Gondwana Rainforests of Australia

Part of the Queensland World Heritage Family

180 million years in the making

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area descends from the beginnings of life on Earth.

Remarkably close to large Australian communities, these places along the Great Dividing Range remain wild and wonderful, shaped by the planet’s most powerful forces.

The remnant forests in Queensland and New South Wales are all we have left of the once-vast rainforests that covered the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. Few places in the world have such beauty and diversity. This, briefly, is their story.

Discover Gondwana - Ancient Earth

Logos for New South Wales Government; Gondwana Rainforests of Australia; Queensland Government

In the beginning

An ancient supercontinent

Gondwana was an ancient supercontinent that broke up about 180 million years ago. The continent eventually split into landmasses we recognise today: Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula.

The massive tectonic plates began to move over the Earth’s molten mantle, shaping the world as we see it now. As the supercontinent broke up, Australia drifted northwards.

From its beginnings about 180 million years ago, in the Jurassic Period, the process continues: Australia sits on the world’s fastest moving continental tectonic plate, moving north about seven centimetres each year.

The contours of eastern Australia’s escarpments, pushed up during the Gondwana break-up, have been shaped and reshaped by volcanoes and erosion.

Today’s Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area contains spectacular examples of the mighty magma eruptions generated by the tectonic plate passing over volcanic hot spots.

Waterfalls of the Gondwana Rainforests

Spectacular waterfalls and coastal rivers still erode the rocks and soils. The fertile basaltic soils left behind grow lush vegetation, and sustain ancient species.

Since Gondwana’s journey began, the climate has varied, the landscape changed, and plant and animal species have emerged, evolved or disappeared.

Sanctuaries

Life seeks to be.

Today’s forests survive in the high rainfall and rich soils of the Great Dividing Range, part of the older Eastern Escarpment that ran the length of the continent.  Inhabitant species here have endured and adapted to change as only life determined to prevail can.

Many living species we see today link, according to the fossil record, relatively unchanged from ancient species.

Threatened species within the Gondwana Rainforests

We can find fern families that date back 300-400 million years. We can find cycad and conifer species that date back 100 million years. We can see diverse tree species growing in proximity, telling the story of plants adapting to a very different climate in past millennia.

And the animals tell the story of the beginning, too. Chelidae turtles, leaf-tailed geckoes and angle-headed dragons, for example, have links back to species alive during Gondwana’s break-up in dinosaur days millions of years ago.

The ancient forests rang with the calls of songbirds. Today’s lyrebirds and bowerbirds are some of the area’s, and the world’s, oldest species.

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia landscapes, extending from southern Queensland to central New South Wales, are rich in species still evolving due to their isolation.

Climate impact studies using high altitude frogs

They are sanctuaries for more than 200 rare or threatened plant species, amid some 1625 species of plants living here.

Species once thought to be extinct have been rediscovered, including the Hastings River mouse and the parma wallaby.

During the 180 million years of Australia’s journey over the planet’s surface, the forests have successfully ferried their precious cargoes of plants and animals.

In our keeping

Relative to their long and eventful lives, the world heritage-listed landscapes we enjoy today have been protected for but the blink of an eye.

It took the vision and commitment of people in Queensland and New South Wales to ensure that the remaining forests were preserved and protected for all time.

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, originally listed in 1986 to cover rainforests in New South Wales, was extended in 1994 to include rainforests on the Queensland side of the border.

In Queensland, they join K’gari Fraser Island, the Riversleigh Australian Fossil Mammal Site, the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef as world-recognised places of irreplaceable ecological and cultural value in the World Heritage network. All are  unique parts of the World Heritage family.

Some of the notable people who played a part in protecting these Queensland landscapes tell the story.

In our keeping - A history of parks in Queensland

Kirstin Beasley - Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger, Mount Barney National Park

Bell Miner associated dieback impacting the Gondwana rainforests

Gondwana’s rainforests today

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area continues to share its secrets about eastern Australia’s landscape, plants and animals.

These rainforests are biodiversity hot spots, populated by species from the ancient continent and those that have evolved or appeared since.

The area covers 366,507 hectares; 59,223 hectares are in Queensland, including Lamington, Springbrook, Mount Barney and Main Range national parks.

An estimated two million people visit the Gondwana rainforests each year. See for yourself the beauty and complexity of the many protected rainforests on a day-visit, or undertake more extensive explorations.

Image courtesy of the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW

You will see the world's most extensive subtropical rainforest and nearly all of the world's Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest: Rainforests on both sides of the border contain more frog, snake, bird and marsupial species than anywhere else in Australia.

Image courtesy of the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW

Subtropical rainforest in Lamington and Main Range national parks provides a home for ground-dwelling birds such as the rare Albert's lyrebird and the endangered eastern bristlebird. The New South Wales and Queensland governments work together to protect this extraordinary place.

There are 28 reserves in New South Wales and five in Queensland.

Tomorrow?

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia WHA tells us about continuing geological processes and biological evolution.

But how do we anticipate the impacts of an escalating rate of climate change? Species migration or invasion? How do we ensure that development, greater demands for water and resources, and urban sprawl don’t eat at the margins of the forests? What do we imagine the forests will be like in 50 years? 100? 1000?

World-heritage protection for the Gondwana rainforests was a profoundly strong statement of commitment and intent by the Australian, New South Wales and Queensland governments, and a proud achievement for the many concerned people who had worked for this recognition.

Now, the future of ancient Gondwana’s precious legacy lies in support and protection being sustained as far into the future as we can imagine.

Sustaining the Gondwana Rainforests

Queensland and New South Wales rangers working together

Learn more

We invite you to preview Queensland’s other World Heritage sites in the following videos.

