Hiking in the Canadian Rockies, cycling along the Rhine River, exploring Machu Pichu.  As we travel the world, we like to have a purpose to that travel, so one of the things we do is tick off World Heritage sites.

Not sure what they are? In 1972, UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization started a list of places that are either culturally or naturally 9or both) significant to the world. There are 1121 world heritage sites in the world. They include famous places like the Pyramids of Egypt, The Great Wall of China and Notre Dame Cathedral. The majority of the sites are recognised for the cultural, man made significance. 213 of those are recognised for purely their natural significance.

We of course have World Heritage Sites in Australia and more relevantly now, in Western Australia. We have four to go and visit and they are all very special; one cultural and three natural ones.

Ningaloo Coast

Our most recent addition to the list is Ningaloo Coast.  Far less famous than the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is the longest fringing reef in the world. Fringing reef meaning the reef is right off the beach. What I love is there are no long boat rides out to the coral. Bathers on and in I go, right off the beach.   

The World Heritage listing includes Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park. Our picks for things to do here are:

  • Swim with Whale Sharks: this was one of the most exhilarating experiences for me to be in the water with such a large animal with shark in its name. Lucky they are harmless.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
  • Drift snorkel at Turquoise Bay: We walk south along the beach, get in the water with snorkel and mask and drift along because of the current. We keep an eye out for the resident Reef Sharks. They are used to tourists.
Turquoise Bay
  • Yardie Creek walk or boat trip: we hiked up the gorge and spotted rare black-footed rock wallabies. 
Yardie Creek

Australian Convict Sites

Our only cultural World Heritage site is Fremantle Prison and we share that listing with the rest of the country. There are 11 Australian Convict Sites dotted around the country.

Fremantle Prison


Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) was only really known to the majority of Australians in the early 80s. It holds special significance to the local Gidja people and when we went there, we realised why. The classic beehive formations are only part of this special place. Whether we were negotiating the narrowing red rock of Echidna Gorge, climbing up and down to the tiny palm trees in Mini Palm Gorge or hearing someone sing in Cathedral Gorge. It got in our blood and we need to go back again and again. The 50km track takes about three hours so four-wheel drive or helicopter are best. (Try and avoid driving out at sunset. Dust and sunset glare make it difficult to see)

Walking to Cathedral Gorge, Purnululu
Negotiating the narrowing red rock of Echidna Gorge

Shark Bay

To be listed as World Heritage, the site must meet one of the ten criteria. There are four natural ones and because it is so special, Shark Bay meets all four of those. I used to think it was the Monkey Mia dolphins and Dirk Hartog’s plate (remember that from school museum visits) but it actually the stromatolites (living fossils), seagrass meadows, beaches made purely of shells, and array of endangered species such as Dugongs that make it World Heritage quality.

Our go to spots are:

  • Steep Point: western most point of Australian mainland and there is a sign and camping at South passage
Steep Point: Westernmost Point of Australia (4WD needed)
  • Francois Peron National Park where the red sand dunes become white before hitting the aqua sea.
  • Artesian water hot tubs at Peron Homestead
Artesian water hot tubs at Peron Homestead
  • Kayaking on the calm Shark Bay water at sunset
Kayaking on the calm Shark Bay water at sunset

Oh and the Monkey Mia dolphins of course

One to keep an eye on:

In January 2020, the Murujuga Cultural Landscape was nominated for World Heritage Listing. This is the Dampier and Burrup Peninsula regions in the Pilbara. Murujuga has the densest known concentration of hunter-gatherer petroglyphs anywhere in the world and being tens of thousands of years old. When we first arrived, the area looks like a bunch a rocks, then one by one the engravings appear until we were spotting them everywhere. Turns out there is about one million of them. It is truly a significant are of Indigenous and Australian heritage that needs to be protected.