Queensland’s 5 World Heritage sites to add to your bucket list

Queensland is a natural beauty, and while we could be here all day listing the stunning places you need to see, some stand out above the rest. In fact, five sites in Australia have earned themselves the tick of appreciation from UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), thus landing themselves on the World Heritage list – which is no easy feat.

Currently, there are just over 1,000 World Heritage listed sites across the globe. The World Heritage sites chosen by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) are deemed to have “outstanding value to humanity”.

Australia has 19 listed cultural and natural World Heritage sites, and in Queensland, we’re lucky enough to have the most of any state – and we want to share them with you.

1. Fraser Island (listed 1992)

Fraser Island  | Queensland world heritage sites

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. Also known by its Aboriginal name of K’gari, 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 is one of the most unique islands in the world.

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.

It’s not just scientists who are impressed by this natural wonder; Fraser Island is a must-visit for anyone because here you can hike, swim in crystal blue freshwater lakes, visit a shipwreck, spot whales and dingos, 4X4, go camping, saltwater fish, or go on a great walk.

A few 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 1,840 square kilometres.

In case you need even more convincing, this is why Fraser Island is one of the most special places in the world.

2. Gondwana Rainforests (listed 1986)

Gondwana Rainforest Queensland World Heritage Site

The story of Australia’s Gondwana Rainforests dates back 180 million years ago. 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 insights about the Gondwana Rainforests:

  • They cover 370,000 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.

Head here for advice on where to stay and what to do at the Gondwana Rainforest.

3. Great Barrier Reef (listed 1981)

Great Barrier Reef | Queensland world heritage sites

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.

A simple helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef is no doubt all the evidence you need that the Reef is worthy of its accolades. But when you dive a little deeper, you’ll also uncover what it is that has grabbed UNESCO’s attention: the Great Barrier Reef has the world’s largest collection of coral reefs and is home to one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth.

More reasons the Great Barrier Reef earned its place as one of Queensland’s World Heritage sites:

  • Over 348,000 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 Great Barrier Reef is home to massive amounts of marine life – more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, 1,625 species of fish, 133 species of sharks and rays and about 600 types of hard and soft coral.
  • Six out of seven of the world’s species of sea turtles frequent the reef.

Check out this guide for ideas on how to explore the Great Barrier Reef on any budget, plus, here’s where you can stay on the Great Barrier Reef.

4. Riversleigh Fossil Mammal Sites (listed 1994)

Riversleigh Fossil Mammal Sites

Photo by @tehmi

We bet you didn’t know one of the world’s 10 greatest fossil sites is hiding away in Outback Queensland. The World Heritage-listed Australian Fossil Mammal Sites is made up of two areas – Riversleigh in Queensland and Naracoorte in South Australia – and you’ll find the older fossils at Riversleigh.

The Riversleigh site is contained within picturesque Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and it’s here that you’ll find preserved evolutionary evidence of many of Australia’s mammal species still around today. It boasts an outstanding collection from the Oligocene to Miocene, some 10-30 million years ago, making the Riversleigh fossil deposits 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.

To start planning your trip to this World Heritage-listed site, follow this guide for what to do and where to stay in Riversleigh.

5. The Wet Tropics (listed 1988)

The wet tropics

The Wet Tropics of Queensland are THE oldest rainforests in the world. They are thought to be six to 10 times older than the Amazon. For many thousands of years, the Heritage-listed site has been inhabited by Rainforest Aboriginal people. Today, over 20,000 Rainforest Aboriginal people live in the Wet Tropics.

Comprised of five precincts, what captured the attention of UNESCO was the Wet Tropics’ extremely high but seasonal rainfall, diverse terrain and steep environmental gradients. For everyday visitors, it’s the natural beauty, abundant wildlife and sweeping landscapes that wins them over.

The Wet Tropics is home to about one-third of Australia’s 315 mammal species, 12 of which are found nowhere else in the world, like the green possums, ringtail possums, quolls, rare bats, tree-kangaroos and a rat-kangaroo.

The Wet Tropics were also listed among the Queensland World Heritage sites for these reasons:

  • They provide habitat for 3,000 plant species, 113 reptile species and 51 amphibian species.
  • They’re home to nearly half of Australia’s bird species – 368 different species.
  • The area stretches along the north-east coast of Queensland for 450km, from just south of Cooktown to just north of Townsville.

The Wet Tropics can be accessed from Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas and Cooktown.

Read our kid-friendly guide to the Wet Tropics for more ideas and inspiration.