Australia's Natural Wonders

It is nearly impossible to narrow down this continent's most beautiful, inspiring and astonishing natural sights, from the colorfully chaotic explosion of life in the Great Barrier Reef to the dramatic rippling red dunes of the Simpson desert. This sampling of Australia’s top natural attractions will have you daydreaming about going to see the 'real' Australia.

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The Great Barrier Reef, Qld

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the largest and most significant reef systems in the world, comprising some 3,400 individual reefs, including 760 fringing reefs, which range in size from under 1ha to over 10,000ha and vary in shape to provide the most spectacular marine scenery on earth. It includes the world's most extensive stretch of coral reef and is teeming with marine life, all of which is easily accessible to see and experience from a variety of towns and islands along the Queensland coast between Bundaberg in the south to the tip of Cape York in the north.

One of Australia's most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world's largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it from a greater distance, you can understand why. It is larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space. The marine park stretches over 3000km (1800 miles) almost parallel to the Queensland coast, from near the coastal town of Bundaberg, up past the tip of Cape York. The area, scattered with beautiful islands and idyllic coral cays full of wildlife, is made up of more than 3000 reefs which range in size from 1 hectare to over 10,000 hectares. The reef, between 15 kilometres and 150 kilometres off shore and around 65 Km wide in some parts, and a massive 300,000 square kilometres in size. It is a gathering of brilliant, vivid coral providing divers with the most spectacular underwater experience imaginable.

A closer encounter with the Great Barrier Reef's impressive coral gardens reveals many astounding underwater attractions including the world's largest collection of corals (in fact, more than 400 different kinds of coral), coral sponges, molluscs, rays, dolphins, over 1500 species of tropical fish, more than 200 types of birds, around 20 types of reptiles including sea turtles and giant clams over 120 years old.

The Great Barrier Reef is a breeding area for humpback whales, migrating from the Antarctic and is also the habitat of a few endangered species including the Dugong (Sea Cow) and large Green Sea Turtle. In recognition of its significance, UNESCO listed the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Site in 1981.

Because of its natural beauty, both below and above the water's surface, the Great Barrier Reef has become one of the worlds most sought after tourist destinations. In 2006 there were approximately 820 operators and 1500 vessels and aircraft permitted to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park providing ease of access for all to experience the Great Barrier Reef and learn first hand about its natural delights and World Heritage values.

Where to see the reef
The Great Barrier Reef spans most of the east coast of Queensland, from north of the tip of Cape York, to just south of Bundaberg, and there are access points all along the coast. There is no direct answer to the question, where is the best place to see the reef? Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsundays are the more popular places to see the reef, all having a variety of ways and means to travel to the reef and then explore it when you get there. But to single them out would be unfair to the many other coastal towns which also provide transport to and from the reef.

Whichever town or towns you choose to visit along the eastern coast of Queensland, provided it is north of Bundaberg, the Great Barrier Reef will not be very far away and chances are there will be a cruise or tour ready to take you out to visit this great natural marine wonderland.

Tunnel Creek, WA

Tunnel Creek, situated 36km east of Windjana Gorge in Tunnel Creek National Park, takes its name from the 750 metre long tunnel carved by flowing water out of the limestone of the Napier Range. Western Australia's oldest cave system, it is famous as a hideout used late last century by an Aboriginal leader known as Jandamarra. He was killed outside its entrance in 1897.

Tunnel Creek, situated 36km east of Windjana Gorge in Tunnel Creek National Park in the north of Western Australia, its takes its name from the 750 metre long tunnel carved by flowing water out of the limestone of the Napier Range, and is part of the 375 to 350 million-year-old Devonian Reef system. Western Australia's oldest cave system, it is famous as a hideout used late last century by an Aboriginal leader known as Jandamarra. He was killed outside its entrance in 1897.

Tunnel Creek is, as the name implies, a tunnel, cut through one section of the reef by a small creek with a collapsed roof in the middle. To pass through it to the other side of Napier Range, you have to wade through long waterholes up your waist and at times up to your chest. In sections, it is pitch black so you need to carry a torch in one hand and your camera in your other. At least five species of bat live in the cave, including ghost bats and fruit bats, and stalactites descend from the roof in many places. Freshwater crocodiles are occasionally found in the pools through no one has ever taken attacked or taken by them.

The tunnel is extraordinarily beautiful and has all the features you'd expect to see in a good caveflow stones, stalactites, stalagmites, cave coral, bats, etc. It is not roped off from any part of the formation, so visitors are free to explore to their heart's content. It gives a real feeling of being free to explore nature in a wild place.

According to the Dreaming (the Aboriginal name for the Creation) the creek was created by the big serpent snake, who went through the rock. Once in there she lost the orientation and had to put her head out of the tunnel, even out of the rock, in order to see where she was. We stopped at the spot, saw the light, continued then through the dark of the remaining part of the tunnel. There are Aboriginal rock paintings at one end of the tunnel. Some have been dated to be 37.000 years old. Nearby is Lillimooloora, which was a police outpost, and the place where Constable Jandamarra Richardson (the 'Pigeon') was shot after catching and then later releasing the Aborigines caught spearing sheep.

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Gosses Bluff, NT

Gosses Bluff is located west of Alice Springs and south of the Macdonnell Ranges, in the arid Missionary Plain in the Northern Territory. The bluff itself is a circular ring of hills 5km in diameter and 200m high, in the centre of a crater. It was formed 142 million years ago by the impact of an asteroid or comet up to 2km in diameter.

Gosses Bluff is an impact crater, located west of Alice Springs and south of the Macdonnell Ranges, in the arid Missionary Plain in the Northern Territory. The bluff itself is a circular ring of hills 5km in diameter and 200m high, in the centre of a crater. It was formed 142 million years ago by the impact of an asteroid or comet up to 2km in diameter. The hills are part of the crater's central uplift, which formed when the earth's surface recoiled from the impact. A circular drainage system 24km in diameter marks the outer ring of the crater. The bluff is deeply significant to the Western Arrernte Aboriginal people, who own the Tnorala Conservation Reserve that contains the crater.

This impact is believed to have occurred at the very end of the Jurassic Period at a time when the largest dinosaurs, the sauropods, declined in number. This impact alone would not have been large enough to cause mass extinctions on a broad scale, but would certainly have caused a lot of local damage. The Morokweng crater in South Africa dates to roughly the same time period, although at 70km in diameter was a much larger impact than that which created Gosses Bluff.

It is estimated that each year the Earth receives about 100,000 tonnes of material from space. If this mass all arrived at once it would be a catastrophe! Most of it comes in meteor showers and is burned up by friction with air molecules in the upper atmosphere: a "shooting star" is a meteoroid either burning up or just grazing our atmosphere. These objects may approach Earth at speeds up to 70 km per second! The hundreds of impact craters on the earth's surface were caused by asteroids or comets colliding with our plant.

Around twenty four impact craters are known in Australia, ranging in size from less than 20m in diameter to perhaps more than 100km. Some date back hundreds of millions (even billions) of years. Others are as recent as just a few thousand years old. Most probably did little more than localised damage. At least two Australian impacts may have contributed to mass extinctions.

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Ball's Pyramid, Lord Howe Island

Ball's Pyramid is the erosional remnants of a shield volcano and caldera that formed about 7 million years ago. Ball's Pyramid is 20 km (13 miles) southeast of Lord Howe Island. It is 562 m high, while measuring only 200 m across. It is part of the Lord Howe Island Marine Park. The first successful climb to the summit was made on 14th February 1965.

Ball's Pyramid has a few satellite islets. Observatory Rock and Wheatsheaf Islet lie about 800 m WNW and 800 m WSW, respectively, of the western extremity of Ball's Pyramid. Southeast Rock is a pinnacle located about 3.5 km southeast of Ball's Pyramid.

The pyramid was named after Lieutenant Henry Ball who discovered it in 1788 at the same time he discovered Lord Howe Island (see the history section of that article). The first person to go ashore is believed to have been Henry Wilkinson in 1882, who was a geologist at the New South Wales Department of Mines.

The first successful climb to the summit was made on 14th February 1965 by a team of climbers from the Sydney Rock Climbing Club, consisting of Bryden Allen, John Davis, Jack Pettigrew and David Witham. There had been an earlier attempt in 1964 by another Sydney team that included adventurer Dick Smith (then just 20 years old) and other members of the Scouting movement. They were forced to turn back on their fifth day running short of food and water. In 1979 Smith returned to the pyramid, together with climbers John Worrall and Hugh Ward, and they successfully reached the summit. At the top they unfurled a flag of New South Wales provided to them by Premier Neville Wran and declared the island Australian territory (a formality which it seems had not previously been done).

