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Australia

Image showing the shape of AustraliaThe outline of AustraliaAustralia is a land of extremes. With almost 7.7 million square kilometres, it is not only the sixth largest country on earth, it is an entire continent that spans 3,318 kilometres from noth to south, 3,983 kilometres from east to west and has a shoreline of 36,735 km. In all that vastness the population of 22 million people seems very small, especially as two thirds of the population live in the 5 largest cities.

It is the most arid continent (not counting Antarctica) and yet there are places in northern Queensland that receive more than 3,500 mm of rainfall per year.

It has 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites (as of 2012) and more than 500 national parks which encompass more than 280,000 square kilometres - close to 4 per cent of Australia's land area. Another 6 % are protected as state forests, nature parks and conservation reserves. And it is home to the oldest surviving culture on earth, created by the Aboriginal people and going back more than 60,000 years.

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland is the word's largest single structure made by living organisms and can even be seen from space. 2,600 individual reefs and 900 islands stretch over an area of 344,400 square kilometres. It is bio-diversity is second to none. It is home to approximately 1,500 fish, 215 bird and almost 2,200 plant species. Sea turtles, dolphins and whales visit the reef regulary. It has been named one of the 7 natural wonders of the earth and if you take the time to scuba dive or snorkel, you will agree. The Whitsunday Islands which are part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area are also known to as one of the best sailing destinations in the world.

Uluru / Ayers Rock is one of most recognisable natural landmarks. In 1873 it was originally named Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, who was back then Chief Secretary of South Australia. In more recent times it has been renamed to Uluru / Ayers Rock, including the traditional Aboriginal name in the prominent first position. Uluru is the largest monolith on earth and sacred to the Anangu Aboriginal people. While it is possible to climb Uluru I would beg you not to do so and respect the wishes and beliefs of the Anangu.

Thrombolites and stromatoliths are some of the most ancious life forms on earth, dating back 3.5 billion years. Yes, these life forms are very very old. Let me put that as a number for you: 3,500,000,000 years. It is believed these ancient bacteria actually changed to atmosphere of the earth, produced oxygene and are the reason why other life became possible. Shark Bay in north-western Australia and Lake Clifton 100 km south of Perth are among only a handful places on earth where these most ancient of all life forms can still be found.

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