Monthly Archives: December 2008

World Heritage Errata

Posted by on December 15, 2008

Here are a few other lists I’ve compiled from the first 50 World Heritage Sites I’ve visited on my trip:

Most Disappointing

1) Royal Exhibition Building – Australia

Nice, but not that nice.

Nice, but not that nice.

Why this place is a world heritage site is beyond me. Having met people involved with UNESCO, much of what goes into making the list has to do with politics and putting together a good presentation. This really benefits rich western countries. The Royal Exhibition Building is an old building. The end. There are any number of buildings its age around the world, and even in Australia probably, which are as impressive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice building, but it isn’t THAT nice.

2) Sangiran Early Man – Indonesia
Sangiran is the location of where the fossils of Java man was found. Many other fossils have been found in the area as well, making it a valuable resource for paleontologists. There was really nothing to see here, however. There is only a museum, and a poor one at that. You can’t see any of the actual humanoid fossils. You can’t visit a dig site. I recently visited the Ban Chiang site in Thailand which is also an archeological site, and at least it had a very nice museum.

3) Sydney Opera House – Australia

I think Australia is very good at writing proposals for World Heritage Sites

I think Australia is very good at writing proposals for World Heritage Sites

The Sydney Opera House is an iconic building, but there are lots of iconic buildings which are not on the World Heritage list. I think there should be some sort of age test for a property. If the Sydney Opera House can make it, why not other iconic new buildings like Skydome in Toronto or the Bird’s Nest in Beijing? The Opera House isn’t even that impressive as you get up close. The Harbor Bridge is more deserving than the Opera House. The tile on the building looks like the teeth of someone who has been smoking two packs a day for 20 years.

4) My Son Sanctuary – Vietnam
The Vietnamese have done well with what they have to work with, which isn’t much. My Son is like one of the minor outer temples in the Angkor complex which doesn’t get much tourist traffic. The site itself isn’t very big. Moreover, the condition of the temples is pretty bad as they have been around a lot longer. The ruins are truly ruined. That being said, the visitor center at My Son is nicer than anything you’ll see in Angkor, but that doesn’t change facts of the case.

5) Great Barrier Reef – Australia

The only way to really appreciate the reef is from the air. Preferably from space.

The only way to really appreciate the reef is from the air. Preferably from space.

How could I possibly put the Great Barrier Reef on this list??? The “greatness” of the reef can only be appreciated by looking at a map or from satellite photos. If you are on the cost of Queensland, you’d never know there was a reef because you can’t see it from land. It is an hour boat ride away (at least), and once you are there, it really isn’t different than most other reefs, and you can only appreciate and see the small part of it which is immediately around you. You can get a better reef experience in the Pacific where the reef is very close to the shore and there is a definite lagoon area. The Great Barrier Reef is much more interesting in theory than as a tourist destination. While it gets a lot of tourists because it is in Australia, I wouldn’t put it in the top dive locations I’ve been to. I’m not saying the Great Barrier Reef shouldn’t be a World Heritage Site, only that really isn’t much to see first hand.

The ones I didn’t get to but wish I did

1) Lord Howe Island – Australia
The southern most coral reef in the world and one of the favorite spots on Earth of the world’s most traveled man, Charles Veley. The photos I’ve seen of the place make me want to go there. It looks stunning. I also hope this show I’m not being too hard on Australia.

2) Komodo – Indonesia
Komodo dragons in the wild. C’mon.

3) Ujung Kulon National Park – Indonesia
This the location of Krakatoa which erupted in the 19th century. It was the largest volcanic explosion in recorded human history.

4) Shiretoko – Japan
Shiretoko is a pennisula on the tip of norther Hokkido in Japan. It was December when I left Japan and the temperature was already cold in Hokkido. I’d love to come back in the summer and visit.

5) Haeinsa Temple – South Korea
I also skipped this due to the cold snap in South Korea when i was there. Haeinsa Temple has a program where you can stay overnight with the monks. The temple itself is the home to some of the oldest Buddhist writings in the world.

Ones I wish I had spent more time at

1) Tongariro National Park – New Zealand
My stay in New Zealand was somewhat hurried because I had to book tickets out of the country before I got there. I would like to have gone hiking in the area.

2) Kinabalu National Park- Malaysia
Hiking to the summit of Kinabalu is doable for anyone in reasonable health. It is usually a two day trip and you time it so you are at the peak at sunrise. Weather conditions on the mountain prevented me from making the attempt.