Climbing was banned in 1982 under amendments to the Lord Howe Island Act, and in 1986 all access to the island was banned by the Lord Howe Island Board. In 1990 the policy changed to allow some climbing under strict conditions, which in recent years has required an application to the relevant state Minister.

In 2000/2001 the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) insect was found living on the pyramid. (On the unsuccessful 1964 climb, Dave Roots had brought back a photograph of the insect, which the Australian Museum told him they thought was extinct.)

Hanging Rock, NSW

One of the Blue Mountains' most spectacular lookouts, Hanging Rock is somewhat off the beaten track. Though just 7km from Blackheath, it requires a little dirt road driving, walking and hiking, but the effort is well worth the view both of the rock, or from it if you are game enough to climb out. So, is it really hanging? The answer is yes. The rock is separated from the cliff by a 80cm gap that narrows to a crack way down below.

So, is it really hanging? The answer is yes. The rock is separated from the cliff by a 80cm gap that narrows to a crack way down below. The rock itself is quite narrow with a tip hanging over the valley a hundred meters below. The gap between the cliff and the rock is not wide, there are no guard rails, so if you choose to cross over onto the rock itself, think not only of the dangers of literally stepping out into the air hundreds of metres above the valley below, but also, what if your weight is enough to make this rock fall?

Uluru, NT

Uluru, also referred to as Ayers Rock, is an iconic sandstone rock formation one of Australia's most recognisable natural icons. The world-renowned sandstone formation stands 348 metres high (863 metres above sea level) with most of its bulk below the ground, and measures 9.4km in circumference. Uluru is listed as a World Heritage Site.

The rock lies 335 km south west of the nearest large town, Alice Springs; 450 km by road. Uluru is listed as a World Heritage Site.

Both Uluru and its neighbour Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) have great cultural significance for the Anangu Traditional landowners, who lead walking tours to inform visitors about the local flora and fauna, bush foods and the Aboriginal dreamtime stories of the area. It has many springs, waterholes, rock caves and ancient paintings.

The local Anangu do not climb Uluru because of its great spiritual significance. They request that visitors not climb the rock, partly due to the path crossing a sacred traditional Dreamtime track, and also due to a sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors to their land.

The Anangu believe they have a spiritual connection to Uluru, and feel great sadness when a person dies or is injured whilst climbing. However they are resigned to the fact that 10% of the people who visit Uluru do climb it. The climb is strenuous, and on average, one person per month dies either directly (quite a number wander too far and fall off the edges) or indirectly as a result of climbing the rock.

Uluru is notable for appearing to change colour as the different light strikes it at different times of the day and year, with sunset a particularly remarkable sight when it briefly glows red. Although rainfall is uncommon in this semi-arid area, during wet periods the rock acquires a silvery-grey colour, with streaks of black algae forming on the areas that serve as channels for water flow.

The Cultural Centre is the perfect first stop in the park and the best spot to start learning about Anangu culture and Anangu country. Free Ranger guided walks run daily from the Base of Uluru. Guided along a shaded track, the Rangers tell the story of the Mala (rufous hare wallaby) Tjukurpa, and describe the history and traditions associated with Uluru, including traditional and contemporary Anangu life and culture, rock art, and the management of the park. The walk takes approximately 1.5 hours and is wheelchair accessible. There are numerous self guided walks available, including the base walk which is a 10.6 km loop taking 3 to 4 hours to complete.

Its name: The local Pitjantjatjara people call the landmark Uluru. This word has no particular meaning in their language, also known as Pitjantjatjara, but it is also used as a local family name by the senior Traditional Owners of Uluru.

On 19th July 1873, the surveyor William Gosse visited Uluru and named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then-Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Since then, both names have been used, although Ayers Rock was the most common name used by outsiders until recently.

How To Get There: Uluru can be accessed via Uluru Airport, 15 km from Uluru beyond the park's northern border. Visitors are required to pay a National Park entry fee. Visitors can also drive along the Lasseter Highway which joins the Stuart Highway. 200 km south of Alice Springs at the township of Erldunda. The drive is 4 1/2 hours from Alice Springs.

The Twelve Apostles, Vic

It is the sheer scale of the offshore stacks that make The Twelve Apostles, on Victoria's Shipwreck Coast, the most photographed features on the Australian coastline. Dusk and dawn provide the best viewing opportunities with opportunity to view penguins from the cliff top viewing area (about 15 - 20 minutes after sunset). 6km west of Princetown.

The iconic golden cliffs and crumbling pillars of the Twelve Apostles can be found 7km east of Port Campbell. They are protected by the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park which covers 7500ha and runs along 17km of stunning coastline. As well as the above water beauty the park protects some of Victoria's most dramatic underwater scenery. Spectacular arches, canyons, fissures, gutters and deep sloping reefs make up the environment below the waves. Wild and powerful waves of the Southern Ocean constantly pound the coastline which has shaped the area into what you see today.

The remarkable underwater structures provide a complex foundation for magnificent habitats including kelp forests and colourful sponge gardens. Many animals prosper both above and below the water including seabirds, seals, lobsters, reef fish and sea spiders. The intert tidal and shallow subtidal reefs are known to have the greatest diversity of invertebrates on limestone reef in Victoria.

The wild and powerful Southern Ocean that sculpts the area's limestone landscape also shrouds a remarkable seascape beneath the waves; a submarine labyrinth of towering canyons, caves, arches and walls. These natural features are festooned with colourful seaweed and sponge gardens, resident schools of reef fish, such as sweep, gliding above and the occasional visit by an Australian Fur Seal.

Marine mammals, such as whales, are also known to visit the area. Patient visitors after dark or in the early morning may see Little Penguins which nest in caves below the Twelve Apostles. Breeding colonies of seabirds regularly inhabit the rock stacks and islands within the park and the adjacent coastline has sites of significance for flora and fauna. There are also sites of geological and geomorphological significance including karst (ie cave) topography.

Visitors can view the park from shore however access to the water primarily by boat due to the high cliffs and powerful sea conditions (launching point in Port Campbell or Princetown).

Diving: Spectacular above and breathtakingly beautiful below, the park has some of the most unique underwater scenery in the world making it a must for diving and snorkelling. The powerful swell of the Southern Ocean has created awesome sub-tidal canyons, arches, cliffs and walls lined with an amazing diversity of invertebrates and sponge gardens in which colourful seastars can be found. There are also a number of historic shipwrecks including Victoria's worst shipping disaster - the loss of the Loch Ard in 1878.

Conditions for scuba diving vary enormously and depend very much on swell and weather conditions. Diving in these areas should only be attempted by qualified divers with extensive local knowledge or with a an experience guide. Local dive shops and dive operators can provide opportunities to dive at the best sites and wrecks.

Gibson Steps beach

Birdwatching from land points jutting out into the park is a great way to see some of the large seabirds such as gulls and albatross. There are also superb views of the marine national park from Loch Ard Gorge and the Twelve Apostles Viewing Area.

Horizontal Waterfall, WA

What is described as a horizontal, reversible waterfall at Talbot Bay is one of the most unusual of the attractions of Western Australia's Kimberley region. The falls are formed by the massive tides in the Buccaneer Archipelago, north of Derby, which rise at such a speed, large volumes of water are trapped behind the rock walls. The water is released again when the tide turns, causing the 'waterfall' to operate in reverse.

Horizontal Falls at Talbot Bay is one of the most unusual of the attractions of Western Australia's Kimberley region. The falls are not a waterfall in the strictest sense, but to call them horizontal falls is perhaps the only way to describe them. One way to see this phenomenon is to take scenic flight from Derby or Broome, timed to see it at its best. Alternatively, it is possible to ride the falls in a power boat from Derby.

Tides are the periodic rise and fall of sea level resulting from the gravitational interaction and motion of the Sun, Moon and Earth acting on ocean waters. Tidal patterns are modified by other influences such as the shape and depth of oceans and the weather. The combination of factors is complex and causes local tides to vary greatly from one site to another.

