23 March 2015 by Daniel Wright
Australia is one of the most varied landscapes on earth. It's got a whole range of stunning, idiosyncratic scenes, from the snow-capped peaks of the Australian Alps to wildlife-rich coral reefs, biodiverse tropical rainforests and dust-filled deserts.
It's also packed with iconic, world-famous natural monuments. Think of Australia, and the first thing that comes to mind is Urulu, or Ayers Rock, the enormous, table-like red sandstone rock located in the southern part of Australia's Northern Territory. Other iconic landmarks include the Great Ocean Road's Twelve Apostles rock formations, which stand like sentries overlooking the coast; the untouched white sands of the Whitsunday Islands; and the breathtakingly vivid pink of Lake Hillier. Australia has something for everyone, offering many once-in-a-lifetime sights – we've compiled our top ten to give you an insight into the best of this vast country's iconic landscapes.
Daintree Rainforest, Queensland
The Daintree Rainforest is a tropical rainforest located on the northeast coast of Queensland. The forest covers about 1,200km squared of land and is the oldest surviving rainforest in the world, with an extraordinary diversity of wildlife, plants and fungi. It's also Australia's largest continuous area of rainforest, which grows right down to the edge of the sea. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, much of its diverse flora and fauna is distinctive to the Daintree Rainforest alone. See Daintree Rainforest on our The Great Barrier Reef: Port Douglas, Daintree and Lizard Island tour.
Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Australia's Great Ocean Road is one of the world's most iconic drives. The coastal road stretches 151 miles from Torquay to Allansford, and was constructed in the 20s. It's got an unprecedented amount of jaw-dropping scenery, from sheer ocean cliffs to untouched surf beaches, whilst also traversing one of Australia's most cultured rural areas, offering an opportunity to experience some of Australia's most iconic landscapes in one fell swoop. Heading to Apollo Bay, it travels inland through the Otway Region, the Shipwreck Coast and the famous Twelve Apostles.
Along the way, you'll see wild dramatic coastlines, hinterland waterfalls and lush forests, mixed with laid-back cosmopolitan seaside villages offering superb wine, fine dining and relaxation. Torquay is also home to the Surf World Museum and is Australia's surfing capital – give it a try, or just watch the locals catch a wave at one of the country's best surf beaches. See the Great Ocean Road on our Melbourne, the Grampians & Great Ocean Road self-drive.
The Twelve Apostles, Victoria
The famous Twelve Apostles deserve a mention in their own right. A series of dramatic rock formations made of limestone off the shore of Port Campbell National Park, just by the aforementioned Great Ocean Road in Victoria, they're a world-famous tourist attraction. Now only eight, there were originally 12 dramatically shaped rocks, formed by erosion, when harsh and extreme weather conditions from the southern ocean gradually wore away soft limestone to form caves in the cliffs – it's a ruggedly splendid sight. See the Twelve Apostles on our Melbourne, the Grampians & Great Ocean Road self-drive.
Lake Hillier, Middle Island
The bubblegum-pink Lake Hillier is located on Middle Island – the largest island in the Recherche Archipelago, off the western coast of Australia. The lake is about 600m long and is surrounded by a rim of sand and dense woodland of paperback and eucalyptus trees, with a narrow strip of sand dunes covered by vegetation separating its northern edge from the blue Southern Ocean. No one knows exactly what causes the lake's bright pink colour, but it's thought to be caused by the presence of the Dunaliella salina bacteria that lives in the lake's salt crystals. Discover Western Australia on our Perth, Margaret River & the West Coast self-drive.
Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge), Nitmiluk National Park
Nitmiluk Gorge is a deep gorge that's carved through the ancient sandstone of Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, around 200km southwest of Darwin. The gorge – formally known as the Katherine Gorge – consists of thirteen gorges, complete with river rapids and plunging waterfalls that follow along the Katherine River. During the dry season – from April to October – the gorge waters are placid in most spots and are ideal for swimming and canoeing. See the Nitmiluk Gorge on our Australia's North West & Top End tour.
Jim Jim Falls, Northern Territory
The Jim Jim Falls is a plunging waterfall that descends from an elevation of 259m above sea level into a plunge pool within the creek, descending over the Arnhem Land escarpment within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia. They are located near the eastern boundary of the national park and 28km south of Jabiru and are at their most spectacular in the wet season, best viewed from a helicopter. See the Northern Territory with our Australia’s North West & Top End tour.
Uluru (Ayers Rock), Northern Territory
Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in the southern part of the northern territory in central Australia. The rock is 335km south west of the nearest large town, Alice Springs, by road. Uluru is Australia's most recognisable natural landmark, standing 863m above sea level with most of its bulk lying underground. See Uluru on our Sydney, Uluru & the Great Barrier Reef tour.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island and lies in the state of South Australia, southwest of Adelaide. It's one of Australia's most beautiful locations because of its unusual rock formations, called the Remarkable Rocks, and is known for its eponymously-named kangaroo species which is only found here – they have no natural predators and are the slowest moving species of kangaroo. Other beautiful aspects of its landscape are Seal Bay, around which you can take ranger-guided walks among basking Australian sea lions, and don't miss Flinders Chase National Park, which includes the Remarkable Rocks, Admiral's Arch, lighthouses at Cape Borda and Cape du Couedic, as well as multiple walking trails and camping areas. See Kangaroo Island's Remarkable Rocks on our Wildlife & Wine of South Australia tour.
Beaches of the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland
The beaches of the Whitsunday Islands are another highlight of the landscapes of Australia and definitely one of the most beautiful, located off the coast of Central Queensland, Australia. The beaches are a must-see Australian icon, with untouched white sands and deep, crystal clear turquoise coastlines. Relax on a Whitsunday white beach on our Sydney, the Whitsundays and Brisbane tour.
Australian Alps, Victoria/New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory
If you want an example of Australia's diversity, look no further than the Australian Alps. An IBRA bioregion, they span from the State of Victoria through New South Wales to the Australian Capital Territory. The highest mountain range in Australia, in the winter they're blanketed in snow – embracing 16 national parks, they're ideal for skiing, hiking, bike rides and many more outdoor activities. Don't miss Mount Kosciuszko, a 2228m high peak with glacial lakes and breathtaking views of the valleys below. Visit New South Wales on our Highlights of New South Wales tour.