Exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites in NSW

17 December 2017

The UNESCO World Heritage program documents and preserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to humankind. Australia is home to 19 World Heritage Sites, six of which can be found in NSW. Learn more about some of these sites below and start planning a truly unique NSW adventure.

Greater Blue Mountains Area

Date Listed: 2000

UNESCO Summary: “The Greater Blue Mountains Area is a deeply incised sandstone tableland that encompasses 1.03 million hectares of eucalypt-dominated landscape just inland from Sydney, Australia’s largest city, in south-eastern Australia. Spread across eight adjacent conservation reserves, it constitutes one of the largest and most intact tracts of protected bushland in Australia.”

About the Blue Mountains:

Just 60–90 minutes from Sydney, the Greater Blue Mountains Area includes a vast landscape of sandstone plateaus, huge gorges, fertile rivers and lakes, and gigantic cliffs which drop abruptly into silent valleys. The Blue Mountains area takes its name from the blue-ish haze it adopts in warmer weather—an effect caused by thousands of eucalypt trees releasing their oil into the atmosphere.

One significant reason for the Blue Mountains’ World Heritage status is the extraordinary diversity of its native flora and fauna. The area is home to around 1,500 different plant species, 177 of which are threatened and 114 of which are found nowhere else on Earth. The Blue Mountains also houses at least 400 species of vertebrate animals, including roughly a third of the total bird species found in Australia.

This incredible diversity makes the Greater Blue Mountains Area a popular destination among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. The landscape is criss-crossed by around 140 kilometres of walking tracks, as well as countless opportunities for rock climbing, mountain biking, abseiling and more. Local areas such as Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls also offer a range of comforts, including charming shops, restaurants, and accommodation.

Top Things to Do

  • Go on a bushwalk – admire the scenery and spot unique wildlife.
  • Ride the Skyway gondola at Scenic World, which offers sweeping views of the Three Sisters rock formation, Mount Solitary, Katoomba Falls, and beyond.
  • Board the world’s steepest incline railway which descends more than 400 metres, passing through a tunnel and a gorge, and finishes at the valley floor.
  • Explore the Glow Worm Tunnel. Located near Lithgow, this 400-metre-long, disused railway tunnel now houses hundreds of bioluminescent larvae.

Point of Interest: Wollemi National Park

When the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was recognised by UNESCO in 2000, eight of its national parks were included as protected areas. One of these, Wollemi National Park, contains the only wild specimens of the Wollemi Pine discovered to date. This prehistoric tree was thought to have gone extinct approximately 30 million years ago, but was discovered in Wollemi National Park in 1994.

Point of Interest: Jenolan Caves

Another UNESCO-protected area, the Jenolan Caves include approximately 400 (known) caves, 10 of which are open to the public. At around 340 million years old, these are the oldest open caves discovered anywhere in the world. Follow more than 40km of multi-level passages constructed throughout and discover spectacular columns and stalactites, as well as huge chambers with ceilings over 50 metres high.

The Lord Howe Island Group

Date Listed: 1982

UNESCO Summary: “The Lord Howe Island Group is an outstanding example of oceanic islands of volcanic origin containing a unique biota of plants and animals, as well as the world’s most southerly true coral reef. It is an area of spectacular and scenic landscapes encapsulated within a small land area, and provides important breeding grounds for colonies of seabirds as well as significant natural habitat for the conservation of threatened species.”

About the Lord Howe Island Group:

The Lord Howe Island Group is a collection of 28 islands, islets and rocks situated roughly 600 km east of Port Macquarie, in the Tasman Sea. The largest of these islands is Lord Howe Island itself, a 10km-by-2km landmass formed by volcanic activity some 7 million years ago.

Heritage listed in 1982, the Lord Howe Island Group has been recognised for its endemic species as well as its stunning – and largely untouched – terrain. The islands also sit on the southernmost coral reef in the world which is home to more than 90 species of coral and 500 species of fish. The west coast of Lord Howe Island features a sheltered, sandy coral reef lagoon with excellent snorkelling opportunities, while the island’s south is covered by forested hills which rise to the highest point on the island: Mount Gower.

In most cases, Lord Howe Island can only be reached by air. However, it’s this very isolation that has allowed the region to develop such an impressive range of unique flora and fauna. Several native species have been harmed or even extinguished by introduced animals and plants; for this reason, visitor numbers have been limited to 400 people per night in an effort to reduce the impact of tourism on the island. Be sure to book your accommodation in advance to secure your spot on one of Australia’s hidden gems.

