Must-Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia

When visiting Australia, many tourists try to cover the country’s most popular city attractions and renowned tourist destinations. Surprisingly, this unique and diverse country is home to some of the best world heritage sites designated by UNESCO.

As per the following list, Australia boasts a total of 19 natural, archeological, and cultural world heritage sites. It’s certainly worthwhile to explore each of these sites to learn and see exactly the best that Australia has to offer – each particularly remarkable in terms of both natural and cultural significance.

Here is a list of all must-visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites that you can add to your Australian itinerary.

1. Australian Convict Sites:

Australian Convict Sites
Martin Pot (Martybugs at en.wikipedia) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

This unique world heritage site consists of 11 penal sites in total. Each of these establishments dates back to the 18th and 19th century, during the era of British Empire on Australian soil. Although the British Empire had built many penal sites, UNESCO World Heritage listing only included 11 of them under the Australian Convict Sites. History depicts that about 166,000 people were sent to Australian convict colonies from the late 17th century to the early 18th century.

2. Royal Exhibition Building and Carton Gardens:

Royal Exhibition Building and Carton Gardens
By Photograph taken by Diliff and straightened by Ian Fieggen (Image:Royal_exhibition_building_tulips.jpg) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building and Carton Gardens were built during the 1880 International Exhibition. The building and its surrounding garden were designed by famous architect and designer Joseph Reed. Even after a century, the entire setting is still intact and in its original condition. The interiors and exterior architecture of the building boasts Italian Renaissance styles and ancient Romanesque and Lombardic influence.

3. Sydney Opera House:

Sydney Opera House
By Diliff (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The iconic Sydney Opera House has been a famous national symbol and among the top-tourist attractions in Sydney, Australia. The site’s unique architecture and serene setting fascinate the many visitors. The Sydney Opera House is the best example of modern architecture and creative designs. Furthermore, the opera house is also a famous venue for opera performances, world-class music shows, live concerts, and performing arts.

4. Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte):

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites
By Karora (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Australia’s Riversleigh and Naracoorte feature some of the best and world’s greatest fossil sites – ranked amongst the best World Heritage listed archeological sites around the world. The fossil mammal site offers a brief idea about the evolutionary process of Australian wildlife.

You will find a superb illustration and the overall evolvement of Australia’s unique fauna in evolutionary process while visiting this spot. An archeological report states that the site provides an outstanding overview of Australian fauna and mammal during the past 30 million years.

5. Fraser Island:

Fraser Island
By Sensenmann (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Although Australia is home to many beautiful island and beach destinations, UNESCO has only included Fraser Island on the World Heritage Listings. This huge sand island stretches over 76 miles in length and 15 miles wide – home to some pristine dune lakes.

Studies show that Fraser Island is the only spot where half of the planet’s freshwater dune lakes are found. This natural setting showcases excellent escarpments of dense rainforests, eucalyptus woodlands, wallum peat swamps and mangrove jungle. The island’s famous beach at Lake McKenzie is also popular as the world’s weirdest beach, mostly known for its purest white silica sand.

6. Gondwana Rainforests of Australia:

This World Heritage listed site includes several protected areas with a majority of rainforests remnants. The site is nestled along the Great Escarpment on Australia’s eastern coastal border. Most parts of the Gondwana Rainforests border the southeast coastline of Queensland and northeastern corner of New South Wales, and. features beautiful lush rainforest that showcases the major stages of the ongoing changes in both biological and geological processes.

A recent survey shows that the Gondwana Rainforest is a principal habitat for many Australian threatened animal species.

7. Great Barrier Reef:

Great Barrier Reef
By NASA, by MISR (originally uploaded to en by User:Seth Ilys) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Great Barrier Reef is not only a famous tourist site, but also the most famous Australian UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beautiful and vibrant reef is home to 1,500 species of fish, 2,500 types of reefs and corals, and more than 4,000 varieties of mollusk – not to mention the largest collection of coral reefs in the entire world.

Divers and scuba-divers often come here to explore the amazing Great Barrier Reef and its remarkable bio-diversity. Other unique marine life include the large green sea turtle and dugong.

8. Greater Blue Mountains Area:

Greater Blue Mountains Area
By Diliff (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
With its eight protected areas, the Greater Blue Mountains area is also a popular World Heritage Listed site. This region showcases the diverse bio-diversity in Australia – with a significant number of Australian mammal and bird species found here.

Within the area, there are seven renowned national parks and a cave reserve. Furthermore, the site is also home to many threatened and endemic species of animals.

9. Heard and McDonald Islands:

Heard and McDonald Islands
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This Australian heritage site is located in the Southern Ocean. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands are known as the only volcanic and live sub Antarctic islands found.

Many archaeologists and geologists often say that these islands offer an excellent opportunity for researchers to observe ongoing glacial dynamics and geomorphic processes.

