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10 World Heritage Sites in Australia to Add to Your Bucket List

Introduction:  UNESCO world heritage sites are located throughout the world and have been deemed to have cultural, historical, or scientific significance by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Across the globe there are 1,121 sites, all of which provide visitors with unique experiences. To date there are nineteen world heritage sites in Australia.

Highlights: Dive the Great Barrier Reef and take in the array of sea life, swim in the Champagne Pools of Fraser Island, view the stromatolites of Shark Bay, explore the Gondwana rainforest reserves, catch a show at the Sydney Opera House, swim with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Coast, stroll the Carlton Gardens, visit the seabirds of the Lord Howe Islands, explore the Jenolan Caves, and take in the beauty of the Bungle Bungles range.

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The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world. It consists of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. It is located off the coast of Queensland, Australia and is a diver’s paradise. The Great Barrier Reef is highly protected by the Australian government, with millions of dollars every year going towards it protection.

Visitors today can enjoy diving, snorkeling, air tours, visit the islands, glass bottom boat tours, and explore some of Australia’s most iconic beaches, of note is the famous Whitehaven Beach. The Great Barrier Reef was added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 1981.

How To Get There: The Great Barrier Reef can be reached from several points along the Australian Queensland coast. Cairns is one of the most popular base towns for reaching the Great Barrier Reef and is located in far North Queensland. Port Douglas is another good access point and is the closest mainland port to the reef. Flights can be taken to Cairns, Hamilton Island, Proserpine Airport, or the Townsville airport.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is between June and October. Temperatures range from the 60’s to mid 80’s with little rain, making visibility optimal.

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The Great Barrier Reef.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island sits off the Eastern coast of Australia and is well known for its combination of sand-dunes, tropical rain forests and lakes. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. Inland on the island you will find the remnants of rain forests growing on the sandy dunes and half of the world’s freshwater dunes lakes.

Today visitors are drawn to the island for some it’s spectacular viewpoints, including Indian Head, the Cathedrals, the Champagne Pools, and many other freshwater swimming areas. An interesting feature of Fraser Island is the Maheno Shipwreck, which washed ashore in 1935 along the 75 Mile Beach. Fraser Island was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 1992.

How to Get There: Fraser Island is located 360km (224 miles) north of the Queensland capital of Brisbane. The easiest way to get there is by boat from Hervey Bay (which you can reach by flight, car, or bus) or from Rainbow Beach (which you can reach by bus or car). From there you would hop aboard a ferry that will take you to Fraser Island.

Best Time to Visit: Depending on what you are looking for will determine the best time to visit. December through February see the hottest weather so if that is what you are looking for that would be the best time. September through November and March through May will see milder temperatures. However, in the winter months from June to August visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of the migrating humpback whales. Any time of year is great for visiting Fraser Island and should be based on the desired weather/activities.

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Fraser Island.

Shark Bay

Shark Bay is located at the Western end of Australia on the Indian ocean coastline. Shark Bay consists of 23,000-square-kilometres. It is well known for its sea grass beds, its dugong population (“sea cow”), and stromatolites (which are colonies of algae that form hard, dome-shaped deposits).

Shark Bay is made up of several protected areas, including the Shark Bay Marine Park, Francois Peron National Park, Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, and many protected islands. Shark Bay is home to many endangered species. Shark Bay was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 1991.

How to Get There: Shark Bay can be reached via car, coaches, and tour operators. Tour options include 4WD tours, boat tours and scenic flights around the area. If driving you will want to take National Route 1 to Shark Bay Road.

Best Time to Visit: The weather at Shark Bay remains warm all year round making it a great year round destination. Between July and October you will see some of the coolest temperatures, but you may also have the chance to witness the migration of the humpback whales.

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The stromatolites of Shark Bay.

Gondwana Rainforests

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia make up more than 40 rainforest reserves along the East coast of Australia. The rainforests boast a great deal of geological diversity and evolutionary history. The Gondwana makes up 366,500 hectares (906,000 acres) between Newcastle to Brisbane. The name comes from the supercontinent Gondwana that is believed to have existed 180 million years ago.

Included in the Gondwana Rainforests are the largest remaining subtropical and Antarctic Beech cool temperate rainforests in the world, the largest warm temperature rainforest, and one of the two remaining Australian Araucarian rainforests. The Gondwana Rainforests are also home to many endangered animal and plant species. Visitors to the rainforests can enjoy nature walks, camping, scenic drives, and the Waterfall Way drive. The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia were added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 1986 and expanded in 1994.

How to Get There: The best way to reach the Gondwana rainforests and explore them is by car.

Best Time to Visit: The months of May to October will be the driest months, although temperatures will also be lowest. November to March will be wetter. In April the rain begins to slow and temperatures will still be fairly warm. Crowds are not usually an issue for the Gondwana Rainforests.

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Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is one of the few cultural UNESCO World Heritage sites in Australia. The opera house is a multi-venue, performing arts center located at Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia. The building is one of the most iconic pieces of architecture from the 20th century, opened in 1973.

