Imagine a land where people have lived for 40,000 years. Where natural wonders abound. And where architecture rises to world-class heights. Tour Australia's UNESCO World Heritage sites.
<b>Wet Tropics of Queensland</b><br>Plunge into the sights and sounds of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, <a href=" http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/australia" target="_blank"> Australia</a>. This 280-mile stretch of wet tropical rainforest holds plenty of natural wonders. Among them is Wallaman Falls, Australia’s highest waterfall.
<b>Australian Convict Sites</b><br>In the 18th and 19th centuries, the British Empire shipped 166,000 men, women and children (as young as 9) to Australia -- some for serious crimes, others for petty offenses or for expressing political dissent. Convict sites like Port Arthur (pictured here) were the end of the road.
<b>Fraser Island</b><br>Ah, sun, surf and sand. Head to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, which stretches more than 75 miles along Queensland’s southern coast. Park your 4-wheeler on the beach and get in some surfing (if you want to take on “Shark Alley”). On the safer side, check out the island’s sand cliffs, rainforests and freshwater lakes -- they won’t bite.
<b>Purnululu National Park</b><br>Ready, set, hike. In Western Australia’s Purnululu National Park, 2 hikers head toward the Bungle Bungle Range. This series of quartz sandstone mountain ranges -- what some have called Australia’s Grand Canyon -- eroded over a period of 20 million years; today, the ranges look like beehive-shaped cones.
<b>Great Barrier Reef</b><br>Pucker up! In the Great Barrier Reef -- the world’s largest coral reef system -- you’ll encounter your share of colorful friends. Here, a diver shares a moment with a potato cod (an endangered, native fish in Australia) found beneath one of the reef’s best known dive sites, Cod Hole.
<b>Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park</b><br>It’s one of Australia’s most iconic images -- Ayers Rock. This spectacular sandstone rock formation, more than 1,000 feet high, is yours to see at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, located in Australia’s Northern Territory.
<b>Macquarie Island</b><br>Penguins, penguins everywhere. Four types breed on this Australian island halfway between Australia and Antarctica. Macquarie Island was discovered by seal hunters in 1810 (who soon wiped out the island’s seal population). But the penguins have endured -- helped by the lack of permanent human settlement and the island’s relative seclusion.
<b>Kakadu National Park</b><br>A hiker takes in the view at Kakadu National Park. The area (about the size of Slovenia) has been continuously inhabited by the Aboriginal people for more than 40,000 years. Cave paintings and rock carvings attest to this astonishingly long track record.
<b>Gondwana Rainforest</b><br>Australia is also home to lush rainforests. The Gondwana Rainforests, which stretch along Australia’s New South Wales-Queensland border, showcase the world’s most extensive area of subtropical rainforest. The habitat is home to more than 200 rare or threatened plant and animal species.
<b>Sydney Opera House</b><br>The Sydney Opera House is known for its prime location, at the tip of a peninsula that glides into Sydney Harbour. As one of the 20th century’s great architectural works, the building's centerpiece is 3 groups of interlocking “shells” that make up its distinctive roof.
<b>Greater Blue Mountains Area</b><br>You’re looking at the Greater Blue Mountain Area’s most striking feature: the 3 Sisters. These sandstone rock formations, formed over time by erosion, tower over a valley in a mountainous region -- twice the size of Brunei -- that includes plateaus, cliffs, rivers, lakes and swamps.
<b>Australian Fossil Mammal Sites</b><br>View the extraordinary evolution of mammals over 20 million years at Australia’s 2 greatest fossil sites: Riversleigh and Naracoorte Caves National Park. Both are located in eastern Australia, and are among the world’s 10 greatest fossil sites. Here’s the skeleton of a marsupial lion, which died off 46,000 years ago.
<b>Ningaloo Coast</b><br>A whale shark cruises the waters off Ningaloo Coast -- the remote western coast of Australia. The area’s star attraction is its reef, which spans more than 160 miles. Along with its famed whale sharks, Ningaloo Reef is home to hundreds of species of fish, coral, mollusk and other marine life.
<b>Tasmanian Wilderness</b><br>Australia’s Tasmanian Wilderness is one of the last great expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. Deep in the wilderness is Franklin River, which offers some of Australia’s best wild river rafting.
<b>Shark Bay, Western Australia</b><br>These tar-looking things -- known as stromatolites -- are among the oldest forms of life on Earth. They can be found at Shark Bay, Australia’s most westerly point. The bay also showcases the world’s largest known area of seagrass (flowering plants), as well as a significant number of dugong (sea cows).