The Kimberley Coast of Western Australia experiences some of the highest tides in the world. The town of Derby has Australia s highest tide of any port in Australia. The Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada, has 15m tides. Other high tides occur at Bristol (UK) 14.6m, Mont Saint Michel (France) 12.3m, Puerto Gallegos (Argentina) 13.2m and Bhaunagan (India) 12.2m. High tides in Western Australia are Derby 11.8m, Yampi Sound 10.9m, Broome 9.8m and Wyndham 8.4m.

Storm conditions can cause higher tide levels than predicted. Tides can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy from analysis of long term tide records. The tide predictions provide the time and height of high and low water for a particular day at a particular place. Spring tides occur every 14 days at the new and full moons. Neap tides occur every 14 days at the half moon.

Talbot Bay

Large areas of Talbot Bay behind the Horizontal Waterfalls dry at low tide, and the high tide covers many jagged reefs and rock bars. These sights and challenges make Talbot Bay a special place. The bay also hosts the Paspaley Pearl Farm. Talbot Bay is a prime habitat for dugongs and one of the world's best sites for commercial pearling on the way you can view the spectacular panorama of Cockatoo and Koolan islands and the rest of this wild, rugged coastline.

Buccaneer Archipelago

The Buccaneer Archipelago is a stunningly rugged area off the Kimberley coast in Western Australia, consisting of up to 1000 islands. The scenery is perhaps the most spectacular of any island group in Australia, with secluded white sandy beaches, patches of rain forest, mangrove estuaries, plunging cliffs, indigenous rock art and hidden reefs that litter offshore waters. The islands of the archipelago are mostly small with the largest being Koolan Island (27.1 km2), Hidden Island (19.7 km2), Irvine Island, Long Island (14.8 km2), Sunday Island (13.3 km2) and Lachlan (12.9 km2).

Situated approximately 2800 kilometres north of the Western Australian capital of Perth, the archipelago's distant location has meant it has remained an unspoilt and remarkably pristine location to explore and experience. The archipelago's name commemorates the first sighting of the islands by British navigator William Dampier and his companions in 1688.

Crocodile Creek

The warm weather, water and remoteness of the archipelago have created an incredible breeding ground for a huge array of wildlife including crocodiles, snakes, birds, bats and most importantly fish. Visitors to the Buccaneer Archipelago find the fishing here exceptional and many species habitat the region in abundance. Your catch could include Barramundi, Coral Trout, Red Emperor, Trevally, Snapper Tuna and Spanish Mackerel, as well as oysters and enormous mud crabs.

Aboriginal people have lived in the Archipelago for thousands of years and their rock art can be found on many islands and the adjacent mainland. Using rafts of mangrove logs and canoes, tribes travelled between the islands. Indigenous groups today still visit their traditional sites and communities are established in the area.

Whirlpool Passage

Another phenomena caused the local high tides, Whirlpool Passage divides Chambers and Hidden Islands in the Buccaneer Archipelago. A scenic 3 mile 'S' bend tour is characterized at times of peak tidal movement by large metre deep whirlpools and tidal flows in excess of 10 knots. Passing through the passage when the tide is running is a dramatic experience as your vessel negotiates the violent whirlpools. However, get there at the turn of the tide and it looks like a millpond and ever so peaceful.

Morning Glory, Qld

The Morning Glory, a spectacular propagating roll cloud which frequents the sparsely populated southern margin of the Gulf of Carpentaria, is one of the world's most exotic and interesting meteorological phenomena. Morning Glories are frequently observed during the spring months near dawn over the southern Gulf area in northern Queensland. They often appear in the form of one or more, rapidly advancing, rather formidable roll cloud formations which extend from horizon to horizon in a long arc as far as the eye can see.

The cloud is usually about 3000 feet in depth with a base at about 1000 feet above the surface. On occasion, the base of the cloud may lie below 300 feet AGL and the depth may exceed 6000 feet. The leading roll cloud in Morning Glory disturbances tends to be very smooth along the front and turbulent along the back. Subsequent cloud formations, if present, are nearly always turbulent and often appear only in the form of scattered lines of irregular cumulus. Recent studies have shown that Morning Glory roll cloud formations often extend in length for over 1000 kilometres. Despite their ominous appearance, they seldom produce measurable precipitation, but are almost always accompanied by a short-lived, but often intense, wind squall near the surface which may be a potentially serious wind shear hazard for aircraft. Morning Glories propagate on average with speeds of about 40 kilometres per hour, but occasionally are observed to travel at speeds of over 60 kilometres per hour. Morning Glories tend to occur on a daily basis at Burketown over periods ranging from three to seven days in succession.

Morning Glory roll cloud formations are visible manifestations of large amplitude solitary waves. Solitary waves are somewhat unusual in that they occur as singular waves with one isolated crest. Waves of this type propagate as exceptionally long-lived disturbances in waveguides created by stable layers in the lower atmosphere. A feature of larger-amplitude solitary waves is the region of trapped re-circulating cooler air in the interior of the wave which may be transported by the wave over considerable distances.

Solitary waves occur commonly throughout much of the arid interior of the Australian continent and elsewhere. Waves in inland areas almost invariably occur without cloud as clear-air disturbances accompanied by a sudden wind squall at the surface and a temporary increase in surface pressure. When sufficient moisture is present near the surface, as is often the case over the southern Gulf of Carpentaria region, large amplitude waves of this type may be accompanied by what appears to be a propagating roll cloud formation. In this case, cloud is created continuously in the up-draught along the leading edge of the wave as moist ambient air from near the surface is lifted to the condensation level. Cloud elements are then eroded away as air parcels descend in the down-draught along the trailing edge of the wave. The clearly visible upward motion of cloud elements along the leading edge and the downward motion of cloud elements along the trailing edge of the wave combine to give the impression that the cloud formation is rolling backwards as it advances.

Conditions over the tropical southern margin of the Gulf of Carpentaria between the months from August to November prior to the onset of the Wet are particularly favourable for visible solitary waves. Indeed, the southeast corner of the Gulf is the only known location where spectacular roll cloud formations of this type can be regularly and predictably observed. Roll cloud formations probably accompany more than eighty percent of all Morning Glory disturbances during the spring months as they propagate off-shore over the southern Gulf. Conditions are not as favourable over land; nevertheless, nearly half of all disturbances which occur within 100 kilometres of the coast are accompanied by roll clouds.

Origin: Three distinct types of Morning Glory waves have now been identified: northeasterly Morning Glories which appear most frequently just before sunrise over the Burketown area, southerly waves which can appear over the Burketown region at any time of day except during the afternoon and early evening, and southeasterly waves which tend to be active primarily during the early morning hours. More than half of all disturbances observed at Burketown belong to the category of northeasterly waves. These disturbances originate during the previous evening in the collision between two opposing intense tropical sea breeze fronts over the highlands of the Cape York Peninsula. Waves of this type propagate at night towards the southwest over the Gulf of Carpentaria, arriving near dawn over Burketown. The cloud formation associated with northeasterly Morning Glory waves dissipates fairly rapidly as the disturbance moves inland into drier air over northern Queensland. Even after the cloud dissolves, however, the disturbance continues to propagate inland, often for distances in excess of two hundred kilometres, as a clear-air wind squall.

The genesis of southerly Morning Glory waves remains obscure. Some of these waves have very large amplitudes and may be accompanied by spectacular roll cloud formations; other southerly waves take the form of relatively minor disturbances with amplitudes of only a few hundred feet. There is clear evidence to show that some southerly disturbances originate over the interior of the Australian continent in the interaction of a mid-latitude cold front with a developing nocturnal radiation inversion. Little is known with certainty about the origin or properties of morning glories which arrive at Burketown from the southeast. Some of these waves appear to be generated by thunderstorms which often develop in the late evening over the region to the northeast and east of Mount Isa.

The genesis and propagation of Morning Glories is controlled by synoptic conditions which turn out to be nearly identical for all types of wave. Thus, northeasterly, southerly and southeasterly waves may occur simultaneously over the southern Gulf region. Favourable conditions for the occurrence of Morning Glory waves at Burketown include a significant pressure ridge over the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula, absence of storm activity over the Burketown region and a well-developed sea-breeze regime over the southeastern Gulf area on the preceding day. These conditions are enhanced by the presence of an inland heat trough and an advancing frontal trough system south of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The presence of an inland heat trough and ridging over the eastern Cape York Peninsula will almost always guarantee that a northeasterly Morning Glory will arrive at Burketown on the following morning. It has proven to be fairly difficult, however, to predict the precise arrival time of northeasterly Morning Glories over the Burketown area, the size of these disturbances and whether or not these disturbances will be accompanied by a spectacular roll cloud formation.

