TRAVEL

The Natural Australian Wonders You Don't Know About

Inspiration for your Australian road trip.

22/06/2016 8:41 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST
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Australia is one big natural wonder -- at least that's the impression scrolling through the stunning waterfalls and dramatic deserts in the UNESCO World Heritage list of natural sites.

You can probably guess a few of Australia's UNESCO natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef, but then there's a few you've probably got no idea about -- like a snowy penguin-studded island or the bizarre Mungo moonscape.

Any Australian roadtrip should include as many of these sites as you can cram in.

Purnululu National Park, WA

The immense domes of banded sandstone of Purnululu or the Bungle Bungles tell a story of the landscape over 20 million years. Walk among the deep gorges and explore the baked plains.

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Can you believe this place even exists.
Matthew Fallon
Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu.

Ningaloo Coast, WA

The Ningaloo Coast is this year celebrating five years of UNESCO World Heritage listed certification, protecting the region's whale sharks, manta rays and exceptional marine life.

Australia's Coral Coast / Migration Media
Manta rays cruise through Coral Bay.

Blue Media Photography
Swim with whale sharks in Ningaloo Reef.

Fraser Island, Queensland

There are freshwater lakes dotted across this sandy island, making for a tropical paradise of swimming holes, fishing spots and wandering streams.

UIG via Getty Images
Wanggoolba Creek flowing through a rainforested valley on Fraser Island.
Rob Cherry / Alamy
Lake McKenzie has pure white silica sand.

Heard and McDonald Islands, Australian External Territory

Yep. Snow and penguins. In Australia. Well, sort of. We claim two islands somewhere between Madagascar and Antarctica, and they happen to be a handy sheltering spot for penguins and seals.

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King Penguins contemplating the snow on Heard Island, Antarctica.
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A different kind of Aussie beach chick on Heard Island.

Kakadu National Park, NT

A bushwalk in Kakdu is likely to reveal crocodile sightings, Indigenous rock art, secluded waterholes or all three.

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Kakadu National Park has rock art -- some on display, and some not -- dating back generations.

Richard I'Anson
You can swim at Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park but you might be joined by a freshwater crocodile.

Lord Howe Island Group, NSW

Arguably one of the better known natural wonders, this chain of volcanic islands is a hotspot for snorkeling, diving, paddleboarding and relaxing on the beach.

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A school of king fish at Lord Howe Island

Tom Till
The unbelievable landscape of Lord Howe Island.

Willandra Lakes Region, NSW

There are fossilised remains among the bizarre arid landscape of Willandra Lakes dating back to a time when the region was a lively river system.

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The dried-up bed of Lake Mungo in Willandra.
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No, it's not Mars.

Greater Blue Mountains Area, NSW

Bushwalkers will find tracks clinging to the cliff edge as spires rise majestically out of the bush.

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A waterfall in the Blue Mountains.
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The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains.

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

When combined, the reefs that make up this immense icon form the largest living thing on earth, home to a dazzling array of marine life. With this great resource also comes a great responsibility as it needs protection from threats like coral bleaching, crown of thorns sea star outbreaks and nutrient-dense run-off from nearby land.

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A Hawksbill Sea Turtle on the Great Barrier Reef.
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Coral bleaching has affected Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, NT

The big, red rock of Uluru has become a symbol of Australia, but explore further into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and you'll find other mysterious rock formations as well as a deep Indigenous history.

Marc Romanelli
Uluru at sunset.
Bethune Carmichael
'The Olgas' in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

Wet Tropics, Queensland

This region from Townsville to Cooktown roughly parrallels the Great Barrier Reef with a verdant strip of dense tropical growth.

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Every inch is carpeted in verdant growth in the Wet Tropics.
Andrew Watson
Nandroya Falls in Wooroonooran National Park.

Shark Bay, Western Australia

Don't fear about sharks in Shark Bay. Sure, they're there, but you'll also see friendly dolphins at Monkey Mia and unbelievable coral in Turquoise bay. If you want to stay on land, though, check out the bizarre, ancient living things called stromatolites.

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Emus on the beach at Shark Bay.

Mint Images - Frans Lanting
These rocks are stromatolites -- 3000-year-old living things -- and you can see them at Shark Bay.

Macquarie Island, Tasmania (sort of)

Yep, it's another 'Australian' island. This one is halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica that became part of Tasmania in 1900. There are no permanent residents, except these beach babes.

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The locals don't mind being photographed at Maquarie Island.
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There are no bikini diets for the elephant seals on Macquarie Island.

Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Queensland

UNESCO said this region was special because "few places on earth contain so many plants and animals which remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record".

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Lamington National Part is literally paradise.
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Crystal Falls Wonga Walk in Dorrigo National Park.

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites, Queensland

Follow the sun-baked savannah of Riversleigh and Naracoorte to a scrubby outcrop and you'll find the fossilised bones of an Australian marsupial lion as well as a plethora of mega fauna. There's also stunning waterways nearby for a cool dip.

Auscape / UIG
There's fossils in them there hills.
Auscape / UIG
A fossil of a massive, flightless 'thunderbird'.

Tasmanian Wilderness, Tasmania

If you do one hike in your life, make it Cradle Mountain. Once you've finished, though, be warned you'll want to explore all of this dramatic region. Luckily, it's riddled with walking tracks between the mossy rocks and wildflower-laden plains.

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A waterhole by Cradle Mountain.
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Cradle Mountain is a hiker's dream, with open plains, steep inclines and surprising wildflowers.