Tag: Australia

The Blue Mountains

The Greater Blue Mountains Area is one of Australia’s many natural heritage sites. Easily accessible from Sydney, a visit should not be missed.

On my last vacation down under, I only had three days in Sydney and was a little iffy about spending one of those on a trip inland. I was rather tempted to spend the day on the coast, but on the other hand I had wanted to visit the Blue Mountains for a long time. In the end, my ambition to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) as possible got the better over my desire to spend time at the beach. I think this was a good decision.

The Greater Blue Mountains Area can be reached from Sydney in about an hour by car and there are also many tours available, so there really is no excuse not to spend at least a few hours there. I was quite overwhelmed by the sheer size of the eucalypt woods – there seems to be no end to them. Walking through, you feel lost in a wilderness, despite the knowledge that urban life is close by. Standing on the edge of cliffs of up to 300 metres height, overlooking the vast bluish-green mass of eucalypt, you cannot imagine a village or town to be close by, let alone a huge city like Sydney.


According to the site’s description on the UNESCO World Heritage website, the area is so important because it

‘(…) is noted for its representation of the evolutionary adaptation and diversification of the eucalypts in post-Gondwana isolation on the Australian continent.’

The Greater Blue Mountains Area WHS is actually comprised of eight different sites: seven national parks and a karst conservation reserve, to a total of 1.3 million hectares. According to the UNESCO’s description mentioned above,

‘it constitutes one of the largest and most intact tracts of protected bushland in Australia’,

and is home to 152 plant families, 484 genera and c. 1,500 species – you can find ‘a significant proportion of the Australian continent’s biodiversity’ here. Yet, even if you’re not into biology or the evolution of the planet, the area is breathtaking and makes for an amazing day out.


When we stopped for lunch in a small town, I was reminded of a passage from Bill Bryson’s Down Under, in which he states that visiting small towns in inland Australia he felt transported back to the 1950’s. I found some of that nostalgic feeling here, as well, with a well-maintained high street, little shops here and there, cafes and restaurants, trees to offer shade along the walkways and hardly any traffic. It seemed like a place you’d like to spend time strolling or sitting around, not like a lot of towns nowadays, where there aren’t any little shops anymore, hardly any eateries or places to sit. This really felt like a nice change from urban concrete, despite being an urban setting itself – just much more alluring and comfortable.

I also rather enjoyed a trip to Scenic World Blue Mountain, where you can go on the world’s steepest railway (scary!), walk through Jurassic rainforest on the Jamison Valley floor and also have a choice between a skyway and cableway. Our group went down into the valley on the railway, then for a walk followed by a cableway trip across the gorge to a viewpoint from which you have good views of the famous rock formation known as the Three Sisters. What really made my day, though, was seeing a lyre bird. They are said to be extremely shy and I hadn’t expected to see – or hear – one. Unfortunately, it kept moving around, so that I wasn’t able to take a decent photograph.

In sum, I can only recommend a visit to the Blue Mountains. If you have the time, you should probably stay for a few days.


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Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Melbourne

The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in Melbourne are yet another example of my stumbling onto World Heritage Sites completely unawares. Don’t let this poor habit of mine diminish their worth, though. The actual building is very beautiful and the surrounding gardens are a welcome spot for a break after sightseeing in Melbourne.

Located just north of the city centre, the exhibition building was built in just 18 months in 1879/80, in time to host the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880. Designed by architect Joseph Reed and built by David Mitchell, it is said to be based on various European buildings, such as the cathedral in Florence. The Exhibition Building went on to house several other exhibitions and major events, chief among them the centenary celebrations of 1888 and the opening of the first Parliament of Australia in 1901; but also several events during the 1956 Summer Olympics (I kid you not). The royal title, however, was not bestowed until 1984. Unfortunately, vast parts of the building were either demolished or lost to fire.


Nowadays, the remaining part of the building – the Great Hall –  is still used for commercial exhibitions and there was one in full swing when I visited. Sadly, I therefore do not have any decent photographies of the amazing interior. The exterior is also quite stunning, though, and reminds me of a cathedral much more than a building I’d envisage for commercial shows. This outlook is clearly different to that of the organisers of the famous international exhibitions, and UNESCO states the following as a criterion for the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne being a World Heritage Site:

“The Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens, as the main extant survivors of a Palace of Industry and its setting, together reflect the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement showcased technological innovation and change, which helped promote a rapid increase in industrialisation and international trade through the exchange of knowledge and ideas.” (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1131)

I am quite grateful for the people in charge to have built something so beautiful, and for the building to have survived. If you have a chance, you should visit the Royal Exhibition Building at a time when there isn’t a major event on, as that would make it much easier to visit and enjoy the inside.


In case you would like to enjoy another beautiful relic of times gone by, you should travel on the lovely retro tram No. 35 – it has two stops on the edge of Carlton Gardens and circles the city centre, making sightseeing a little easier on your feet. If that doesn’t convince you, yet, it is also free of charge.


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