3) Shark Bay – Australia
I had spent a good amount of time and money in Exmouth diving and swimming with the whale sharks. Had not been so burned out from weeks of driving across Western Australia, I might have spent more time here. I did get to spend quality time with the stromatolites at least.

Places which should be World Heritage sites but aren’t

1) Nan Modal – Federated States of Micronesia

More people should know about Nan Modal

More people should know about Nan Modal

This site is on a par with Easter Island in my mind, yet it isn’t even one of the proposed sites on the Micronesia list. I think the property is privately owned, but I’m not positive. Nan Modal is reason enough to visit Micronesia, and there are a lot of other reasons. I always talk up Micronesia when people ask for suggestions for where to travel. It isn’t easy to get there from anywhere, but it is well worth the trip. This is an easy #1 in my mind.

2) Rock Islands/Jellyfish Lakes – Palau
The lagoon area around Koror is one of the most unique aquatic environments on Earth. The jellyfish lakes are one of a kind. Why this isn’t a World Heritage site is beyond me. If it were, it might have been #1 on my list of natural attractions. It is just that good. I highly recommend travel to Palau.

3) Temples of Bali – Indonesia
I bet most people assume that Bali would be on the list. It isn’t. If the list is about identifying and trying to protect important cultural sites, the Balinese culture is one of the most unique on Earth.

4) Gregory National Park – Australia
Home to Australian boab trees, it was a place that I was surprised to discover when I drove through it from Darwin to Purnululu.

5) Victoria Harbor – Hong Kong
The harbor of Hong Kong is more impressive than Sydney. I’d lump Victoria Peak on here and some of the classic buildings of the area. The feeling I had watching sunset on the harbor and watching the lights of Hong Kong turn on is one of my most memorable.

6) Blowholes of Savai’i – Samoa

You havent lived till youve seen a man throw a coconut into a hole and then watch nature toss that coconut 100 feet into the air.

You haven't lived till you've seen a man throw a coconut into a hole and then watch nature toss that coconut 100 feet into the air.

Watching the blowholes on Savai’i was like watching the fountains of the Bellagio on steroids. An awesome display of nature and one of the most impressive and fun things I’ve seen during my travels. It isn’t even promoted as heavily in Samoa as some other attractions. I don’t think the Samoans are even considering this for inclusion. Tonga also has some impressive blowholes, but not quite as cool as Samoa. It is a trick even finding the blowholes. There is little in the way of signs or facilities when you get there. It is worth the trip if you are ever in Samoa.

7) Hawaiian Cultural Sites of the Big Island
There are three different locations in the National Park Service on the Big Island which celebrate Hawaiian culture. I think they should all be included as a unit. The only site dedicated to Pacific culture is Easter Island, and that really is more about the maoi than anything else.

8) City of Napier – New Zealand
Several cities I’ve visited have been given World Heritage status for the whole town. Napier is an art deco town, and I don’t think there are many of those in the world.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

Posted by on December 15, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

From the World Heritage inscription:

East Rennell makes up the southern third of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomon Island group in the western Pacific. Rennell, 86 km long x 15 km wide, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The site includes approximately 37,000 ha and a marine area extending 3 nautical miles to sea. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano, which was the former lagoon on the atoll. The lake, the largest in the insular Pacific (15,500 ha), is brackish and contains many rugged limestone islands and endemic species. Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest, with a canopy averaging 20 m in height. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the site is a true natural laboratory for scientific study. The site is under customary land ownership and management.

This is a photo of Lake Lake Te Nggano on the island of Rennell in the Solomon Islands. The lake is a brackish water lake which is about 100m above sea level. The lake is home to the widest diversity of birds in the Pacific. The World Heritage Site is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the only location which is owned by customary land ownership. The people of Rennell are Polynesian, where as the rest of the Solomons are Melanesian. The remoteness of the island, coupled with the 100m cliffs surrounding the island, and the customary land ownership has protected the island from logging and mining, whereas the rest of the Solomons has been severely deforested.

The large version of the panorama is an enormous photos, so it might take some time to load.

My trip to Rennell was one of the most memorable of my trip, if only for the difficulty and remoteness of the island. You can read my three part report on Rennell here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

Posted by on December 15, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

From the World Heritage inscription:

East Rennell makes up the southern third of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomon Island group in the western Pacific. Rennell, 86 km long x 15 km wide, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The site includes approximately 37,000 ha and a marine area extending 3 nautical miles to sea. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano, which was the former lagoon on the atoll. The lake, the largest in the insular Pacific (15,500 ha), is brackish and contains many rugged limestone islands and endemic species. Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest, with a canopy averaging 20 m in height. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the site is a true natural laboratory for scientific study. The site is under customary land ownership and management.

