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The Greater Blue Mountains Area, Great Western Hwy, Katoomba, NSW, Australia

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List World Heritage List
Class Natural
Legal Status Declared property (06/12/2000)
Place ID 105127
Place File No 1/14/006/0057
Statement of Significance
The Greater Blue Mountains Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List at the 24th Session of the World Heritage Committee, held in Cairns from 27 November to 2 December 2000.
It is an area of breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep, inaccessible valleys and swamps teeming with life. The unique plants and animals that live in this outstanding natural place relate an extraordinary story of Australia's antiquity, its diversity of life and its superlative beauty. This is the story of the evolution of Australia's unique eucalypt vegetation and its associated communities, plants and animals.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area consists of 1.03 million hectares of mostly forested landscape on a sandstone plateau 60 to 180 kilometres inland from central Sydney, New South Wales. The property includes vast expanses of wilderness and is equivalent in area to almost one third of Belgium, or twice the size of Brunei.
The property, which includes eight protected areas in two blocks separated by a transportation and urban development corridor, is made up of seven outstanding national parks as well as the famous Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve. These are the Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Yengo, Nattai, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone and Thirlmere Lakes National Parks.
The area does not contain mountains in the conventional sense but is described as a deeply incised sandstone plateau rising from less than 100 metres above sea level to 1 300 metres at the highest point. There are basalt outcrops on the higher ridges. This plateau is thought to have enabled the survival of a rich diversity of plant and animal life by providing a refuge from climatic changes during recent geological history. It is particularly noted for its wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats from wet and dry sclerophyll, mallee heathlands, as well as localised swamps, wetlands, and grassland. Ninety-one species of eucalypts (thirteen percent of the global total) occur in the Greater Blue Mountains Area. Twelve of these are believed to occur only in the Sydney sandstone region.
The property has been described as a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of the eucalypts. The largest area of high diversity of eucalypts on the continent is located in south-east Australia. The Greater Blue Mountains Area includes much of this eucalypt diversity.
As well as supporting such a significant proportion of the world's eucalypt species, the property provides examples of the range of structural adaptations of the eucalypts to Australian environments. These vary from tall forests at the margins of rainforest in the deep valleys, through open forests and woodlands, to shrublands of stunted mallees on the exposed tablelands.
In addition to its outstanding eucalypts, the Greater Blue Mountains Area also contains ancient, relict species of global significance. The most famous of these is the recently-discovered Wollemi pine, a "living fossil" dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. Thought to have been extinct for millions of years, the few surviving trees of this ancient species are known only from three small populations located in remote, inaccessible gorges within the nominated property. The Wollemi pine is one of the World's rarest species.
More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains Area. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider and the long-nosed potoroo as well as rare reptiles including the green & golden bell frog and the Blue Mountains water skink.
 
Official Values
Criterion (IX) Outstanding examples of on-going evolution
The Greater Blue Mountains Area provides outstanding examples representing on-going ecological and biological processes significant in the evolution of Australia's highly diverse ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, particularly eucalypt-dominated ecosystems. The World Heritage values include:
  • primitive species with Gondwanan affinities that are of outstanding significance in terms of the evolution of plant life, including the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) and the primitive gymnosperm Microstrobus fitzgeraldii;
  • a centre of diversification of the eucalypts which provides an outstanding record of the products of evolutionary processes associated with the global climatic changes of the late Tertiary and the Quaternary;
  • the highly unusual juxtaposition of diverse scleromorphic species with Gondwanan taxa;
  • an exceptional representation of the major eucalypt groups and aspects of their evolution and radiation, including species in the following groups:
    - genera: Eucalyptus (including Corymbia) and Angophora;
    - subgenera: Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Symphyomyrtus;
  • examples of species divergence occurring in a relatively small area, including:
    - differentiation of eucalypt taxa in isolation in response to persistent habitat islands (e.g. those associated with sandstone plateaux isolated by deep valleys)
    - mutually exclusive distributions of taxa in the series Strictae (the mallee ashes) and Haemostomae (the scribbly ashes) resulting from long-term isolation of breeding populations (allopatric speciation);
  • eucalypt taxa demonstrating very high levels of hybridisation;
  • representative examples of dynamic processes in eucalypt-dominated ecosystems, including the full range of interactions between eucalypts, understorey, environment and fire, extending from forests with rainforest boundaries to mallee communities with heath boundaries, demonstrating the exceptional ecological amplitude of the eucalypts.
 