The art of soaring on the Morning Glory was pioneered in an historic flight by Robert Thompson and Russell White on 13th October, 1989 in a motorised Grob-109 glider. Robert and Russell and other experienced glider pilots have since completed more than a dozen successful flights on Morning Glory waves, some of which have lasted for more than three hours and have covered distances of over three hundred kilometres. These flights have generated considerable interest in the gliding community and it appears that Burketown is set to become a Mecca for gliding enthusiasts from around the world. Soaring on the Morning Glory at speeds which are comparable with existing world record speeds is one of the most exciting and exhilarating experiences that the gliding world has to offer. A typical flight starts with a motor-assisted take-off at first light from the sealed strip at the Burketown aerodrome. All flights to date have been carried out on northeasterly Morning Glories.

In most cases, the Morning Glory is first encountered over the Gulf as a moving mountain of cloud while the aircraft is still at a fairly low altitude. At this point the aircraft is directed along the axis of the wave and the engine is switched off. The glider then ascends very rapidly in the strong updraft along the face of the advancing roll cloud. This is perhaps the most exciting and scenic portion of the flight. The strong updraft along the leading edge of the wave extends over a broad area ahead of the wave above the top of the cloud and provides useful lift to heights of at least 10000 feet AGL. This means that the flight direction along the axis of the roll cloud can be safely reversed with ease at any time. Flights of more than 300 kilometres along the length of the wave may be possible in some cases, but the pilot must always keep in mind that the wave is eventually going to disappear as it moves inland over very inhospitable terrain with very few possibilities for a safe landing.

The remote, sparsely populated southeast corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only known location where Morning Glory roll clouds occur regularly and predictably at certain times of the year. A visit to Burketown or Sweers Island in September or October to view, or perhaps even to soar on, this unique natural phenomenon can be a very exciting and rewarding experience.

Bungle Bungle Ranges, WA

The Bungle Bungle Ranges, contained within Purnululu National Park, is an incredible landscape of tiger-striped, beehive-shaped sandstone domes rising 300m out of the arid landscape, interspersed with deep chasms with palm trees, and long, deep gorges with miniature fan palms adorning the rocks. There are a number of ways to experience the Bungle Bungles. To appreciate the overall aspect of this weird landscape, one has to take to the air. A hike through this landscape with its sandstone domes is unforgettable. There are breathtaking gorges like Cathedral Gorge and Piccaninny Gorge.

The Bungle Bungle Range is one of the most fascinating geological landmarks in Western Australia. Contained within Purnululu National Park, the range is best known for its striped, beehive-shaped domes and amazing rock gorges and canyons. The National Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003.

From an aircraft, the Bungle Bungle Range is an imposing sight. The orange and black stripes across the beehive-like mounds, encased in a skin of silica and algae, are clearly visible as you approach from the south. As you sweep further over the range a hidden world of gorges and pools is revealed, with fan palms clinging precariously to walls and crevices in the rocks.

Although the Bungle Bungle Range was extensively used by Aboriginal people during the wet season, when plant and animal life was abundant, few Europeans knew of its existence until the mid-1980s. The area has been a national park since 1987 and its unique appearance has captured the public imagination. The park offers a remote wilderness experience.

Cathedral Gorge

With its huge dome-like cavern, Cathedral Gorge is regarded as one of nature's grandest amphitheatres. The entrance to Cathedral Gorge is lined by steep, almost vertical, rock faces. The amphitheatre has acoustic properties which, over the years, have encouraged many self-proclaimed singers to try and impress others with their vocal offerings.

Mini Palms Gorge

It is difficult to appreciate the scale of Mini Palms Gorge, a place where the afternoon sun creates a beautiful ethereal glow. Access to the gorge is via a walking path along an ancient river bed between 500 Million year old conglomerate sandstone walls on which miniature Livistona palms cling precariously. Where the gorge walls appear to close in on themselves, a lush garden of head-height palms has sprung up. At the very rear of the gorge, a large cave offers a deliciously cool lunch spot, once our eyes had adjusted to the gloom.

Echidna Chasm

One of Australia's most spectacular walking destinations. It is an easy 2 km walk to Echidna Chasm along a trail dotted with Livistona palms through towering bright orange cliffs. The cliffs slowly close in on each side until the trail is only a metre wide and in a crevice a hundred metres high. The light reflects off the orange domes above and creates an eerie fluorescent glow on the creek bed below. It is simply stunning. Similar to Standley Chasm in the Northern Territory, Echidna Chasm is actually far more spectacular at about triple the length and with great surrounding views. Created by the rains of a million wet seasons, this is without doubt one of the most spine-tingling places of Australia.

Where is it?: 2,997 kms north east of Perth

How to get there: By road, 2,997 kms north east of Perth. The turn-off to the park is 250 km south of Kununurra or 109 km north of Halls Creek on Great Northern Highway. The park access road is accessible only to four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Scenic flights over the massif by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft are available within the park or from Halls Creek, Kununurra or Warmun. This is the best way to gain a perspective of the Bungle Bungle's massive size and spectacular scenery.

The best time to go: The park is open only between April and December 31 (weather permitting)

Purnululu is the name given to the sandstone area of the Bungle Bungle Range by the Kija Aboriginal people. The name means sandstone or may be a cordon of bundle grass. The range, lying fully within the park, has elevations as high as 578 metres above sea level. It is famous for the sandstone domes, unusual and visually striking with their striping in alternating orange and grey bands. The banding of the domes is due to differences in clay content and porosity of the sandstone layers: the orange bands consist of oxidised iron compounds in layers that dry out too quickly for cyanobacteria to multiply; the grey bands are composed of cyanobacteria growing on the surface of layers of sandstone where moisture accumulates.

The Bungle Bungle Range is one of the most extensive and impressive occurrences of sandstone tower (or cone) karst terrain in the world. The Bungle Bungles were a plateau of Devonian sandstone, carved into a mass of beehive-shaped towers with regularly alternating, dark gray bands of cynobacterial crust (single cell photosynthetic organisms). The plateau is dissected by 100-200 m deep, sheer-sided gorges and slot canyons. The cone-towers are steep-sided, with an abrupt break of slope at the base and have domed summits. How they were formed is not yet completely understood. Their surface is fragile but stabilized by crusts of iron oxide and bacteria. They provide an outstanding example of land formation by dissolutional weathering of sandstone, with removal of sand grains by wind, rain and sheet wash on slope

Wilpena Pound, SA

Amidst the vibrant colours of the 800 million-year-old quartzite and limestone outcrop that is the Flinders Ranges lies Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre 17km long and 7km wide. Located 429 kilometres north of Adelaide, SA in the heart of the Flinders Ranges National Park, the Pound is the most northern point with access via a sealed road in this part of the Flinders Ranges.

Shaped by the weathering and uplifting of land over time, this place has strong significance to the indigenous Adnyamathanha people. The name for the Pound, Wilpena, is reported to be Aboriginal, meaning 'the place of bent fingers'; this might either be a reference to the mountains resembling the shape of a gently cupped hand, or the freezing cold of the ranges in winter. The traditional owners, the Adnyamathanah, however, have no such word in their language. Ikara, as they call it, is a significant place of many sacred Aboriginal rituals, and their Dreamtime stories tell of its creation by huge serpents. From the rich indigenous history to the stories of the first European farmers to the region, this place has a diverse and fascinating history of human interaction with the landscape.

Edeowie Gorge

Although from the outside the Pound appears as a single range of mountains, it is actually two: one on the western edge, and one on the eastern, joined by the long Rawnsley's Bluff at the south. A gorge called Wilpena Gap has been cut in the eastern range, and most of the inside of the Pound drains into Wilpena Creek which exits through the Gap. A small part of the high northern slopes of the Pound drains into Edeowie Creek, which drains in time of flood over steep cliffs and waterfalls in Edeowie Gorge to the north.

The highest peak in the Pound, also the highest of the Flinders Ranges, is St Mary Peak (1170m), on the north-eastern side. To the south of the Gap on the eastern side, the highest peak is Point Bonney (1133m). On the north-western side of the Pound, the highest point is Pompey's Pillar (1165m), and Rawnsley's Bluff (950m) at the southern end is the other major summit.

