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The Top 7 UNESCO Sites to Visit in Oceania


Discover some of Oceania’s greatest jewels, and all designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites!

From preserved underwater paradises and extraordinary geological formations, to extraordinary cultural landscapes and pristine wilderness areas, as well as lands with spectacular flora and fauna, it is not surprising that UNESCO has awarded many of Oceania’s most outstanding locations and sites with World Heritage status. Here are seven amazing places in Oceania that should be on your list to visit soon if you have not already.

1. Ningaloo Coast, Western Australia

Located in the north west coastal region of Western Australia, the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area was established in 2011, due to its remarkable marine life and environment. The Ningaloo Coast is fringed by the Ningaloo Reef, and stretching 260 km in length, it is Australia’s largest fringing coral reef. It is also one of the best locations to come face-to-fin with the world’s largest fish – the whale shark – as there is nowhere else on Earth where they reliably congregate in such large numbers, between 300 to 500 annually, between late March and mid-July each year. Humpback whales can also be seen annually between June and November as they migrate up and down the coast, on what is referred to colloquially as the “humpback highway”. Dolphins, dugong and manta rays also use the reef for their migratory routes while the beaches of the reef are an important breeding ground for loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles.

2. Te Wāhipounamu, South Island, New Zealand

Te Wāhipounamu, covering almost 10% of New Zealand’s total land area encompasses four national parks: Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, and Westland Tai Poutini. Inscribed in 1990 on the World Heritage List, Te Wāhipounamu was recognised as containing many of the natural features that contribute to New Zealand’s reputation: snow-capped mountains, wetlands, remote lush rainforests, glacial valleys, coastal fiords, waterfalls, and sapphire lakes, as well the best representations of flora and fauna originating from the prehistoric continent of Gondwanaland. Westland Tai Poutini National Park features some of the world’s most active glaciers, including the widely visited Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. While Fiordland National Park includes the spectacular Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds, and offers magical landscapes carved by glaciers and cascading waterfalls that finish in deep black fiords. Unique fauna found in Te Wāhipounamu include the Southern Brown Kiwi, Great Spotted Kiwi, Yellow-crowned parakeet, Fiordland Penguin, New Zealand Falcon, the Brown teal and even the world’s rarest and heaviest parrot, kakapo, now believed to be extinct on the mainland.

3. Macquarie Island, Subantarctic Islands, Australia

Macquarie Island, lies approximately 1,500 km from Tasmania, located about half-way between Australia and the Antarctic continent. The island is the only place in the world where the rocks from the Earth’s mantle are actively exposed above sea level, leading to one of the reasons it was awarded World Heritage Status in 1997. The strong winds of the “Furious Fifties” have sculpted its diverse landscape. Alternating between waterlogged and heavily vegetated areas to steep escarpments that rise to a plateau and from lush grassland to sparse feldmark, this environment offers the perfect home to a wide variety of fauna. Macquarie Island is the only known breeding ground of the royal penguin and the Macquarie ShagKing penguins, southern rockhopper penguins and gentoo penguins also breed on the island in large numbers. The island also supports about 3.5 million breeding seabirds including four species of albatross and four species of fur seals who come ashore to breed and moult every year.

4. Fakarava, The Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Fakarava, part of the Tuamotus island group, is the second largest atoll in French Polynesia, and one of the world’s best diving locations, offering an astonishing abundance of ocean and lagoon-dwelling marine life, that include a variety of rays, barracudas, groupers, hammerhead and Tiger sharks. Fakarava was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977 to preserve its exceptional aquatic biodiversity and complex and unique ecosystem which hosts rare flora and fauna, that include an endemic kingfisher, Tuamotu palm, and several unique species of crustaceans, such as a mantis shrimp and slipper lobster. The reserve is made up of the atoll itself plus six neighbouring low-lying coral islands and atolls: Aratika, Kauehi, Niau, Raraka, Taiaro and Toau. While diving is notably the main activity to enjoy on Fakarava and the best way to encounter its underwater beauty, there is a lot more to discover on the atoll such as its small quaint villages and friendly locals.

5. Purnalulu National Park, Western Australia

Declared a World Heritage Site in 2003 for its incredible natural beauty and outstanding geological value, Purnululu National Park is a remote wilderness area in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia that includes the famous Bungle Bungle Range, renowned for its spectacular landscape of sculptured banded domes, that resemble beehives. The range and its mounds, that rise 250 m above its landscape, have been created from sandstone that has been eroded by creeks, rivers and weathering over the last 20 million years, that has carved out these extraordinary formations, along with spectacular canyons and gorges, and of which are surrounded by semi-arid savannah grasslands, pools and fan palms. Revered by its Aboriginal custodians for at least 40,000 years, they
remained undiscovered until 1983. The Bungle Bungle range is best viewed on a scenic flight from Kununurra or Broome or can be accessed by road in a four-wheel-drive vehicle during the dry season from April to December.

6. Taputapuātea, Raiatea, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Recognised as the ancestral homeland of Polynesian culture, Taputapuātea is an extraordinary cultural landscape and seascape located on the island of Raiatea, part of the Society Islands. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2017, the site serves as an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilisation. Sitting at the heart of the 25 km2 area, is the archaeological site of Taputapuātea marae, a communal and sacred place once considered the religious centre of Eastern Polynesia and an important centre of political power. This large marae complex is made up of several marae (rectangular areas of cleared land) bordered with stone structures, representing the interface between the world of the living, te’ao, and the world of the gods and ancestors, te pö. Surrounding the Taputapuātea marae complex, is an equally beautiful traditional Polynesian landscape you can discover, from a shimmering lagoon bounded by a reef, to forested valleys ringed by ridges and sacred mountains, as well as older marae sites.

7. New Caledonia Barrier Reef, New Caledonia

Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008 under the name “The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems” the area comprises six designated lagoons that include: the Entrecasteaux Reefs, the Great Northern Lagoon, the Northeast Coastal Region, the Ouvéa and Beautemps-Beaupré atolls, the Western Coastal Region and the Great Southern Lagoon. Recognised as the second largest reef system in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it is also the longest continuous barrier reef in the world (1,600km long) and has the largest lagoon in the world (24,000 km2). Containing some of the world’s most diverse concentration of reef structures, they provide habitat to several emblematic and threatened marine species such as fish, turtles, sharks, whales, and are home to the third largest population of dugongs in the world. It is also considered an important nesting site for the Green Sea Turtle and an Endemic Bird Area with 23 species being found only in New Caledonia.

Photo credit: © Pixabay, © iStock, © Studio PONANT Olivier Blaud, © PONANT Mick Fogg, © Studio PONANT Margot Sib, © Michel-Georges Bernard / CC BY-SA, © PONANT Philip Plisson.

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