Australia has a total of 19 UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, which include some of the oldest rainforests on earth and around one-third of the world’s protected marine areas.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place, such as a wilderness area, island, historic monument, building or city that is considered by an international committee as having special cultural or physical significance to the international community.
Nominated sites must be of ‘outstanding universal value’ and meet at least one of ten cultural or natural criteria. These World Heritage sites become national treasures that must be protected and preserved by the host country.
Many of Australia’s iconic destinations are World Heritage-listed sites such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland, which includes the Daintree Rainforest; the Greater Blue Mountains in New South Wales; the Northern Territory’s Kakadu and Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Parks; and Western Australia’s Purnululu National Park in the Kimberley.
The Ningaloo Coast in Western Australia has recently been inscribed on the World Heritage List for its natural beauty and biological diversity. The Ningaloo-Shark Bay National Landscape now boasts two World Heritage areas at its northern and southern ends. The 1.3 million hectare Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area meets seven of the ten criteria, more than anywhere else on earth.
Australia’s vast areas of natural and pristine environment have also attracted World Heritage status, such as the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia across New South Wales and Queensland; and the Willandra Lakes Region in NSW.
Many of Australia’s World Heritage sites are in remote locations and you’ll need an adventurous spirit to visit them, such as the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Naracoorte in South Australia and Riversleigh in Queensland.
There are 11 sites that make up the World Heritage Australian Convict Sites which represent the forced migration of convicts to penal colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries; and are excellent examples of Australia’s rich history.
The sites in New South Wales are Old Government House and the Domain at Parramatta; Hyde Park Barracks and the Cockatoo Island Convict Site in Sydney; and Old Great North Road near Wiseman's Ferry.
In Tasmania, the Port Arthur Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula; Cascades Female Factory in Hobart; Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island; the Coal Mines Historic Site near Premadeyna; and the Brickendon-Woolmers Estates near Longford are all World Heritage Australian Convict Sites.
Western Australia has the Fremantle Prison; while Norfolk Island off the New South Wales coast has the Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area.
Significant buildings that have achieved World Heritage listing are the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Buildings and Carlton Gardens.
Even whole islands are on the prestigious list, such as Queensland’s Fraser Island; the entire Lord Howe Island Group off the coast of New South Wales; and Macquarie, Heard and McDonald Islands in the sub-Antarctic region off the coast of Tasmania.
Some of Australia’s World Heritage areas can only be accessed only by 4WD or air, but most can be reached by self-drive or with a local tour operator.