Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - Fraser Island & The Great Barrier Reef

Central Station, five miles north of Lake Birrabeen, was once the headquarters of logging operations on the island. Today, this grassy clearing, edged with soaring hoop and kauri pines hung with staghorn ferns, is a popular camping and picnic spot; an information building has displays on the Aboriginal and European history of the island. Here, walkers have a choice of trails.
 
Cliffs of ancient colored sands, bound together by silt and clay and carved by wind and water into fantastic turrets and spires, border the eastern beach all the way from Rainbow Gorge, just south of Happy Valley, to the famed Pinnacles on Maheno Beach. The reds, browns, ochers, and creams of the cliffs are the result of leaching iron oxide.

Dolphins riding waves into shore are frequently spotted from the cliffs, as are migrating humpback whales. The waters below Indian Head are particularly rich in fish and therefore notorious for the sharks they attract. A boardwalk at Middle Rocks offers panoramic views of the coastline and access to the effervescent waters of Champagne Pools via a short, steep track. Here, a natural seawall creates deep, sandy rock pools that are filled at high tide by crashing waves.

At low tide, the pools are excellent for swimming; in fact, the presence of sharks and treacherous currents elsewhere means that this is the only place on the entire eastern shore where saltwater swimming is possible. The brightly striped fish that become marooned in the pools earned them their alternative name, the Aquarium.

Whatever you decide to include or miss in your travels to Australia make sure that you don't pass up Fraser Island. Just writing this section made me tear up! I simply have to go back!

The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Extending for 1,430 miles along the Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef covers an area that exceeds that of Great Britain and Ireland combined. Indeed, so large is it that the only way to obtain a complete view is to travel into space: seen from beyond Earth's atmosphere, the reef stands out as the only visible organic structure on the surface of the planet.

The reefs alone harbor the greatest variety of life-forms found in any one location on Earth. Conservative estimates put the number of fish species at 1,500, and no fewer than 400 species of sponge and 500 species of seaweed adorn 400 kinds of coral. Even more astonishing is the reef's mollusk community, which includes approximately 4,000 species, ranging from tiny sea slugs through hard-shelled scallops, oysters, and clams to cephalopods such as octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. The warm waters of the Coral Sea are also home to or visited by an extraordinary array of marine mammals, including green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles, dolphins, dugongs, and humpback whales. In addition, the tropical skies, islands, and cays ring with the cries of more than 215 species of birds.

Perhaps the most remarkable single fact about the Great Barrier Reef is that it is a living entity. This natural masterwork consists of billions of individual corals, each of which is made up of thousands of tiny jellyfish-like animals known as polyps.

Continued in: Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - The Great Barrier Reef

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