Tick ‘em off: Queensland’s 5 World Heritage wonders

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What do you think of when you hear something identified as a World Heritage area? To be honest, I thought it was just some very official sounding jargon used to make things sound more interesting until I did a little research…

UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, was established in 1945 as a response to the two World Wars. Their purpose was simple, but not easy: to help establish peace based on humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.

A statement from their website sums up what World Heritage means to them:

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and information.

The World Heritage sites chosen by UNESCO are deemed to have “outstanding value to humanity”. They belong to all the peoples of the world no matter where they live.

Currently, there are just over 1,000 World Heritage listed sites across the globe. Australia has 19 listed cultural and natural World Heritage sites, and in Queensland we’re lucky enough to have five of Australia’s natural World Heritage listed sites – the most of any state – and we want to share them with you.

Fraser Island (listed 1992)

Fraser Island World Heritage Site

Located just four hours’ drive north of Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, you’ll find Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island at 122km long.

It was listed on the World Heritage register because it’s an outstanding example of ongoing biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes. Put simply, Fraser Island has some pretty amazing features.

On just this one island, you’ll find majestic rainforests growing and thriving in sand, half of the world’s perched freshwater dune lakes and the largest unconfined aquifer on a sand island.

While those tongue-twisters might impress a scientist, Fraser Island is great for anyone because here you can hike, swim in crystal blue freshwater lakes, visit a shipwreck, spot whales and dingos, 4×4, camp, saltwater fish, or go on a great walk.

A few interesting facts about why Fraser Island is one of Queensland’s World Heritage sites:

  • There are over 325 species of birds on Fraser Island.
  • You can see Australia’s purest population of dingoes and a unique species of tortoise, which can be found in some of the freshwater lakes.
  • Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes within its 1,820 square kilometres.

Gondwana Rainforests (listed 2007)

Gondwana Rainforest World Heritage Sites

Gondwana was the ancient southern supercontinent that included Australasia, Africa and South America and was covered in temperate rainforest. When Australia broke away from the Gondwanan continent the majority of these rainforests warmed and dried up.

Today, the Gondwana Rainforests include approximately 50 separate reserves and cover a large area straddling the Queensland / New South Wales border. They are the world’s most extensive sub-tropical rainforests.

Protected areas include Lamington, Springbrook, Mt Barney and Main Range National Parks. Together, these areas contain more frog, snake, bird and marsupial species than anywhere else in Australia and represent examples of major stages of the Earth’s evolutionary history. The national parks make it easy to explore all the richness captured in this World Heritage site.

More interesting facts about the Gondwana Rainforests:

  • They cover 366,000 hectares, of which 59,000 are in Queensland.
  • The area includes the oldest examples of the world’s ferns and conifers.
  • Over 200 species of rare or threatened plant and animal species call Gondwana home.

Great Barrier Reef (listed 1981)

Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the few living structures that is visible from space. The sheer size and grandeur of the reef resulted in it being one of the original eight wonders of the world and the first coral reef to be awarded World Heritage status.

Stretching from Bundaberg in the south to Cape York in the tropical north, the Great Barrier Reef represents approximately 10% of all the coral reefs around the world.

Prior to the 1980s the majority of the reef was inaccessible to day-trippers, and those fortunate enough to visit were restricted to viewing it during low-tide reef walks or through glass-bottomed boxes. Today the reef has over 700 operators who visit the reef daily and attracts approximately two million visitors annually.

More reasons to be astounded by the Great Barrier Reef:

  • Over 344,000 square kilometres, the reef is roughly the same size as Japan, Germany or Italy or approximately half the size of Texas.
  • The second largest reef, The Belize Reef off the Caribbean coast of Belize, pales in comparison at approximately one-tenth the size of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • The reef is home to massive amounts of marine life – more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, 1,625 species of fish, 33 species of sharks and rays and 600 types of hard and soft coral.
  • Six out of seven of the world’s species of sea turtles frequent the reef.

Riversleigh Fossil Sites (listed 2007)

Riversleigh Fossil Site World Heritage Area

Since separating from Antarctica around 30 million years ago, Australia has been almost totally isolated from the rest of the world, and as such is regarded as the most biologically diverse continent in the world.

The transition that has taken place over the past 25 million years in the Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland – from iceberg to rich rainforest to dry grasslands – has preserved evolutionary evidence of many of Australia’s mammal species still around today. The Riversleigh fossil deposits are among the richest and most extensive in the world.

Riversleigh should be on your bucket list because:

  • The sites include the first records of many groups of living mammals, including the ‘marsupial lion’.
  • The fossils span a record of mammal evolution of at least 20 million years in length.
  • The variety of deposits at Riversleigh has led to an understanding of how the environment has changed over time and how the animals that lived here have changed too.

The Wet Tropics (listed 2007)

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

The wet tropics of Queensland are THE oldest rainforests in the world. They are thought to be six to 10-times older than the oldest parts of the Amazon. How special that we can still walk amongst the same eco-system that stood 150 million years ago!

As one of the five World Heritage sites in Queensland, the Wet Tropics can be accessed from Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas and Cooktown.

The Wet Tropics were also listed for these reasons:

  • They provide habitat for 3,000 plant species, 113 reptile species and 51 amphibian species.
  • One-third of Australia’s 315 mammal species live in the Wet Tropics – 13 of which are found nowhere else in the world.
  • They’re home to nearly half of Australia’s bird species – 307 different species.
  • The area stretches along the north-east coast of Queensland for 450km, from just south of Cooktown to just north of Townsville.

Are the Queensland World Heritage sites on your bucket list? Which ones have you visited already?