Mt Ohlssen Bagge summit

The wall of mountains almost completely encircles the gently-sloping interior of the Pound, with the only breaks being the gorge at Wilpena Gap and a high saddle in the south-western range over which the Heysen Trail passes. This latter saddle is called Bridle Gap, supposedly because it's the only place other than the gorge where a skilled horseman might ride into the Pound. The interior of the Pound does not rise to a height at the northern edge, but instead simply drops off very steeply to the plain below in a series of steep gullies.

Wilpena Pound is one of the most popular sites in the Flinders Ranges for international tourists to visit the outback because of the large development that has occurred at the Wilpena Pound Resort on the eastern side of Wilpena Pound and Rawnsley Park Station on the western side.There are many modern facilities there that makes it appealing for people who are not familiar with the semi-arid conditions. Tourists also go on scenic flights from an unsealed airstrip at Wilpena Pound resort and Rawnsley Park 30 km north east of Hawker.

Old Wilpena Homestead: Nestled between the ABC Range and the northern ramparts of Wilpena Pound is Old Wilpena Station, one of South Australia's oldest and best preserved pastoral settlements. Walk along Wilpena Creek past magnificent stands of river red gums with stunning views of the Pound wall in the distance. As you pass through the station gate you'll step back 150 years to the early days of pastoral runs. Explore a world of improvisation, dogged with self-sufficiency and a powerful instinct for survival. Learn how the land changed with European settlement and how present-day pastoralists and park managers are dealing with those changes. Enjoy a cuppa and cake on the verandah of the old Homestead or 'Government House' as the early homesteads were known.

Undara Lava Tubes, Qld

Undara Lava Tubes (Undara Volcanic National Park) near the small town of Mount Surprise 275 km south-west of Cairns, are one of Australia's great geological wonders. They are the largest, longest and most accessible lava tubes on earth. Several of the tubes, or "caves" as they are often called now, are open to the public (others are still the subject of scientific research) but only on guided tours.

The tubes contain creatures previously unknown to science, including two species of insect-eating bats. Unique blind insects and colourless shrimps and beetles have evolved without need for the sense of sight or colour camouflage in the black basalt tubes. Two new snail varieties are among the 24 cave-adapted species thus far discovered. Undara volcano erupted 190,000 years ago and spewed 23 cubic kilometres of molten lava onto the surrounding country. Streams of sulphurous lava flowed over the land, spilling out like boiling treacle into various creek beds and other depressions. The surface soon cooled and crusted but the molten lava inside continued to flow, leaving behind the huge hollow pipes ... the unique lava tubes.

In 1993 the Queensland Government proclaimed the area as the Undara Volcanic National Park. The Undara Lava Lodge offers unique accommodation in turn-of-the-century carriages, as well as other accommodation options to suit all budgets. Several of the tubes, or "caves" as they are often called now, are open to the public (others are still the subject of scientific research) but only on guided tours conducted by Lodge owner Gerry Collins or one of the friendly and knowledgeable guides who are all members of the Savannah Guides Organisation.

The park is also home to a wonderful kaleidoscope of bird life, of which over 150 species have been recorded. Barkers tube has become the bats' favoured "maternity and baby nursery".

Lake Eyre, SA

Famous for being the saltiest lake in Australia, Lake Eyre only fills up once or twice every century. The lake itself, at 15 metres below sea level, is Australia's lowest point. It is also the fifth largest (9,690 square kilometres) terminal lake in the world although it usually contains little or no water. The highest recorded level in Lake Eyre was in 1974 but it would take the average flow of Australia's largest river, the Murray to maintain that level. The Danube River would fill Lake Eyre to the 1974 level in forty-five days; the Mississippi in twenty-two days, and the Amazon in three days.

Summer shade temperatures on Lake Eyre regularly reach the fifty degrees Celsius range while a reading of 61 degrees has been reported. The Lake is situated in the most arid part of Australia with a mean annual rainfall of less than 125 mm and an annual evaporation rate of 2.5 metres.

The Lake Eyre Basin covers one sixth of the continent and holds some of the rarest, least exploited ecosystems on the planet. The Basin is the world's largest internal drainage system. It covers approximately 1.2 million square kilometres of arid and semi arid Central Australia. This is about one-sixth of the continent or the same size as the Murray Darling system or about twice the size of the US state of Texas. It is considered to be one of the world's last unregulated, wild river systems. Unlike other river systems, flows in the Basin are highly variable and unpredictable.

All the rivers and creeks are ephemeral with short periods of flow following rain and extended periods of no flow. The volume of flow decreases downstream reflecting increasing aridity towards Lake Eyre and the huge dispersal system of braided channels, floodplains, waterholes and wetlands on the way. The many large permanent waterholes in the system provide vital habitat for wildlife and are important to towns, communities and pastoral holdings. The Basin is part of Australia's arid zone and the ecosystems it supports are varied and often unique. Land use within the Basin is equally varied, and includes (but is not limited to) pastoralism, mining, tourism, oil and gas exploration and production, conservation and Aboriginal activities. The area is culturally significant and contains a wealth of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal history.

The surface of the lake has an eerie appearance. Because the lake is so clam, it is reflecting am image of the sky and clouds, but this image is coloured by the pink tinge of the algae that lives in the briny waters. The lake contains a series of island and bays. The islands in the lake can contain nesting colonies for birds when the lake holds water as the birds feed on the crustaceans and small fish which inhabit the lake.

British adventurer and speed record chaser Donald Campbell attempted the World Land Speed Record in his car, The Bluebird, on this lake back in the 1960s when the lake was dry. On 17th July 1964, Campbell set a record of 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h) for a four-wheeled vehicle. Campbell was disappointed with the record as the vehicle had been designed for much higher speeds. CN7 covered the final third of the measured mile at an average of 429 mph (690 km/h), peaking as it left the measured distance at over 440 mph (710 km/h).

Mount Hypipamee, Qld

Mount Hypipamee National Park is centred around a diatreme or what is commonly referred to as a volcanic pipe or vent, thought to have been created by a massive gas explosion. The crater is less than 70m across with sheer granite walls. Fifty-eight metres below the rim is a lake about 82m deep covered with a thick green layer of native waterweed. Underneath live perch-like fish and small crustaceans.

Located high on the southern Evelyn Tableland, in the Hugh Nelson Range, this park is centred around a diatreme or what is commonly referred to as a volcanic pipe or vent, thought to have been created by a massive gas explosion. A platform at the end of a 400m walking track through the rainforest provides an uninterrupted view of the remaining crater. The crater is less than 70m across with sheer granite walls (the surface rock through which the gas exploded). Fifty-eight metres below the rim is a lake about 82m deep covered with a green layer of native waterweed.

A remarkable variety of vegetation types, including high-altitude rainforest, grows in this small park. It is a hot spot for possums with several different species inhabiting the area and a good place for seeing high-altitude birds.

An alternative route back to the car park from the crater is the Dinner Falls Circuit Track leading to Dinner Falls, a series of cascades in the headwaters of the Barron River. The track surface is uneven with exposed rocks and roots and can be slippery when wet. Some sections are reasonably steep. This circuit can be walked in either direction.

Getting there and getting around: Mount Hypipamee National Park is next to the Kennedy Highway, 25km south of Atherton. Atherton is 96km from Cairns via the Kennedy Highway and 80km via the Gillies Highway. The park can also be reached from Malanda (15km) via a partially unsealed road.

The Totem Pole and The Candlestick, Tas

The Totem Pole and The Candlestick are two sea stacks at Cape Hauy on the eastern coast of the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania's south-east corner. They were named by Tim Christie in 1965 when he climbed them. A 65 metre high slender column of natural dolerite, the Totem Pole is in a deep, shady, chasm between the first of The Lanterns formations and the headland of Cape Hauy. The Candelstick is a thicker, shorter chunk of dolerite which stands at the far entrance to the same chasm.

The 65 metre high Totem Pole is dwarfed by the surrounding rocky spires. The whole of the peninsula's coastal features are a haven for rock climbers, from Cape Raoul to Cape Pillar and up the east coast to Eaglehawk Neck. The development of many new sport climbs at Mt. Brown and the climbing of the Free Route on the Totem Pole has seen a resurgence in climbing on the Peninsula. Most of the climbing on the Peninsula depends on swell size more than anything. Generally the swell is bigger in winter, but there is nothing south between the Totem Pole and Antarctica, so big swells are possible (and even likely) all times of the year.

