Our ancient continent is strewn with awe-inspiring geological features. We’ve rounded up the must-sees in each Australian state and territory.
By Dan F Stapleton
To get a sense of why Aboriginal Australians consider this vast landscape sacred, you only need to visit some of our dramatic rock formations. Australia has remained geologically stable for millions of years, unlike many parts of the world, which means much of our landscape has changed only subtly during that time. When you come face to face with Uluru, the Three Sisters, or another rock formation, you’re seeing something that has stood in its current form for eons. It’s a powerful feeling. Here are some of Australia’s most compelling rock formations.
Australia's remarkable rocks
Almost everyone who comes face to face with mighty Uluru says it’s an emotional experience. This enormous rock formation burns a fiery red at sunrise and sunset, and keeps watch over the desert at night. Explore the surrounding landscape with an Aboriginal guide, who can share local Dreamtime stories. And don’t forget to visit Uluru’s big sister, Kata Tjuta: this awesome collection of enormous sandstone rock formations is 500 million years old and it’s bigger, longer and wider than Uluru. Also in the Northern Territory – although a good 10 hours’ drive up the road – is the quirky Devils Marbles (also known as Karlu Karlu), a photogenic collection of oversized spheres which look like perhaps they’ve been dropped from the sky by the gods (or a devil), during a game of marbles!
A short drive south-east of Hobart lies the wild Tasman Peninsula: a mysterious landscape surrounded on all three sides by epic sea cliffs made of dolerite. Here, inside the mystical Tasman National Park, you’ll find several rocky, awe-inspiring sights: among them the striking Tasman Arch, a natural bridge made of rock that crosses the sea; the otherworldly cliffs of Cape Pillar; and the Tessellated Pavement, a mosaic-like rock formation at Eaglehawk Neck. There’s also an eco-cruise that takes visitors around the cape to meet seals, whales and more.
The vast state of Western Australia is full of incredible geography, but the prize for most Instagram-worthy rock formation surely goes to Wave Rock in Hyden Wildlife Park. This 110-metre (360-foot) long cliff face has been shaped by natural forces over countless years to resemble the kind of breaking wave that surfers would kill to ride. The Pinnacles, north of Perth, are also a must-see: they jut out of the desert like mini mountains and cast shadows along the Indian Ocean coastline.
The desert, coastline and islands of South Australia boast dozens of incredible geological attractions, including the cute and bulbous Murphy’s Haystacks on the Eyre Peninsula and Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre of mountains surrounding a mysterious landscape. On Kangaroo Island you’ll find the Remarkable Rocks, granite boulders that have taken on fantastical shapes in the course of their 500-million-year existence and are now dusted with distinctive orange lichen.
Choosing just one highlight within Girraween National Park is impossible: this expansive wilderness area hides surprises around every corner. The park is renowned for the huge granite boulders that dot the landscape in large numbers and is also home to The Pyramid rock formation and the captivating Granite Arch, which is comprised of three boulders and would not look out of place in a modern-art gallery.
Drive Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and you’ll set eyes on some of the most gorgeous coastal scenery in the world. But nothing can prepare you for the sight of the 12 Apostles: immense limestone stacks that sit in the shallows off the shore of Port Campbell National Park, three hours south-west of Melbourne. There are some lovely walks nearby, including the Loch Ard Gorge, the site of one of Australia’s most famous shipwrecks. Or splash out and take a guided helicopter flight over the Apostles.
New South Wales
This state’s two geological highlights couldn’t be more different. In the dusty north, hidden within Mount Kaputar National Park, is quirky Sawn Rocks: a volcanic cliff face that resembles a massive pipe organ and is easily accessible on foot. Closer to Sydney, in the majestic, World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, sit the Three Sisters: towering rock formations that cast moving shadows across the green valley far below. The best place to view them from is the remote Echo Point Lookout.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory is not only home to Australia’s capital city, Canberra, but the spectacular Namadgi National Park. Walk through the park to the soaring granite cliffs of Booroomba Rocks and see the park stretching out before you, with views of Canberra and, beyond it, the graceful Brindabella Ranges.
Next, see Australia’s most otherworldly sights.
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