Top Things to Do

Neds Beach, Lord Howe Island

Neds Beach, Lord Howe Island.

  • Snorkel or simply stand in the shallows at Neds Beach Sanctuary Zone, where you can hand-feed garfish, wrasse, mullet, kingfish and more.
  • Take on the hiking trails of Lord Howe Island, including a challenging 8-hour climb to its highest point, Mount Gower.
  • Explore the waters and caves around Balls Pyramid, a formidable 551-metre-tall volcanic remnant located 23 km from the main island.
  • Go scuba diving around the Admiralty Islands; the surrounding reefs contain about 25 dive sites spanning depths of 15–40 metres.

Mungo National Park (Willandra Lakes Region)

Walls Of China at Mungo National Park.

Walls Of China at Mungo National Park.

Date Listed: 1981

UNESCO Summary: “The fossil remains of a series of lakes and sand formations that date from the Pleistocene can be found in this region, together with archaeological evidence of human occupation dating from 45–60,000 years ago. It is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent.”

About Mungo National Park (Willandra Lakes Region):

The Willandra Lakes Region lies 750 km directly west of Sydney, near the NSW border with Mildura, Victoria. This region contains a vast system of dry lake beds which were formed some two million years ago. A traditional meeting place of the Ngiyampaa, Muthi Muthi and Barkindji tribes, researchers believe Aboriginal inhabitation of the area began around 50,000 years ago.

Mungo National Park is a central feature of the Willandra Lakes Region. In 1968, excavations uncovered the cremated remains of a woman near Lake Mungo; at approximately 40,000 years old, ‘Mungo Lady’ is the oldest known example of ritual cremation in the world. In 1974, a male skeleton was discovered less than 500 metres from this site. Dubbed ‘Mungo Man’, these 40,000- to 62,000-year-old remains are the oldest ever discovered in Australia, and one of the earliest examples of Homo sapiens found outside Africa.

Since becoming a World Heritage Site in 1981, Mungo National Park has continued to reveal more fascinating secrets. In 2003, the world’s largest collection of fossilised footprints were found here, showing tracks from a family of five, Olympic-speedhunters, a one-legged man, and others. Also preserved in the park are stone tools, ancient fireplaces, shell middens (discarded shellfish remains), and animal bones. Offering priceless insights into human evolution and Aboriginal history, Mungo National Park is a must-visit attraction for any aspiring archaeologist.

Top Things to Do

  • Join representatives of the Paakantji, Ngiyampaa and Muthi Muthi tribes on an Aboriginal Discovery Tour to learn more about the region and its ancient heritage.
  • Walk, cycle or drive under wide open skies, spot native wildlife, and visit historic Zanci Homestead on the 10 km Zanci Pastoral Loop.
  • Walk along the boardwalk to Red Top Lookout and take in the stunning scenery at sunset.

Dorrigo National Park (Gondwana Rainforests of Australia)

Date Listed: 1986

UNESCO Summary: “The outstanding geological features displayed around shield volcanic craters and the high number of rare and threatened rainforest species are of international significance for science and conservation.”

About Dorrigo National Park:

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia comprises 50 separate reserves scattered between Newcastle and Brisbane. With a combined area of 366,500 hectares, this World Heritage Site is the most extensive area of subtropical rainforest in the world. Providing an essential habitat for more than 270 threatened plant and animal species, the Gondwana Rainforests are a priceless feature of eastern Australia’s landscape.

Just 90 minutes from Coffs Harbour, Dorrigo National Park is one of the Gondwana Rainforests’ most beautiful areas. This park is known for its excellent birdwatching, as well as its beautiful waterfall walks and barbecue areas. Start at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre before making your way onto the boardwalk. This 70-metre-long platform brings guests to stunning Skywalk Lookout, where you can take in panoramic views of the Rosewood rainforest basin, the Bellinger Valley and beyond from 21 metres above the rainforest floor.

Top Things to Do

  • Walk through lush rainforest to reach Crystal Shower Falls; you can even stand in a rocky cavern directly behind the waterfall.
  • Try spotting some of the park’s 150 bird species on the ‘Walk with the Birds’ boardwalk.
  • Enjoy a relaxed lunch in the Never Never Picnic Area.
  • Go for a drive along Waterfall Way – one of the most scenic driving routes in NSW.

With so much natural beauty around NSW, there’s plenty more national parks, gardens and stunning beaches to explore right on your doorstep! Check out yTravel’s picks of national parks perfect for your next family holiday, or discover more places to see and look for coastal accommodation.


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