The Totem Pole is known to be one of the most difficult vertical climbs in Australia and one of the more popular attractions in the Tasmania region. It was first free climbed in 1995. American Mark Anderson claimed the second Ascent. In an article published on the Chockstone rock climbing website, a Victoria, Australia based website, Anderson describes the climb: "The height of the thing and the perspective from the Cape gives the illusion that it actually gets wider and thicker as it gets taller, which is a stunning illusion! And that doesn't even consider the setting of the Totem Pole, which is simply surreal. The climbing is absolutely awesome. The rock is excellent, the moves are enjoyable, and the setting is completely unmatched. In terms of pure enjoyment and satisfaction, it was one of the best climbing days I've ever had! It sounds cliched, but a route like that is the reason you learn to climb."

The Candlestick

The Candlestick and the Totem Pole can be reached by an hours walk to Cape Hauy from Fortescue Bay, via a turn off to a few kms before Port Arthur. There are other great coastal walks on the Peninsula that take in some spectacular scenery, such as Cape Raoul and Cape Pillar - the walk out to Cape Hauy to contemplate the singularity of the Totem Pole is a must. There are also some sea caves and other natural features that don't require walking, including Tasman Arch, Remarkable Cave, and the Tessellated Pavement at Eaglehawk Neck.

Cape Hauy

Langgi Inlet, WA

Many small cruising vessels sail past the rocky inlet named Langgi - to the south of Hall Point and Deception Bay on the eastern side of Collier Bay - without realising the beauty and significance of this special place. On arriving ashore, the scene that unfolds from the beach is nothing short of amazing. One side of the inlet is a maze of three metre-high remarkably life-like, naturally sculptured sandstone pillars. Beyond them, a path leads up the gorge to some rock art and a burial cave.

Local Aboriginal legend states that these sandstone pillars at this sacred site represent warriors killed in a Dreamtime battle between the land Wandjinas and an important Sea Wandjina named Namarali. As visitors wander amongst the "almost alive" rock formations, observing from different angles, they cannot help but asking themselves how these rocks came to be shaped into such lifelike images and why this is the place where they all chose to "congregate". Why is one rock shaped like a duck and another shaped like a horse's head, animals not seen in Australia? They look like petrified stone warriors, but this sculpture garden was created solely by the action of the wind and waves over many millennia.

Just 8 nautical miles north of Langgi Inlet is a rather large and shallow bay named Deception Bay by P. P. King. This is one of the most prolific areas in the Kimberley for whale watching and there are a number of good anchorages inside Deception Bay and around Kid Island and Hall Point immediately south-east of the bay.

Kata Tjuta, NT

Kata Tjuta are a group of large domed rock formations located about 365km southwest of Alice Springs in the southern part of the NT.The 36 domes, covering an area of 21.68km2, are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone. The highest point, Mount Olga, is approximately 546 m above the surrounding plain (203 m higher than Uluru).

Kata Tjuta, sometimes written Kata Tjuta {Kata Joota}, and also known as Mount Olga (or colloquially as The Olgas), are a group of large domed rock formations located about 365 km southwest of Alice Springs in the southern part of the NT. Uluru, 25 km to the east and Kata Tjuta form the two major landmarks within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The 36 domes, covering an area of 21.68 km2, are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone. The highest point, Mount Olga, is 1066 m above sea level, or approximately 546 m above the surrounding plain (203 m higher than Uluru).

Vally of the Winds

The site is as sacred to the Indigenous people as Uluru. There are many Pitjantjatjara Dreamtime legends associated with this place and indeed everything in the vicinity including, of course, Uluru. A number of legends surround the great snake Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. Many ceremonies were, and are still carried out here, particularly at night. One of these former ceremonies included a type of public punishment that in extreme cases included death.

The Pitjantjajara name Kata Tjuta means 'many heads'. The alternative name, The Olgas, comes from the tallest peak, Mt Olga. At the behest of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, Mt Olga was named in 1872 by Ernest Giles, in honour of Queen Olga of Wurttemberg,, Grand Duchess of Russia, 1900. Paiting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873). She and her husband King Karl had marked their 25th wedding anniversary the previous year by, amongst other things, naming Mueller a Freiherr (baron), making him Ferdinand von Mueller; this was his way of repaying the compliment.

On 15th December 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names consisting of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. As a result, Mount Olga was renamed Mount Olga / Kata Tjuta. On 6th November 2002, following a request from the regional Tourism Association, the order of the dual names were officially reversed to Kata Tjuta / Mount Olga.

Montgomery Reef, WA

Montgomery Reef, to the south of Yawajaba Island in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, is subject to one of the most significant and unusual tidal movements in the world. It is an extraordinary panorama of vast lagoons, tiny sandstone islets and a central mangrove island - but only when the tide is out. As the tide falls right before your eyes, along a navigable channel running deep into the eastern reef, a stunning horizon of white water rapids is created. Suddenly, a loud, raging torrent of water erupts around you as Montgomery Reef appears to rise out of the ocean.

Montgomery Reef, to the south of Yawajaba Island in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, is subject of one of the most significant and unusual tidal movements in the world. It is an extraordinary panorama of vast lagoons, tiny sandstone islets and a central mangrove island - but only when the tide is out.

Arriving by charter boat or by tourist cruiser to the area at high water, you drop anchor in what appears to be an endless ocean. As the tide falls right before your eyes, along a navigable channel running deep into the eastern reef, a stunning horizon of white water rapids is created. Suddenly, a loud, raging torrent of water erupts around you as Montgomery Reef appears to rise out of the ocean.

You find yourself in a narrow channel sinking slowly below the horizon. Contained by reef walls on both sides all you can see is the 'rooster tail' effect as the water cascades off the reef to the river forming below. What started out as a nice spot for a cuppa becomes a raging river as the waters rush past your vessel to battle its way out into open water.

What you are witnessing is the power of the immense Kimberley tidal movements which literally create daily hundreds of waterfalls cascading off the reef and a massive lagoon as the boat lowers almost up to 10 metres with the natural drop of sea level. 300 sq. kms of surrounding reef become exposed with natural cascades forming as trapped surface water rushes off the reef top.

Montgomery Reef offers a spectacular array of marine life. Here you may see whales, dolphins, dugong, turtles, manta rays and the black tipped reef shark continually patrolling the reef ledges.

Montgomery Reef was named by Phillip Parker King after Andrew Montgomery, the the surgeon on his survey vessel, Mermaid.

The Mystery of the Yawijibaya: On the eastern edge of Montgomery Reef are little specks of land known as the High Cliffy Islands. Only 1 km long and barely 300 m wide, High Cliffy may seem relatively insignificant, but for over 100 years they have been a source of intrigue and mystery. High Cliffy was once home to the Yawijibaya people, who lived here for almost 7,000 years.

By the turn of last century, they had gained notoriety by passing vessels and explorers as "a physically superior race of tribal Aboriginals" and "the giants of the north". They had adapted to their environment superbly. They were big and strong, some over two metres tall. Their lives were intertwined with the massive tides, cyclones, intruders and the daily pursuit of food. In the 1930s, the Yawujibia people vanished and their disappearance sparked one of the north-west's greatest mysteries. What brought about their demise? And how could an entire tribe of over 300 people just disappear? Stories of a huge tidal wave or great wars with neighbouring tribes or visits from unfriendly aliens abound.

Mount Trafalgar, WA

Mount Trafalgar, situated in the Prince Regent Nature Reserve, is one of Australia's most remote places, with the only access by air or boat. The top of the massive bluff can only be reached by boat or helicopter. A Kimberley region tourist company offers helicopter flights to the area which take visitors to the top of the mountain where they can enjoy a champagne breakfast as the sun comes up over the ocean.

Mount Trafalgar is situated in the Prince Regent Nature Reserve, in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. It is one of Australia's most remote places, with the only access by air or boat. There are no roads into the area and a permit is required from Conservation and Land Management for those wishing to enter the area. The top of the massive bluff can only be reached by boat or helicopter. A Kimberley region tourist company offers helicopter flights to the area which take visitors to the top of the mountain where they can enjoy a champagne breakfast as the sun comes up over the ocean.

vThe Prince Regent River, in the far north-west Kimberley, remains today as one of Australia's most remote wilderness areas. No roads penetrate its rugged sandstone ranges, and a tide-race with formidable whirlpools restricts access from seaward. Upstream from the veritable inland sea of St. George Basin, the Prince Regent River runs straight as an arrow into the heart of the Kimberley Plateau, following an ancient fault line. The Prince Regent Nature Reserve, created in 1964, covers some 633,825 hectares, protecting almost the entire river catchment. The Reserve was nominated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978, in recognition of its outstanding intact wildlife and pristine values.