10. Lord Howe Island Group:

Lord Howe Island Group
By Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Lord Howe Island Group was created naturally by volcanic activity and are known for their unique topography, lush vegetation, and a variety of endemic species. Some of these most unique species found here include the flightless Lord Howe Woodhen – a rare bird species. Furthermore, the world’s largest wood insect, the Lord Howe Island Phasmid or the tree lobster, is also found here.

The diversity of the landscape includes lagoons, dense forests, shields of a volcano, sheer mountain slopes and a broad arc of hills.

11. Macquarie Island:

Macquarie Island
By M. Murphy (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Macquarie Island is a small oceanic island towards the eastern end of Tasmania in the Southern Ocean – popular for its Indo-Australian tectonic plate and its unique exposed crest of the undersea Macquarie Ridge. UNESCO has listed this site due to its major geo-conservation significance.

Visitors often come here to explore the beautiful island, its unique sand dunes and scenic coastline. This is the only place on the entire planet where rocks from the ground layer are being exposed above sea-level. Some of the most unique features of the island are its excellent pillow basalts and other extrusive rocks.

12. Ningaloo Coast:

Ningaloo Coast
By IUCNweb, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The remote western Australian coast features a unique 604,500 hectares of marine and terrestrial property known as the Ningaloo Coast. This site is home to the world’s longest near-shore reefs. The site also features a network of underground caves, passages, and groundwater streams.

Every year, a herd of whale sharks gather at Ningaloo Coast; with the coast also habitat for numerous other marine species including sea turtles.

13. Purnululu National Park:

Purnululu National Park
By Bäras (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This beautiful national park stretches over almost 240,000 hectares of remote land. One of the most prominent features of this park is the Bungle Bungle Range – known for its dissected range of Devonian-age quartz sandstone. It is believed that the stones have eroded for over the past 20 million years and therefore, they have the unique beehive-shape.

14. Shark Bay, Western Australia:

Shark Bay, Western Australia
By Paul Harrison [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This World Heritage listed site is located at the western corner of Australia, and has three notable and outstanding geological features; including its sea-grass beds, dugong population, and its stromatolites. Shark Bay’s pristine water is also a habitat for many marine species.

In addition, its terrestrial terrain is home to five species of native endangered mammals; including the rufous hare-wallaby, boodie, banded hare-wallaby, and the famous Shark Bay mouse.

15. Wet Tropics of Queensland:

Wet Tropics of Queensland
By LecomteB (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Queensland is also home to another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area stretches from the north-eastern coast of Australia for approximately 450 km. The region features tropical rainforests that feature a wide array of native and exotic flora.

The fauna at the Wet Tropics include a wealth of singing birds, marsupials and other native animals – some are also rare and endangered.

16. Kakadu National Park:

Kakadu National Park
By Toursim NT (Imagegallery Tourism NT) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
Australia’s Kakadu National Park is a perfect example of the complex eco-system – known for its diverse landscapes; including flood plains, tidal flats, lowlands and plateaux. The national park is also home for many wildlife and birds.

Some of the most popular features of the national park are its cave paintings, rock carvings and archeological sites. The site also provides an overview on the evolutionary process of the ancient inhabitants and the prehistoric hunter gatherers of 40,000+ years.

17. Tasmanian Wilderness:

Tasmanian Wilderness
From Wikimedia Under Public Domain

This World Heritage listed natural setting has been undergone severe glaciations for many years. The entire setting includes parks, reserves, steep gorges and wilderness; covering an area of over 1 million hectares. The site is also home to a large escapement of temperate rainforest.

Within the site, you will find some remains of ancient inhabitants within the limestone caves that date from 20,000 years ago.

18. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park:

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
By Thomas Schoch [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This national park is another UNESCO heritage site known for its natural formations. This park features an array of spectacular geological formations and a unique red sandy plain. The setting is home to some rock domes, an immense monolith, and beautiful rocky terrain.

Archaeologists reveal that caves on this red sandy plain of central Australia were once home to the oldest human civilizations in the world. The park is also named after its native inhabitants of Uluru-Kata Tjuta, a group of Anangu Aboriginal people.

19. Willandra Lakes Region:

Willandra Lakes Region
By David Kleinert, CC BY-NC-ND 2.1 AU

The last one on the World Heritage list is the Willandra lakes Region. This natural setting is home to some excellent fossil remains, a series of pristine lakes, and some unique sand formations. Several huge fossil remains of giant marsupials were also discovered here.

Researchers claim that some of the sand formations at this lake region date back to the Pleistocene time. Archaeological evidence also claims that the region was once home to human civilization – dating from 45,000 to 60,000 years ago.
Visitors of all ages are welcome to explore these natural and manmade unique attractions while visiting the mystic country of Australia.

About the author

Michael Jones

Created and runs the Holiday Point travel brand, incorporating a network of 9 location based travel information and attraction websites around Australia. With 15 years of online experience, Michael not only writes content for the website and is the face of social media, he also tinkers behind the scenes with the website functionality & design.

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