The opera house features more than 1,500 performances annually. Visitors can attend a performance year round, take a guided tour, grab a bite to eat, and visit the gift shop. The site was added to the UNESCO list in 2007.

How to Get There: The Sydney Opera House is located just a 6 minute walk from the Circular Quay, making it very easily accessible by public buses, trains and ferries. If driving, there is parking available at the Wilson Car Park.

Best Time to Visit: The Sydney Opera House can be visited year round.

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Sydney Opera House.

Ningaloo Coast

The Ningaloo Coast is located in the north west coastal region of Western Australia. The Ningaloo Coast is home to the world’s largest fringing reef and is the best place to swim with the gentle whale shark. The reef is made up of turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, humpback whales and the whale shark.

Visitors can swim with the whale shark, view migrating whales upon the Exmouth microlight flight, enjoying camping near the reef, snorkeling, and visit the Ningaloo Marine Park. The Ningaloo Coast was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 2011.

How to Get There: The Ningaloo Cast can be reached by car and is about 777 miles north of Perth. Flights can also be taken to the Learmonth Airport and then a car rented to complete the journey. Coach lines also travel from Perth to the area.

Best Time to Visit: The best months to visit the Ningaloo Coast are March to June. While the weather is generally nice year round, the best months for viewing the whale sharks are March to June. May to November are the best months to see Manta Rays. Humpback Whales are most commonly seen between May and November.

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Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens

The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens sits in Melbourne, Australia and was built as part of the international exhibition movement in 1879-80. It is the oldest surviving building from the Great Exhibition era that is still operating. The Royal Exhibition Building was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2004.

Today trade fairs and public expos continue to be held in the building. The building is also home to gala dinners, fashion shows, and community events. Daily tours of the building are also held when the building is not in use. The gardens surround the building and contain a variety of plant life, animal species, and fountains.

How to Get There: The building can reached by the free city tram, city loop train, bus, bicycle, foot, and car. Parking is available under the Melbourne Museum off of Rathdowne Street or Nicholson Street and is $12 a day.

Best Time to Visit: The building can be visited any time of year.

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Lord Howe Island Group

The Lord Howe Island group is a group of islands located in the Tasman Sea, about 373 miles off the coast of Australia, that are the result of volcanic activity more than 2,000 m under the sea. The islands contain a unique combination of plants and animals and a coral reef. Many of the local species are considered endangered. Seabirds are plentiful on the islands.

Visitors to the islands can enjoy viewing local seabirds, exploring rainforests in the Valley of the Shadows, hand feed fish at Ned’s Beach, snorkel, go diving, explore the island on bike, enjoy a glass bottom boat ride, and a number of water activities including wind surfing and stand up paddle boarding. A special note about the islands: only 400 visitors are allowed at a time to preserve the natural environment of the area. The Lord Howe Island Group was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1982.

How to Get There: The Lord Howe Island group can be reached by boat, or more commonly by flights into the island from Sydney and Brisbane.

Best Time to Visit: The Lord Howe Islands are lovely any time of year. The most popular time to visit is between September to May, but June through August also have warm temperatures with less crowds. However, with the number of visitors limited, any time is great.

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Greater Blue Mountains Area

The Greater Blue Mountains Area spans 2,551,730-acres in the New South Wales region of Australia. The area is made up of 8 protected areas consisting of  rainforest, canyons, eucalypt forest and heath lands. The Greater Blue Mountains Area is home to hundreds of animal and plant species. Seven of the protected areas are national parks and the last is the Jenolan Caves.The Greater Bue Mountains Area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2000.

The mountains, originally called Carmarthen Hills and Lansdowne Hills, were renamed after the blue haze that can be seen surrounding them. The blue haze is believed to be produced by fine droplets of oil that are dispersed into the air by the many types of eucalyptus trees found in the area. Highlights of the area include the Wollemi National Park, which contains the only known wild specimens of the Wollemi Pine, which was thought to have been extinct since the time of the dinosaurs, and the Jenolan Caves, which is one of the most impressive cave systems in Australia. Visitors to the area can enjoy bushwalking tours, a hop on/off bus, a scenic gondola ride, a cave tour, and explore botanical gardens.

How to Get There: The Greater Blue Mountains area can be reached by car and is about a two hour drive from Sydney, Australia. The best way to explore the area is by car. You can also reach the area via train or a coach tour.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit the Great Blue Mountains area is Australia’s autumn season from March to May. The temperatures will be cooler, making it a better time to explore the area by foot, and the rain season is starting to ease down.

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Purnululu National Park

The Purnululu National Park is located in the East Kimberley region  of Western Australia. The park spans over 592,370-acres. Highlights of the park include the Bungle Bungles range, which displays a combination of orange, grey and black stripes from alternating layers of sediment, the Cathedral Gorge, and many clear waterholes, caves and gorges.

The Purnululu National Park is located at a crossroads between the desert environments of central Australia and the monsoon Savannah environments of northern Australia. Because of this Purnululu National Park is home to a range of distinct vegetation communities. Visitors can explore the park by foot, scenic air rides,and enjoy camping. The Purnululu National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2003.