This is a photo of Lake Lake Te Nggano on the island of Rennell in the Solomon Islands. The lake is a brackish water lake which is about 100m above sea level. The lake is home to the widest diversity of birds in the Pacific. The World Heritage Site is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the only location which is owned by customary land ownership. The people of Rennell are Polynesian, where as the rest of the Solomons are Melanesian. The remoteness of the island, coupled with the 100m cliffs surrounding the island, and the customary land ownership has protected the island from logging and mining, whereas the rest of the Solomons has been severely deforested.

The large version of the panorama is an enormous photos, so it might take some time to load.

My trip to Rennell was one of the most memorable of my trip, if only for the difficulty and remoteness of the island. You can read my three part report on Rennell here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #5: Te Wahipounamu

Posted by on December 14, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #5: Te Wahipounamu

UNESCO World Heritage Site #5: Te Wahipounamu

From the World Heritage inscription:

The landscape in this park, situated in south-west New Zealand, has been shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. Two-thirds of the park is covered with southern beech and podocarps, some of which are over 800 years old. The kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, lives in the park, as does the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.

Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I had the pleasure of going there after it had been raining for 24 hours straight. The rain created countless small waterfalls along the sides of the fjord.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Top 10 Cultural World Heritage Sites

Posted by on December 13, 2008

There are the top 10 World Heritage Sites of cultural significance I’ve visited so far on my trip, which Includes East Asia, the Pacific, SE Asia and Australia.

10) Temple Complex of Prambanan – Indonesia

The main temples of Prambanan

The main temples of Prambanan

Prambanan is only about 20km from Borobudur, but it is centuries apart. Prambanan is a Hindu temple dating back before the arrival of Buddhism. It was recently damaged in the earthquake of 2006, but still is an impressive early Javanese Hinduism. Some of the architectural styles you can find at ruins such as My Son or Angkor can also witnessed at Prambanan. The one/two punch of Prambanan and Borobudur make a trip to Yogjakarta a must-do if you are ever traveling to Bali or Jakarta.


9) Willandra Lakes Region – Australia
Ancient wombat bones sticking out of the ground in Mungo

Ancient wombat bones sticking out of the ground in Mungo

The center of the Willandra Lakes Region is Mungo National Park. Mungo could easily have been placed on the list of natural sites, but I placed it on the cultural list because it is the home of the earliest known modern human remains on Earth. Many archeological finds which generate attention claim to find human ancestors which date back millions of years. However, they are not homo sapian, they are just related to us. The bones discovered in Mungo are humans like you and me. Found on the shore of an ancient lake which formed during the last ice age, the remains at Mungo show humans engaged in cremation as well as the debris from their life on the shore of the lake. When i was there, the temperature was around 43C (110F).


8) Shrines and Temples of Nikko – Japan
Shrine with autum colors in Nikko

Shrine with autum colors in Nikko

Nikko is a small mountain village about 2 hours out of Tokyo by train. In the hills and amongst the pine trees you will find the temples of Nikko. Nikko is home to several Shinto and Buddhist shrines. The main temple area is about a 20 min walk (uphill) from the train station and you can easily spend several hours amongst the various temples. The most famous thing from Nikko are the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys which are a carving on one of the temple buildings.


7) Gyeongju – South Korea
Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju

Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju

Gyeongju is to Korea what Kyoto is to Japan, a former royal capital. The big difference is that Korea has been the victim of many more wars over the years, so what is remaining is much less than what you will find in Japan. In addition to the many royal burial mounds, Gyeongju is home to the South Korean national museum, which has an excellent display of Korean artifacts and overview of Korean history. A very short trip from Gyeongju is another World Heritage site, the Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple.


6) Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara – Japan
Todaiji Temple in Nara is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world

Todaiji Temple in Nara is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world

Before Tokyo there was Kyoto, and before Kyoto there was Nara. Nara is smaller and doesn’t have quite as many temples as Kyoto, but in many respects is more impressive. The Todaiji Temple is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the largest Buddha statue in Japan: The Daibutsu. You will also find very tame red deer roaming around the city, which you can feed as well as many other smaller temples. Nara is a also a very short train ride from Horyuji Temple which is the home of the oldest wooden buildings on Earth.



5) Borobudur – Indonesia

Borobudur is so big, I couldnt fit it all in with the widest lens I have.

