mentioned above.
However, from my traveling experience, I gather that simply making it to the list doesn’t guarantee any international fame to a place. Not to mention that it is very much possible to visit a place without even knowing it is actually an UNESCO site. It happened to me many times in the past and I’m sure it happened to you too. Because usually there is no plate attesting the site’s inclusion to the list, many people would say they’ve only visited a couple of heritage sites in their lives. Truth is, that’s what I thought too, till I went through the UNESCO list pen in hand and I came up to the conclusion that I’ve actually visited no less than 53 heritage sites so far.
If you’re staying at one of the hotels in Port Douglas, Cairns, or any other major city in Australia, you can easily visit many of the UNESCO Heritage sites. Following are three natural wonders you might have visited or plan to visit without even knowing they are part of the UNESCO list.
Kakadu is one of the very few mixed world heritage sites, as it is valuable from both a natural and a cultural point of view. The area has been continuously inhabited for the last 40,000 years. The first humans to set foot here were the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric times. However, once these lands were discovered, the ancient man apparently enjoyed them so much that they were never human free again; the Aboriginal people still living here today, in this unique archaeological and ethnological reserve. Noteworthy are the cave paintings, stone carvings, and the rare or endemic species of plants and animals. Covering nearly 20,000 square kilometers of exceptional natural beauty, unique biodiversity, and a wide variety of landforms, Kakadu is one of the world’s largest national parks.
The protected area of Shark Bay includes Shark Bay Marine Park, Francois Peron National Park, Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, Zuytdorp Nature Reserve and numerous islands. The site comprises the largest and richest sea-grass beds in the world. It is also famous for its sea cow population and its stromatolites (colonies of algae which form hard, dome-shaped deposits). The region is a meeting point of three major climatic regions and it’s a habitat for plant species that are unique and considered new to science. Five of Australia’s 26 endangered mammal species are to be found here, as well as 35 percent of Australian bird species.
The Wet Tropics is renowned for its scenic panoramas of rainforest canopy. From giant trees and ferns to rivers that carve through rugged gorges and cascade into freshwater swimming holes, they offer habitat to Australia’s greatest diversity of animals and plants. The site is actually a living record of the ecological and evolutionary processes that shaped the flora and fauna of Australia over the past 415 million years and is the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforests on earth. The Wet Tropics also contain an almost complete record of the major stages in the evolution of plant life on earth. In some coastal regions, the Wet Tropics shares a boundary with the Great Barrier Reef.