The first Europeans known to gaze on this scene were the botanist, Allan Cunningham, and ship's surgeon, James Hunter, in September 1820 on the survey vessel HMC Mermaid, under the command of Lieutenant Phillip Parker King. While the ship was undergoing emergency hull repairs at Careening Bay, the pair had climbed a prominent hill, which they named Mount Knight. From this peak, their eyes were drawn to a glimmering inland tidal basin, as well as a skyline dominated by a spectacular tilted mesa.

In the oral traditions of the Wororra, the local Aboriginal people, this mighty mesa, Ngayangkarnanya, had been carried in the Dreamtime from the north by a vast shoal of fish, sharks and crabs. The colossal weight of the load not only exhausted them, it squashed many flat - creating in the process both rays and shovel-nosed sharks!

Unaware of these ancient legends, Phillip Parker King and the crew of HMC Mermaid ventured in to explore the basins and navigable lower river, bestowing British names with patriotic zeal. The Prince Regent River was named for the Hanoverian prince, shortly to succeed his incapacitated father, George III, and reign in his own right as King George IV. The 391-metre mesa was named Mount Trafalgar by King, in honour of Nelson's great naval victory of 1805. An adjacent lesser peak was named Mount Waterloo, after the Belgian village that witnessed the decisive defeat of Napoleon by the Duke of Wellington's army.

The Mermaid Tree

Careening Bay was named by Lieutenant Phillip Parker King after his ship, HMC Mermaid, was careened (had its hull scraped clean) there in order to repair a leak, during his first voyage of discovery in 1820. King was completing the circumnaviation of Australia commenced by Matthew Flinders 20 years earlier for the purpose of accurately mapping thw whole coast of Australia. Flinders never completed the mission - his reserach vessel, HMS Investigator, became increasing unseaworthy as the voyage progressed. He attempted to return to Britain to get a more reliable ship to complete the task with, but he was taken prisoner by the French in Ile de France (Madagascar) and was detained there for 7 years.

Perhaps because he had plenty of time on his hands while waiting for the Mermaid to be repaired, Lieutenant King had members of his crew inscribe a boab tree with the words HMC MERMAID 1820 , to record his visit. The tree is still alive, and is today an important tourist attraction.

St George Basin

One of several large inlets on the Kimberley Coast, St George Basin is believed to have been formed by a rise in sea level around 10,000 years ago. The Prince Regent River enters the Indian Ocean through St George Basin. The river makes its final approach to the sea through 80 kilometres of an extraordinarily straight valley, which is in fact a long fault line in the massive worn-down plateau of the Kimberleys.

The Prince Regent Nature Reserve

The Prince Regent River was named by Phillip Parker King on 11th or 12th October 1820. The name honours George, Prince of Wales, the son of Britain's George III who took over as Regent in 1811 when his father's mental illness (thought now to be the disease Porphyria) had taken such a hold, the Prince of Wales had to take his place. By the time the river was thus named in his honour, George III had died and George, Prince of Wales, was no longer Prince Regent, but had been crowned George IV. At the mouth of the Prince Regent River is an ancient Boab tree on which the crew of the HMS Mermaid carved the name of their vessel in 1820.

The Prince Regent Nature Reserve covers more than 600,000 hectares of wilderness in Western Australia's highest rainfall area. It is one of Australia's most remote places, with the only access by air or boat. There are no roads into the area and a permit is required from Conservation and Land Management if you wish to enter the area. Some of its spectacular sites include King's Cascade, Mount Trafalgar, Python Cliffs, Pitta Gorge, lush rainforests and the Prince Regent River which runs almost entirely straight for most of its length and often between near vertical cliffs. The reserve boasts more than half the mammal and bird species found in the Kimberley and more than 500 species of plants. This part of the Kimberley is the only part of mainland Western Australia where no extinctions are known since European settlement.

Kings Cascade

Kings Cascade is a remarkable landform. Even at the end of the Dry season, there's still water flowing down its face and into the Prince Regent, forming an inviting oasis from the heat and dust. It has a sinister history, however, following the death of American actress Ginger Meadows in 1986. Meadows went swimming, against the advice of all the other passengers on board a boat, and was taken by a large estuarine crocodile.

Access: The area remains one of Australia's most remote wilderness areas with no roads and formidable tide-races and whirlpools restricting seaward access. The area is mostly accessed by air or by boat and has remained virtually unchanged since European settlement of Western Australia. A permit is required to enter the Reserve and can be obtained from the Department of Conservation and Land Management. One of the best ways to explore the area is on a cruise. More than 30 expedition cruise vessels operate multi-day cruises between Broome, Wyndham, Darwin and Cairns, and most visitors to the park arrive on one of these vessels.

Stromatolites, WA

At Hamelin Pool, which is a bay within the Shark Bay World Heritage Area on the Western Australian Coral Coast, the world's oldest organisms can be seen - stromatolites. Stromatolites are believed to be the result of primitive life forms that are believed to have first existed on earth 3.5 billion years ago. They are the earliest known form of life on earth. The dome shaped structures reach up to 60cm in height and are formed by single celled organisms called cyanobacteria. The process continues today.

The stromatolites at Hamelin Pool represent an outstanding example of the earth's evolutionary history. Just south of Monkey Mia and Denham, this massive occurrence of stromatolites is easily accessible by way of an educational boardwalk at Hamelin Bay.

The low tidal flow in Shark Bay has created hypersalination, a level of salt twice that of normal seawater. In these salty pools, stromatolites grow at a rate of less than 1mm per year. A microorganism, cyanobacteria build up, trapping fine sediment particles from the warm water and binding it together with mucus. This unusual life form grows to about 60cm tall and look like mushroom-shaped rocky domes. The discovery of these living fossils was akin to finding a live dinosaur.

When the Shark Bay stromatolites were discovered by scientists in 1956, they were the first growing examples ever recorded of structures, found fossilised in very old rocks, that had puzzled geologists for more than a century. The living microbes that built the stromatolites are similar to those found in 3500 million year old rocks, which are the earliest record of life on Earth. A wooden boardwalk at Hamelin Pool allows people to view the stromatolites without damaging them. It incorporates informative panels that give visitors a fascinating insight into the formation and lifestyle of the stromatolites and is a good way to find out about the beginnings of life of Earth.

Lake Preston Stromatolites

Myalup, a coastal village to the south of Perth, Western Australia, is on the southern edge of the Yalgorup National Park, a haven to native wildlife and bird sanctuary as well as a home to stromatolites. Lake Preston, the largest of the nine lakes in the park, also borders the town. The town also has a caravan park, chalets, recreation ground and store, and a white-sand beach continuous to and shared with Binningup 5 km to the south.

Lake Thetis Stromatolites

The Lake Thetis stromatolites exhibit unusual columnar branching. These narrow, closely spaced and almost parallel columns are extremely rare in modern stromatolites. Alongside the stromatolites, a diverse array of benthic microbial communities, such as algal mats, inhabit various layers of the lake. Some of these algal mats are associated with the stromatolites while most confine themselves to a particular area such as the high foreshore areas, splash zone or the central basin of the lake.

The lake water is alkaline and nutrient poor but provides an ideal environment for bottom dwelling microbial communities. The lake contains some small fish, amphiods and a few crustacean species adapted to living in highly saline environments. The lake is situated east of Cervantes, 2 km inland from the Indian ocean.

Nullarbor Plain, WA/SA

The vast treeless Nullarbor Plain isolates the inhabited areas of Western Australia from those of South Australia. The plain is generally considered to extend 400km west and 300km east of the Western Australia-South Australia boundary, and up to 250km inland from the Great Australian Bight. Formed of a single giant piece of limestone, the Nullarbor Plain is fairly porous so that any rainfall drains underground, resulting in no surface watercourses and few distinguishing features.

The Nullarbor Plain is Australia's most well known and most frequently travelled stretch of desert. Though the whole area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country immediately north of the Great Australian Bight is often referred to as "The Nullarbor", the plain itself is only a part of this area. It is in fact the world's largest single piece of limestone, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres. At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres from east to west between South Australia and Western Australia.