How to Get there: The closest town to Purnululu National Park is Kununurra. You can catch a flight into Kununurra from many Australian airports, including Perth, Broome, and Darwin. The park can be reached by car along the Great Northern Highway, but note that the last 31 miles will require 4WD.

Best Time to Visit: The best month to visit the park is May. The weather will still be fairly warm and rain will be scarce. June through August are also good months due to slightly cooler temperatures, but will be more crowded. The area is closed between October and March due to high rain fall.

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UNESCO world heritage sites are abundant around the globe. Find out why you should add these UNESCO sites in Australia to your bucket list.
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  1. I had no clue that Australia had so many UNESCO sights! I have only seen 1/10 on this list so I definitely need to go back. Was supposed to got to Melbourne in April, but since that was cancelled hopefully I can next year instead 🙂

  2. It would be amazing to visit all of these locations – that would make for quite a road trip! I’m hoping to at least be able to get to see the Great Barrier Reef one day and do some snorkeling 🙂

  3. There are so many reasons why I am sad we had our trip to Australia cancelled this year. Missing these great UNESCO sites is just another one. Although we did some of these on our last visit: scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Opera House and Blue Mountains. I would love to see the Gondwana Rainforest if we get to the Brisbane area. And swimming with whale sharks is on my bucket list so I guess we will visit the Ningaloo Coast for sure. So many spots to add to my list. Our next visit will be a long one!

    • I hope you can make it soon! This year has been disappointing with having to cancel so many travel plans, but hopefully next year things will be different.

  4. This is a great list! I love how you have written how to get to the site and the best time to visit! I would love to visit the Great Barrier reef. Hope to visit Australia very soon

  5. I’ve been to a few of these but a few such as the Gondwana Rainforest I haven’t and that looks amazing so now I have the perfect excuse to return to Oz as if I needed one 🙂

  6. So many World Heritage Sites in Australia! We did a trip last year but only managed to see two of the ten. Looks like Ningaloo Coast is a place I would enjoy. Love the turquoise and blue shades of the water. Must catch up with more places in my next visit. 🙂

  7. Wow! I had no idea there were so many UNESCO sites in Australia! I have heard only of the most popular ones – Sydney opera house, Great barrier reef etc. I would love to do all these places if/when I ever get to Australia.

  8. First of all, this is my first time on your blog and i love your blog header! My favorite animals 🙂 I also LOVE Australia and it’s the country of some of my fondest travel memories. What surprised me still is the amount of UNESCO spots in the country. This is completely new to me, I just wish I knew before my visit so I could’ve stopped by the sites. Now I have a reason to go back 😉

  9. OMG i hardly knew about so many UNESCO heritage sites in Australia. All i knew was about great barrier reef and Sydney Opera House. I would want to scuba dive in great barrier reef for sure. Is there a hiking option in great Blue mountain area? Haven’ yet visited this continent, but plan to do it soon.

  10. My daughter lives in Melbourne. We accidentally got to see the Royal Exhibition Building and didn’t even know it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have to go back and travel out of Melbourne to see all these others!

  11. This is a great list, Missy. I haven’t been to Australia yet, so obviously I haven’t visited any of them. Once I come, I would love to visit the Gondwana Rainforests, the Ningaloo Coast and the Lord Howe Island Group – they look and sound amazing. I love nature, so I guess these would be my spots to go.


  12. A great list of UNESCO heritage sites and was not aware there were so many in Australia to start with. I’m a great fan of visiting UNESCO sites so would love to visit these on my trip to Australia next year Thanks.

  13. Wow I’m pining for a holiday now! There are so many amazing places in Australia! The great barrier reef has always been something I want to see in my lifetime. Its just beyond stunning.Purnululu National Park is somewhere I had not heard of before but it looks absolutely breathtaking! Taking a photo at the Sydney Opera house is a must too! I hope we manage to visit one day and enjoy all of these stunning places

  14. That was elaborate. I dint know Australia had 19 UNESCO heritage sites. Though all world heritage sites have something unique about them, Ningaloo coast, Purnululu National Park and the Gondwana Rainforests really made me curious. I am not very comfortable with snorkeling, so I am not sure if I will be able to enjoy and experience the real beauty of Great Barrier Reef which lies underground.

    • They are beautiful natural wonders. I hear you on the snorkeling. I have done it a couple times but have not mastered it, still have a little bit of trouble with it.

  15. I knew that Austrilia was incredibly beautiful but WOW! The National Park and coastal lines are gorgeous. But Gondwana rainforests! I’m amazed! Until now I was never aware that this existed! I would love to be able to see the migrating whales also. I’m sure that is a sight and experience! I really enjoyed reading this post!

  16. wow, so many sites I had never heard of (and we spent 3 weeks exploring Australia). We did get to spend 3 days on a liveaboard in the great barrier reef, which was amazing. Have you dove there since global warming started bleaching it out?

    • That sounds like an awesome experience! I have to admit, I have not dived yet. I would love to do it, but my nerves get the best of me. I am determined to do it one day though. So sad about global warming though, just devastating!

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