Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef: Wonders of the nation, or great natural wonders of the world? You decide. Words by Flora King
By mid 2011, a predicted one billion members of the population will have cast a vote and participated in an epic global poll to determine the new seven wonders of the natural world. The New7Wonders of Nature campaign was launched in 2007 and is a contemporary effort to recognise our planet’s most phenomenal natural sites and landscapes, as seen through the eyes of its public. With the announcement of these new wonders scheduled for two years from now, and with two of our national icons in the running against 26 other finalists, it is time for Australia to mark her ballot.
Breathtaking to behold and rich in cultural significance, it is without doubt the quintessential image of the Australian outback.
Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it is also known, is the world’s largest monolith and an isolated remnant of what was once a full mountain range in the Kata Tjuta National Park. Grandly rising 340m above the surrounding plains it is perhaps Australia’s most recognisable natural site. Anyone who has stood before the huge rock formation at sunset and watched its smooth sandstone surface blaze a million shades of red in the changing evening light would wish to argue that it’s up there with the world’s best in terms of awe-inspiring natural beauty. Uluru is to the Aboriginal people and traditional Anangu owners of the land a scared place, emanating energy and containing the spirits of the ‘Dreamtime’ legend. Breathtaking to behold and rich in cultural significance, it is without doubt the quintessential image of the Australian outback.
The Great Barrier Reef
Australia is the only continent that can boast of having 340,000km2 of intricate live coral cays scattered across its warm, turquoise northeastern shores, and the stunning Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. Made up of a myriad of over 3000 individual reefs and 900 sun-soaked golden islands, it is the only living organic collective visible from outer space. It is also one of the world’s richest areas in terms of biological diversity and home to a vast variety of sea life, including 30 species of whales and porpoises, 125 species of sharks and stingrays and over 15,000 species of fish. While the reef has been an important part of indigenous culture and spirituality for thousands of years, and parts are believed to be as much as 18 million years old, this ancient natural gift remains a dazzling jewel in Australia’s crown.
A brief look at some of the potential wonders we are up against;
Covering an area of 2.5 million miles, shared by nine different countries, home to a third of the world’s species, and provider of more than 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe, the sprawling, majestic Amazon represents half of our planet’s remaining rainforest and is often described as the “lungs of the world”.
Puerto Princessa Underground River
Around 50km north of the city of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Philippines is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Beneath the park’s spectacular limestone karst landscape flows an extraordinary underground river, which winds through 8.2km of underground caves and dark, cavernous chambers before it spills dramatically in to the South China Sea.
The Dead Sea
Landlocked between Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, the Dead Sea – at 400m below sea level – is the lowest body of water on Earth. A 30 percent salinity content means it is nearly nine times saltier than the ocean, and with little plant or animal life able to flourish in the immediate area, the sea possesses its own sparse and haunting kind of beauty.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona has for many years been a world-renowned symbol of nature’s tremendous power, and almost two billion years of natural history are revealed in its layers of beautifully preserved rocks. From the top of the mile-high gorge are vistas stretching for hundreds of miles over the multicoloured, arid and strikingly inhuman landscape.
At 5895 metres high, Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing, snow-covered equatorial mountain in the world. Once a live volcano, and with a summit crater measuring 1.5 miles across, the isolated snowy peak rises spectacularly from the fertile green savannah, and is a potent motif of the country’s geographical extremes.
The Black Forest
The Black Forest is an area of mountain ranges, highland plateaus and dense fir and pine woods spread in a distinguishable rectangular shape across the Baden-Württemberg region of southwestern Germany. Once believed to be inhabited by werewolves, witches and dwarves, but perhaps now more renowned for the cuckoo clock and black forest cake, the forest remains rooted in traditional culture and mythology.