Nature

Toorongo River, West Gippsland, VIC. © Tourism Victoria & Gavin Hansford

Nature

Australia has some of the world's most distinctive and diverse natural environments, with unique wildlife, and spectacular landscapes, including many national parks and World Heritage Areas.

In these areas you can get up close to our native plants and animals, explore wide open spaces and discover ancient rainforests on the fringe of modern cities. You can also climb snow-capped mountains and swim in some of the most pristine water environments on earth.

Here are just a few of Australia’s iconic natural experiences you won’t want to miss.

World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing reef in the world. It is one of most reliable places in the world to view and swim with gentle whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. They arrive shortly after the mass coral spawning in March each year.

Shark Bay’s clear turquoise waters are home to humpback whales, turtles, dolphins and manta rays. See living relatives of the earth’s earliest life-forms at Hamelin Pool and walk on one of the world’s few beaches made entirely of tiny shells. Spend your day with the friendly dolphins of Monkey Mia which come to the beach to be hand-fed each day.

World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest national park, an area so vast it is divided into seven distinct regions, and has six different seasons. The Aboriginal history of the Kakadu region spans more than 40000 years. Rugged soaring escarpments give way to forest woodlands, lush wetlands and open savannah plains. You’ll see millions of migratory birds in the wetlands and crocodiles sunbathing on the banks of the rivers. Swim under massive waterfalls, walk through sandstone galleries of ancient rock art or cruise the scenic billabong teeming with wildlife. It is also one of the best places to go fishing in Australia.

Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island, is located just 15 kilometres off the South Australian mainland. More than a third of the island is preserved as Conservation or National Parks. The island has five significant Wilderness Protection Areas. On its wild coastline, buffeted by the Southern Ocean, you will find abundant Australian wildlife in their natural habitat.

In the deserts, beaches and forests of this landscape, see sea-lions laze at Seal Bay and little penguins waddling to shore in Penneshaw and Kingscote. More than 7000 fur-seals can be seen playing in and around the natural formation of Admirals Arch in Flinders Chase National Park, where the aptly-named Remarkable Rocks change colour throughout the day.

At Vivonne Bay, officially declared Australia’s Best Beach by Sydney University researchers, you can surf, fish, snorkel with rare leafy sea-dragons, swim with dolphins or dive the shipwrecks at D’estrees Bay. Go sand surfing in the giant dunes of Little Sahara.

Tasmania’s isolation from the mainland has ensured the survival of many plants, animals and birds that you won’t find anywhere else in Australia. Forty per cent of the state is protected as national parks and reserves, with much of it unchanged for more than 60 million years. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area stretches for more than 1.38 million hectares and is one of the last true wilderness regions on Earth. From the rugged alpine peaks and dense rainforests in the north to the island’s remote southern tip, Tasmania has more than 2000 kilometres of world-class walking tracks including the famous Overland Track.

The marine wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef is an explosion of colour and biodiversity that stretches for more than 2500 kilometres off the Queensland coast. It’s both the world's biggest World Heritage Area and biggest coral reef system, and the biggest thing made out of living creatures on earth. It is formed of more than 3000 individual reefs and 900 coral cays and continental islands. These create a web of life for more than 1500 species of fish, one third of the world’s soft corals, 600 species of starfish and sea urchins, six species of endangered marine turtles and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.

The blue-hazed beauty, golden sandstone escarpments, dramatic cliffs and deep canyons of the Blue Mountains are just a 90-minute drive from Sydney. As well as a million hectares of World Heritage-listed wilderness, here you’ll find the world’s rarest tree, the prehistoric Wollemi Pine. There is also more than 400 different kinds of unique Australian animals such as the spotted-tail quoll, yellow-bellied glider, and the long-nosed potoroo. One of the best ways to take it all in is on the Greater Blue Mountains Drive, a 1200 kilometre touring journey that links 18 different ‘discovery trails’ – each one unique.

Straddling New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, the Alps has uniquely Australian alpine vistas and year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure. Here you can climb Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak, or go hiking or biking through wildflower-cloaked slopes. Kayak and go white-water rafting on clear glacial lakes and rivers, or take a horseback adventure over the high plains in summer. In winter, go downhill or cross country skiing. You can trek through three states and seven national parks on the epic 650 kilometre Australian Alps Walking Track or do one or two day walks of shorter sections of the trail.

Every day at dusk, Summerland Beach in the Phillip Island Nature Park, just 90 minutes from Melbourne, comes alive with thousands of little penguins. The wild ocean beaches, sheltered bays, blowholes and caves are also home to koalas, abundant bird life and fur seals. Join a wildlife cruise to see the colony of 16000 Australian fur seals at Seal Rocks, one of the largest colonies in Australia, and spot koalas among the treetops at the Koala Conservation Centre. The Nobbies is a magnificent headland on the south-western tip of Phillip Island where you can absorb the stunning coastal views and thundering blowhole at lookout points set amongst natural sea bird gardens. Catch a wave against the backdrop of ancient pink granite at Cape Woolamai, one of Victoria's most popular surfing beaches and bird-spotting hotspots. Phillip Island forms part of the Churchill Island Marine National Park which is listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Two island circuit tracks offer magnificent views across Western Port Bay and views to Tortoise Head and French Island.

Australia has more than 500 national parks covering an incredible 28 million hectares - almost four per cent of the country. Australian national parks are found in a diverse number of landscapes: from alpine regions to deserts, forests and marine areas. Like Australian Zoos, Australia’s national parks serve to protect our native plants and wildlife. They are also places to enjoy and learn about Australia’s environment, heritage and culture. Whether it’s meeting Aboriginal elders at Uluru, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef or trekking through the Tasmanian Wilderness, here are some of Australia’s top national parks to help plan your visit.

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