Borobudur is so big, I couldn't fit it all in with the widest lens I have.

Having been to Angkor, I have a much greater appreciation for Borobudur. The largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur was lost to all but the local residents until the beginning of the 20th Century. It was buried under volcanic ash and forest overgrowth. It is still being restored by the Indonesian government. Borobudur is one of the most under appreciated monuments in the world and deserves to be on any list of top attractions in the world.


4) Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto – Japan
The orange gates of the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto

The orange gates of the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto

If you can visit only one place in Japan, it would have to be Kyoto. Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan and probably has more history per square meter than anywhere else in Japan. It was well represented on my Seven Wonders of Japan list. There were several highlights for me including the Fushiri-Inari Shrine with its countless orange gates, the Golden Pavilion, and the Todai Temple. Kyoto has undergone many changes over the last several decades and many of the old houses have been destroyed to make way for modern buildings.


3) Rice Terraces of Banaue – Philippines
Ifugao Woman at Rice Terraces

Ifugao Woman at Rice Terraces

When you are at Banaue, you will find it hard to believe that people actually made this. All around you the entire mountain side has been sculpted into rice terraces over thousands of years. They are still being used by the same people for the same purpose today. In the promotional material they describe it the largest construction created without forced human labor (probably referring to the pyramids).The only downside the Banaue is that there are about 20,000 people who live there, all strung out along the road, most of whom live in shanties. The growth in the area is sort of an eye sore, but there are still plenty of areas where the terraces are as they were long ago. It is nail biting eight hour bus ride from Manila. There are other places in Asia where you will find hillsides with rice terraces, but nothing close to the scale you will find in Banaue.


2) Rapa Nui National Park – Easter Island, Chile
Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

If you know what Easter Island is then it should come as no surprise that it is on the list. The most isolated island on Earth, Easter Island about 2,000km from the closest spec of land, and 2,500km from the nearest inhabited island. Nonetheless, people migrated here and created a civilization unlike any other. Much of the “mystery” surrounding Easter Island comes from the fact that the island’s population was destroyed by civil war, disease brought by Europeans, and enslavement by Peruvians. In addition to the famous stone maoi, there was also a bird man cult which developed on the island after the destruction of most of the maoi. The only flights to Easter Island are from Tahiti or Santiago, Chile.


1) Angkor – Cambodia
Ruin temple at Angkor

Ruin temple at Angkor

If you go look at Google Earth and zoom in to Cambodia, you will quickly find Angkor because many of the moats can be easily seen in the satellite photos. Look for the big rectangles. You could spend a week visiting temples and still not see everything there. Visiting Angkor gives you an appreciation for the size and scale of the Khmer Empire, something which is almost never mentioned in history as it is taught in the West. Angkor did not make the list of the New Seven Wonders I think, only because the list was determined by voting and Cambodia has fewer people than India, China or Brazil.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #4: Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Posted by on December 13, 2008

World Heritage Site #3: Tongariro National Park

World Heritage Site #4: Tongariro National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

In 1993 Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.

You have probably seen images from Tongariro National Park before without knowing it. Mt. Ngaruhoe which is inside the park was made famous as the fictional Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. It is a popular location for skiing and treking in New Zealand and is one of the highlight of the North Island. It is a day’s drive from Auckland and should be on your list of places to visit if you ever find yourself on the North Island.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last Call for Lao

Posted by on December 13, 2008

Tonight is my last night in Vientiane. While it is a very nice city, there isn’t a whole lot here and I really need to get moving. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a bus to Udon Thani, Thailand which is a 2 hour bus ride over the border. (Knowing my luck, it will turn into a 10 hour ride)

My only concern is that they are only giving out 15 day visas when you enter Thailand by land, as opposed to 30 day visas when you fly in. I don’t think I’ll need more than 15 days, but I’d like to be safe. I’d like to have a bit more breathing room than 2 weeks to do all I want to do in Northern Thailand.

The internet here is much worse than Luang Prabang which is surprising. It is one of the worst connections I’ve experienced on my trip. I am unable to upload any photos. If nothing else, I should (hope to) be able to do so in Thailand.

If I wasn’t trying to pick up the pace, I would like to have spent more time in Laos. There is a lot here to explore. While tourism is picking up, it is still vastly under appreciated compared to its neighbors.

I’ve eaten well since I’ve arrived in Vientiane. There are “restaurants” set up along ther Mekong. They aren’t much more than tarps and a BBQ, but the food they serve is cheap and good. I’ve had several fish cooked with lemongrass in their mouth and salt rubbed on the skin, frogs, excellent pork ribs, and very cheap Lao beer.

