A freelance writer with an interest in just about everything.
Published November 20th 2013
Explore NSW's natural and cultural heritage sites
UNESCO's globally recognised list of World Heritage sites contains places of special cultural or physical significance. Everything from the Pyramids of Giza to Yellowstone National Park feature on the list, and Italy is the country home to the most World Heritage listed sites with 49.
Nineteen World Heritage sites are found in Australia, and six of them are located right here in NSW. Here's a guide to the most important examples of natural and cultural heritage NSW has to offer.
Where better to start than with the most famous landmark on the NSW list. Along with perhaps the Harbour Bridge, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, the distinctive sails of the Opera House are one of the most iconic images that people around the world associate with Australia.
The report by the International Council on Monuments and Sites to the World Heritage Committee says that the Opera House "stands by itself as one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind." That's pretty high praise for a building that faced setback after setback during its construction and at several times looked like it would turn out to be an abject failure.
It's also high praise for architect Jorn Utzon, whose vision led to the creation of this architectural masterpiece. Plenty has been written about the Sydney Opera House, but the importance and beauty of this building is probably best summed up by American architect Louis Kahn: "The sun did not know how beautiful its light was until it was reflected off this building."
Greater Blue Mountains The Blue Mountains region has long been a favourite getaway spot for Sydneysiders, a short drive out of the city leading you to breathtaking views, distinctive rock formations, mist-shrouded valleys and cascading waterfalls. The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area covers one million hectares of vast and spectacular national park and untamed wilderness.
There's the majestic Three Sisters to admire, thousands of years of fascinating Aboriginal history to explore, and abundant native wildlife - all within one of the largest and most intact patches of Australian bushland. And the best way to see the best of the Blue Mountains is on foot, on one of the myriad bushwalking trails that wind through the region.
It's one of Australia's most significant natural gems.
Willandra Lakes Region The Willandra Lakes Region is one area on this list some people may not have heard of. Found in the Murray Basin region of far south western NSW, this ancient and magical landscape contains a system of Pleistocene lakes formed over the previous two million years.
Aborigines lived around the shores of these lakes for at least 50,000 years, which is astonishing in itself, but the remains of a 40,000-year-old female found in the Lake Mingo dunes are thought to be evidence of the oldest ritual cremation site in the world.
It's often said that you need to head away from Australian shores to find anything of significant historical value, but this amazing region proves that nothing could be further from the truth.
Gondwana Rainforests of Australia
This site comprises several protected areas throughout NSW and Queensland, and encompasses the largest areas of subtropical rainforest in the world, as well as huge areas of warm temperate rainforest. These areas earned their World Heritage listing because there are very few places anywhere else in the world where there are so many plants and animals that have remained more or less unchanged from their ancestors.
The Border Ranges National Park boasts huge gorges with plunging waterfalls, while Washpool National Park is a world of water that's teeming with life. Then there's the distinctive peak of Mount Warning, the remnant central vent of an ancient volcano.
A climb to the mountain's summit to watch the sunrise is the perfect way to experience this unique World Heritage site.
Australian Convict Sites
The Great North Road was completed back in 1836 and constructed using convict labour. The road covered 264km and connected Sydney with settlements to the north in the Hunter Valley, and as many as 720 convicts worked in the road.
Today, only some 43km of the road remains intact, and it includes the oldest surviving stone bridges in mainland Australia. You'll also see an old stockade site and even convict graffiti along the way.
The road is an important part of Australia's unique history, and work is gradually being undertaken to help restore it to its former glory.
Lord Howe Island Group
The Lord Howe Island Group boasts everything from volcanic mountains to pristine coastal scenery. Comprising Lord Howe Island, Admiralty Islands, Mutton Bird Islands, Ball's Pyramid, and the associated coral reefs and marine environments, this site offers so much to see and explore.
One of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific, Lord Howe Island only allows 400 visitors at any one time. Water-based activities abound, and the waters surrounding the world's southernmost coral reef are full of life.
The aquatic scenery is in stark contrast to the towering peaks of Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, and one look at the view from the summit of Mount Gower is all you'll need to see to understand why this area is seen as so significant.