  • Queensland is lucky to have five of the sixteen Australian natural world heritage sites in our state. These sites have been selected by UNESCO as sites with “outstanding universal value…”...

    Queensland is lucky to have five of the sixteen Australian natural world heritage sites in our state. These sites have been selected by UNESCO as sites with “outstanding universal value…” “…for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to cooperate.” The sites include the Great Barrier Reef, Riversleigh Fossil Sites, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, the Gondwana Rainforest and Fraser Island. Each uniquely different, they each tell a story of the evolution of Australia and the life that has called this land home for over 200 million years. Join us as we take you on a tour of these spectacular wonders.

    WATCH QUEENSLAND'S 5 WORLD HERITAGE SITES NOW:
    1. Gondwana Rainforests: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vw2T1lwKZg
    2. Great Barrier Reef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElDA_TkifWo
    3. Fraser Island: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEj-FFL1zv0
    4. Riversleigh Fossil Site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKuSMTPJpoY
    5. The Daintree and the Wet Tropics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-o9FMLZkBc

    Explore all 5 wonders here: http://www.queensland.com/Things-to-See-and-Do/World-Heritage?utm_source=youtube&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=qld_youtube

  • 800,000 years in the making (which is still baby status when you’re a world heritage site), Fraser island is the largest sand island in the world - 122 km long...

    800,000 years in the making (which is still baby status when you’re a world heritage site), Fraser island is the largest sand island in the world - 122 km long. Not only that, but it’s got rainforest growing and thriving on sand! It’s got lots of other world-class facts about it too like it contains half of the world’s perched freshwater dune lakes and it has the largest unconfined aquifer on a sand island. While those tongue-twisters might impress a scientist, Fraser Island is pretty great for anyone because on the one island you can hike, swim in crystal blue freshwater lakes, visit a shipwreck, spot whales and dingos, 4x4, camp, salt-water fish, or go on a great walk. A few interesting facts about why Fraser Island is one of Queensland’s world heritage sites:

    • There are over 325 species of birds on Fraser Island.
    • You can see Australia’s purest population of dingos and a unique species of tortoise, which can be found in some of the freshwater lakes.
    • Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes within its 1,820 square kilometres.

    Experience more at http://www.queensland.com/Things-to-See-and-Do/World-Heritage?utm_source=youtube&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=qld_youtube

  • Once upon a time, the Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland was a rich rainforest area. Approximately 25 million years the land was in transition from rainforest to dry grasslands...

    Once upon a time, the Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland was a rich rainforest area. Approximately 25 million years the land was in transition from rainforest to dry grasslands. The fossils found in the Riversleigh world heritage sites are unique because they are preserved in 3D due to the makeup of the freshwater limestone in which they have been found. The Riversleigh fossil deposits are among the richest and most extensive in the world, with some fossils dating back 15 to 25 million years.

    A few interesting facts about Riversleigh:

    • The sites include the first records of many groups of living mammals including the ‘marsupial lion’
    • The fossils span a record of mammal evolution of at least 20 million years in length.
    • The variety of deposits at Riversleigh has led to an understanding of how the environment has changed over time and how the animals that lived here have changed too.

    Experience more at http://www.queensland.com/Things-to-See-and-Do/World-Heritage?utm_source=youtube&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=qld_youtube

  • The Wet Tropics of Queensland are THE oldest rainforests in the world. They are thought to be 6 to 10 times older than the oldest parts of the Amazon. How...

    The Wet Tropics of Queensland are THE oldest rainforests in the world. They are thought to be 6 to 10 times older than the oldest parts of the Amazon. How special that we can still walk amongst the same eco-system that stood 150 million years ago! As one of the five world heritage sites in Queensland, the Wet Tropics can be accessed from Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas and Cooktown.

    A few interesting facts about the wet tropics:

    • Provides habitat for 3,000 plant species, 113 reptile species, and 51 amphibian species.
    • One-third of Australia’s 315 mammal species live in the Wet Tropics – 13 of which are found nowhere else in the world.
    • Home to nearly half of Australia’s bird species - 307 different species.
    • The area stretches along the north-east coast of Queensland for 450 km, from just south of Cooktown to just north of Townsville.

    Experience more: https://www.queensland.com/Things-to-See-and-Do/World-Heritage?utm_source=youtube&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=qld_youtube

  • The Great Barrier Reef is one of the few living structures that is visible from space. The sheer size and grandeur of the reef resulted in it being one of...

    The Great Barrier Reef is one of the few living structures that is visible from space. The sheer size and grandeur of the reef resulted in it being one of the original 8 wonders of the world and the first coral reef to be awarded World Heritage status. Stretching from Bundaberg in the south to Cape York in the tropical north, the Great Barrier Reef represents approximately 10% of all the coral reefs around the world. Prior to the 1980s the majority of the reef was inaccessible to day-trippers, and those fortunate enough to visit were restricted to viewing it during low-tide reef walks or through glass-bottomed boxes. Today the reef has over 700 operators who visit the reef daily and attracts approximately 2 million visitors annually. A few more interesting facts about the Great Barrier Reef:

    • Over 344,000 square kilometres, the reef is roughly the same size as Japan, Germany and Italy or approximately half the size of Texas.
    • The second largest reef, The Belize Reef off the Caribbean coast of Belize, pales in comparison at just above one tenth of the size of the Great Barrier Reef.
    • The reef is home to more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, 1,625 species of fish, 33 species of sharks and rays and 600 types of hard and soft coral.
    • Six out of 7 of the world’s species of sea turtles frequent the reef.

    Experience more at http://www.queensland.com/Things-to-See-and-Do/World-Heritage?utm_source=youtube&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=qld_youtube

Learn more about the history and wonder of the Gondwana Rainforests on the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science website.