Today I took my camera and visited all the big Vientiane attractions, which isn’t a very long list.

I am reaching a point where I need to start thinking of where I am going to spend Christmas. The only reason is because it is a busy time for hotels and flights. Thailand tourism has been hurt because of the protests, so staying a bit longer in Bangkok might not be a bad idea at this point. I can catch up on all the movies I’ve missed over the last several months too.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #2: Rapa Nui National Park

Posted by on December 12, 2008

UNESCO Word Heritage Site #2: Rapa Nui National Park

UNESCO Word Heritage Site #2: Rapa Nui National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Rapa Nui, the indigenous name of Easter Island, bears witness to a unique cultural phenomenon. A society of Polynesian origin that settled there c. A.D. 300 established a powerful, imaginative and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architecture, free from any external influence. From the 10th to the 16th century this society built shrines and erected enormous stone figures known as moai , which created an unrivalled cultural landscape that continues to fascinate people throughout the world.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is the most isolated island on Earth. It is 2,000km from the nearest spec of land. Famed for its stone heads, or maoi, it is one of the wonders of the world. This photo is of the only maoi on Easter Island to be restored with the white coral eyes. The eyes were discovered after a toppled maoi was moved and the eyes found underneath. All upright maoi on the island, save for those found still intact at the quarry, have been restored since 1950.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Top 10 Natural World Heritage Sites

Posted by on December 12, 2008

Here is a list of the my 10 favorite UNESCO listed Natural Heritage sites I’ve visited on my trip, which at this point includes the Pacific, Australia and East/SE Asia. I’m sure this list will be updated at some point in the future as I visit more sites.

10) East Rennell – Solomon Islands

A hidden beach on Rennell

A hidden beach below the cliffs on Rennell

East Rennell is probably the least visited place I’ve been to on my trip. I was told that the island gets about a dozen tourists who visit each year. The east part of the island is a large lake and is home to the largest diversity of birds in the Pacific. Getting to Rennell requires a great deal of commitment. Getting to the Solomons is difficult. Getting to Rennell is difficult on top of that. Getting to the east end of the island from the landing strip in the west is a car ride that resulted in EIGHT flat tires. There is no organized tourism of any sort on the island. There are two “lodges” where you can stay, but it is very informal.

9) Purnululu National Park – Australia

Bee Hive Domes of Purnululu

Bee Hive Domes of Purnululu

Next to East Rennell, Purnululu is the most difficult to reach park on the list. It is located three hours off of the main road from a roadhouse, which is itself in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia. The most well known feature of the park are the bee hive domes, but there are other erosional features in the park which are equally as stunning. The park was unknown to the world outside of local aborigines and ranchers till the mid 1980’s. It is the highlight of any trip through the Kimberlies on the way from Darwin to Perth.

8) Kinabalu National Park – Malaysia

Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

Kinabalu is the 4th highest peak in SE Asia. The only reason this doesn’t rank higher is because it was raining in the park during my time there, so I wasn’t able to climb to the summit or explore the park as much as I would have liked to. In addition to the majesty of the mountain (which really did take my breath away the first time we rounded a corner and saw it) the park is home to many varieties of rare pitcher plants and the largest flower in the world, the Rafelasia. Borneo orangoutangs can be found in the park as well.

7) Uluru/Kata-Tjuta National Park – Australia

The Moon over Uluru

The Moon over Uluru

Located in the center of Australia, getting to Uluru is a chore in itself. It is perhaps the single most popular Australian icon after the kangaroo. Uluru is described as the world’s largest monolith (however that is defined) and is a sacred location to the local aboriginal people. Nearby Kata-Tjuta can literally be seen from Uluru and is in many respects more impressive than its more well known sibling. Kata-Tjuta is higher and split open so you can hike inside the rocks. Sunset and sunrise on Uluru is an experience to behold as the color of the rock changes throughout the course of the day. Walking around the rock will take you about an hour or two and will give you are real feel for its size.

6) Volcanoes National Park – Hawaii

Driving through a lava field

Driving through a lava field

It is hard not to be impressed with an active volcano. I had the pleasure of visiting Volcanoes National Park several years ago with a geology group from the University of Minnesota. Having a geologists appreciation of the park made me enjoy it even more. Because it is active, what you see when you visit is very hit or miss. The two times I’ve been there Kilaeua didn’t have lava flowing on the surface. Within the last year it has been flowing. I’d love to go back when Mauna Loa erupts, which it is believed may happen soon. I’d also love to take a helicopter ride over the area where the lava meets the sea.

5) Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

Ha Long Bay at Sunset

Ha Long Bay at Sunset

While you are cruising in Ha Long Bay, you can’t help by say “wow”. The limestone rock formations are reminded me of the rock islands of Palau, but on a much larger scale. Located four hours outside of Hanoi by bus, Ha Long Bay is very accessible to tourists. Most packages will let you stay one or two nights on a junk and may include a visit to a nearby national park. Ha Long has become very touristy which is the only thing which takes away from the atmosphere.

4) Yakushima – Japan

Cedar Forest of Yakushima

Cedar Forest of Yakushima

This is another park which is not very well known. Many of the people I know who live in Japan have never been here and some have never even heard of it. Yakushima is a small island about an hour boat ride south of Kagoshima. The island is very mountainous with elevations over 1,000m. The World Heritage parts of the island are the cedar forests high up in the mountains. Given its elevation it is often in the clouds which makes for a very magical experience. The time I spent in Yakushima resulted in vastly more quality photos than I take in most locations. Yakushima was the inspiration for the animated film “Princess Mononoke”.

3) Te Wahipounamu – New Zealand

Sun coming out on Milford Sound

Sun coming out on Milford Sound

This is better known as the Fjordlands National Park and includes Milford Sound. In addition to the fjords, the area also includes Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. Much of the stunning beauty of the South Island can be found in this area. Other than Patagonia in South America, you will not find a landscape like this anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. The day I was at Milford Sound it had been raining for 24 hours straight prior to my arrival and I was treated to a symphony of waterfalls on the side of the fjord. I also took a helicopter ride to the top of Franz Joseph Glacier which was one of the highlights of my trip to New Zealand.

2) Kakadu National Park – Australia

Sunset at Kakadu

Sunset at Kakadu

I had previously described Kakadu as the Australian Yellowstone. Since I was there, my opinion of the park has only increased. Unlike much of Australia which is dry and desolate, Kakadu is a veritable supermarket of wild game. Wetlands waterfowl, saltwater crocodiles, wonderful rock formations, and enormous termite mounds are all over the park. I was there during the wrong time of the year, but there are also 4×4 trips to some beautiful waterfalls. On top of all that, there is a cultural aspect to the park with some of the oldest Aboriginal rock art in Australia.

1) Gunung Mulu National Park – Malaysia

The forest and mountains of Mulu

The forest and mountains of Mulu

This might surprise people as my number one because they may not have heard of the park, but it surpassed my expectations in almost every way. There is a lot to Mulu. The most obvious thing is the Borneo rainforest, which you are smack dab in the middle of. There are no roads which go to Mulu. You have to fly in or take a boat. On top of the ranforest there are the caves. Deer Cave is the largest cavern in the world. It is enormous. They describe it as the volume of three St. Paul’s Cathedrals. In the cave live millions of bats which leave the cave in a flying river every night to go feed in the forest. There is trekking, mountain climbing, and enough stuff to keep you occupied for the better part of a week. I am really amazed that Borneo isn’t a bigger tourist attraction. This is ecotourism at its finest. The staff and facilities at Mulu are top notch.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #1: Volcanoes National Park

Posted by on December 11, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #1: Volcanoes National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #1: Volcanoes National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two of the world’s most active and accessible volcanoes where ongoing geological processes are easily observed. This property serves as an excellent example of island building through volcanic processes. Through the process of shield-building volcanism, the park’s landscape is one of relatively constant, dynamic change.
Criterion (viii) This property is a unique example of significant island building through ongoing volcanic processes. It represents the most recent activity in the continuing process of the geologic origin and change of the Hawaiian Archipelago. The park contains significant parts of two of the world’s most active and best understood volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. The volcano Mauna Loa, measured from the ocean floor, is the greatest volcanic mass on earth.

This is a panoramic photo of the Kilaeua caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Volcanoes National Park includes the Kilaeua and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Kilaeua has been eruption almost continuously since the 1980’s. Mauna Loa hasn’t erupted in several years but it still considered active and many geologists expect an eruption at any time. I always advise people who are going to Hawaii to visit the Big Island. There you will find the most significant cultural and natural features in all of Hawaii. The beaches aren’t the best, but it is more than made up for by everything else the island has to offer. If you go to the Big Island I have three words for you: green sand beach.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.