Crossing the Nullarbor Plain by Rail

A single railway track crosses the Nullarbor Plain. Construction of the 1,692 km standard gauge railway, from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta across the Nullarbor Plain, commenced in 1912. Completed in October 1917, the single line, complete with numerous spur lines and sidings to allow trains travelling in opposite directions to pass, has been used by goods and passenger trains ever since. The switch from steam to diesel powered locomotives began in 1951.

The present Indian Pacific service was inaugurated in February 1970 when the standard gauge Trans Continental line was extended west to Perth and east to Sydney (the original Trans Continental rail service only ran between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta; passengers then had to change trains to complete their journey, travelling on a narrow gauge line to Perth, or first a narrow gauge line to Adelaide, then broad gauge to Melbourne, which was the line's original eastern terminus).

Today, the Indian Pacific has two scheduled passenger services each week in each direction from September to March and one each week from April and August.

The train makes only one scheduled stop between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta - at Cook, though stops to pick up mail and/or passengers do occur at other sidings if required. At Cook, passengers have around an hour to stretch their legs, wander around the tiny settlement and buy souvenirs while the train takes on water midway through its journey.

Crossing the Nullarbor Plain by Road

Driving across the Nullarbor is for many the quintessential experience of the Australian Outback. Bumper stickers bought from roadhouses on the highway proudly declare 'I have crossed the Nullarbor' as though it were a rite of passage in becoming a 'real' driver.

The Eyre Highway is the only road by which to cross the Nullarbor Plain from east to west or vice versa. It was hastily built during World War II should a road link have become necessary for the transportation of military equipment and personnel at that time.

Crossings in the 1950s and earlier were significant, and those who made the journey literally took their lives into their hands, as most of the road back then was at best an unsealed dirt track. Round-Australia car trials (The Redex Trials) utilised the Nullarbor crossing for good photo shoots of cars negotiating poor tracks. The last section of road to be sealed - around 200 kms of highway up to the state border on the South Australian side - was opened in 1977.

Though the Eyre Highway is dotted with roadhouses, the Nullarbor is still a remote area and when travelled by road you can expect to pay high prices for fuel and food. Make sure your vehicle is reliable before crossing the Nullarbor as mechanical repairs will be expensive and time consuming - especially if parts have to be freighted in. Transport costs are high this far away from civilisation!

It's a long journey but the Nullarbor Plain is by no means devoid of things to see along the way. Between Ceduna and Norseman, which is the most isolated stretch of the journey, there are a few surprises in store for those unfamiliar with the Nullarbor. The journey from Sydney to Perth takes four days, based on around 10 to 12 hours of travel per day during daylight hours, with overnight stops along the way.

Crossing the Nullarbor Plain by Air

Anyone who has flown between Perth and the Eastern States and either followed the route on the aircraft's flight path simulator or looked out of the window will know that aircraft on this route fly over the Great Australian Bight and miss the Nullarbor Plain altogether.

Forrest airstrip

As a safety measure, however, an airstrip built for military purposes during World War II at Forrest on the Trans Australian railway line, has been upgraded and equipped to function as the main emergency runway for commercial aircraft flying east-west, should they encounter situations that require a landing midway through their flight. The airstrip is capable of taking aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747; it has two runways that are both sealed and lighted. The airstrip's traditional arched hangar and runway can be seen from the Indian Pacific train.

Forrest boasts a resident population of just three, but it's not a lonely outpost, with up to 10 light aircraft refuelling every day and the transcontinental railway line only metres away bringing supplies and delivering mail. There's also a steady flow of 4WD adventurers through the town as they follow the transmission line across the plain.

Skylab space debris

Balladonia, which is the last roadhouse on the WA side, had its five minutes of fame in 1979 when the Skylab space station crash landed over the Nullarbor plain. It spewed lots of debris into the bush around Balladonia. The locals collected the largest pieces and it is now on display at a museum attached to the Balladonia Roadhouse. Amusingly at the time, the local Dundas Shire Council presented NASA with a littering fine, and President Jimmy Carter even rang the Roadhouse to make his apologies. The whole issue was something of a good natured diplomatic event with Canberra's American Ambassador visiting the region to inspect any damage that may have been done.

Whale Watching

Not far from Nullarbor Roadhouse on the Eyre Highway is the turn-off to the an ocean lookout at the head of the Great Australian Bight. As well as offering views east to seemingly endless sand dunes, and west along the face of the Bunda cliffs which line the shore for 200 km right to the WA border, it also offers to opportunity to see Southern Right Whales carving between May and September. For some unknown reason, Southern Rights have chosen this spot for that purpose and travellers have the privilege of viewing mothers and children at close range. A small entry fee is charged for access to the whale viewing platform. During the non whale watching season entry is by gold coin donation only.

The World's Longest Golf Course

The Nullarbor Plain is not the home of Australia's longest gold course, it is the world's longest golf course. In a bid to make travellers slow down and spend more time there, a few enterprising business people along the Eyre Highway have created a golf course which takes the length of the Nullarbor to complete.

The eighteen holes are spread over 1,365 km of outback terrain; a game of golf can take as long as seven days to complete - longer even, if you keep on hitting your balls into the scrubland or suffer the indignity of having them stolen by an errant dingo or chewed by a feral camel.

The idea is that after playing one hole, you drive to the next ... and then the next. The only difference to any other golf course is that the next hole is generally 100 km further down the highway. It's a par 72 course, and bright yellow warning signs alert golfers to wayward wombats and even kangaroos on the way. Golfers can tee off at either Kalgoorlie or Ceduna, depending on which direction they are travelling.

Limestone caves

90m under the sun scorched red dust of the Nullarbor lie some of the worlds largest underground cave systems, spreading for mile after mile of cold cavernous darkness. These caves have been formed over thousands of years out of the limestone that lies under the plain. Once you leave the glare of the sun, the caves are awesome. Weebubbie, the main entrance is more like a quarry than a cave and, Cocklebiddy are among the largest tunnels in the world, and they lead to enormous subterranean lakes.

This is a hot, dangerous remote place to be and is the kind of place people have passed over for years but never explored. The caves you enter are a long way from medical help and some extend over 5 km into dark tunnels, often interrupted by high dry chambers it is easy to get lost in.

The preliminary descent into the cave mouth is relatively easy, there are ladders and hoists for your gear and you can still see the sky and feel the warmth coming off the orange rock, it's once you suit up and get into the literally crystal clear water and darkness that it gets challenging. Most visitors make it to the Rockpile, a dry pocket about 1 km in and admire the clear water, the boulders and the interesting shapes of the tunnels then turn around, but if you go deeper you'll see more of the worn limestone sculptures of the earth's interior.

If cave diving is now the world's most dangerous sport then the Nullarbor caves must be some of the world's most dangerous places.

History of the Nullarbor Plain

The Nullarbor was inhabited by the semi-nomadic Spinifex Wangai Aboriginal people. European settlers were determined to cross the plain, despite the hardships created by the nature of the Nullarbor. Although Edward John Eyre described the Plain as "a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams", he became the first European to successfully make the crossing in 1841.

In 1866 E. Alfred Delisser surveyed the Nullarbor Plain and noted a marked absence of trees. Contrary to some popular opinions the word Nullarbor is not of Aboriginal origins. In fact the local Mining people referred to the area as "Oondiri" which is said to mean "the waterless". Delisser derived the term Nullarbor from the Latin "nulla" for no, and "arbor" for tree. Hence the term Nullarbor meaning no trees.

In the 1870s and 1880s vast areas of the Nullarbor were leased to sheep graziers with many sheep stations later being incorporated into the vast Fowler's Bay run that stretched from Streaky Bay in the East to areas even further west of Nullarbor Station - a distance of over 400 kilometres! Today just about all that remains are abandoned homesteads. Koonalda homestead is one such abandoned site that the traveller can visit and use as accommodation, or as a base to explore nearby Koonalda cave and other limestone sinkholes within the area.

A new state of Auralia (meaning "land of gold") was proposed in the 1890s which would have comprised the Goldfields, the western portion of the Nullarbor Plains and the port town of Esperance. Its capital would have been Kalgoorlie.

In the 1950s, the Wangai Aboriginal people were forced to abandon their homelands during the British nuclear tests. Since then they have been awarded compensation and many have returned to the general area. In fact, many never left. Due to their isolation it was impossible to warn them all about the testing.

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