Criterion (X) Important habitats for conservation of biological diversity
The Greater Blue Mountains Area includes significant habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including the eucalypts and eucalypt-dominated communities, taxa with Gondwanan affinities, and taxa of conservation significance. The World Heritage values include:
  • outstanding levels of plant diversity expressed at different taxonomic levels (152 families, 484 genera, ca 1500 species) and for all three measures of species diversity (local species richness or "alpha" diversity, species turnover across environmental gradients or "beta" diversity, and regional species richness or "gamma" diversity);
  • plant taxa with very high levels of species diversity, including the families - Fabaceae (149 species), Myrtaceae (150 species), Orchideae (77 species), Poaceae (57 species), Asteraceae (69 species), Proteaceae (77 species), Cyperaceae (43 species), and the genera - Eucalyptus (91 species), Acacia (64 species);
    ˇ exceptional diversity of habitats that contribute to the property being one of the three most diverse areas on earth for scleromorphic species and the only one of these areas that is dominated by trees and without a Mediterranean climate, including plateau tops, ridges, exposed rocks, cliffs, rocky slopes and sheltered gorges and valleys;
  • exceptional diversity of habitats providing outstanding representation of the Australian fauna within a single place, including 400 vertebrate taxa - 52 native mammals, 265 birds or 33% of the Australian total, 63 reptiles, more than 30 frogs, and examples of species of global significance such as the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and the echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus aculeatus), and invertebrate taxa - butterflies (120 species) and moths (estimated 4000 species);
  • very high diversity of scleromorphic taxa represented within 20 plant families including Myrtaceae, Proteaceae, Epacridaceae, Fabaceae (Faboideae and Mimosoideae), Dilleniaceae, Rutaceae, and Euphorbiaceae (Tribe Stenolobeae);
  • ancient, relict species with Gondwanan affinities that have survived past changes of climate within refugia, for example in recessed canyons and perpetually moist areas, including:
    - the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis); and
    - the primitive gymnosperm Microstrobus fitzgeraldii;
  • other primitive species with Gondwanan affinities, including:
    - Lomatia, Dracophyllum, and Podocarpus;
    - taxa in the family Lauraceae;
    - Atkinsonia, the most primitive extant root parasitic genus; and
    - taxa in the family Winteraceae, such as Tasmannia.
  • taxa contributing to an exceptional diversity of eucalypts and eucalypt-dominated ecosystems, including:
    - 2 eucalypt genera (Eucalyptus including Corymbia, Angophora);
    - 3 eucalypt subgeneric groups (Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Symphyomyrtus);
    - 91 eucalypt species (13% of the global total); and
    - highly diverse understoreys of flora and fauna species;
  • structural forms contributing to an exceptional diversity of eucalypts and eucalypt-dominated ecosystems, including:
    - tall open forest (towering, single-stemmed trees);
    - open forest;
    - woodland;
    - low open woodland; and
    - mallee shrubland (small, multi-stemmed shrubs);
  • more than 70 plant communities, including 56 open forest and woodland communities contributing to an exceptional diversity of eucalypt-dominated ecosystems associated with:
    - wet environments (including the margins of rainforests);
    - dry environments (rapidly-draining, drought-prone sandstone plateaux);
    - low-nutrient environments (including sandstone-derived substrates);
    - fire-prone environments (including the sandstone plateaux); and
    - fertile environments (remnants of formerly widespread Tertiary basalts).
  • high levels of diversity of invertebrate fauna, including Lepidoptera (4000 moth species, 120 butterfly species), and cave invertebrates (67 taxa recorded at Jenolan Caves);
  • plant taxa of conservation significance and their habitats, including:
    - endemic species (114 plant species);
    - relict species;
    - species with a restricted range; and
    - rare or threatened species (127 species).
  • animal taxa of conservation significance and their habitats, including:
    - endemic species;
    - relict species;
    - species with a restricted range; and
    - rare or threatened species (40 vertebrate taxa - including 12 mammal species and 15 bird species - and 12 invertebrate taxa).
 
Description
The park includes a complex and scenically impressive array of geological landscapes. The predominant rocks are sandstones and shales, with some granitic, volcanic and limestone areas.
The general landmass of the eastern region of New South Wales was part of a convergent plate margin during the Late Cambrian, where there was a subduction zone and a related volcanic arc. During the Siluro-Devonian period there were opportunities for deposition, including the development of carbonate reefs which form the basis of the Jenolan caves. There was then a major uplift and subsequent period of erosion during the Carboniferous, prior to the development of a long trough known as the Syndey Basin, which lay between highlands to the north-east and the west. During the middle Permian the Sydney Basin was initially flooded and marine sediments were laid down. Later there were extensive swamps, leading to the production of coal deposits, as exposed in the Illawarra Coal Measures. Later still, the sandstones and shales which give the Blue Mountains their distinctive character were laid down as riverine sediments from the Late Permian to the Mid Triassic: the earliest of these were the Narrabeen Group, largely derived from volcanic sources to the north, while later deposits make up the Hawkesbury Sandstone and were quartz-rich, derived from the continental land-masses to the south-west (Mosley, 1989, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998b).
During the Cretaceous there was a significant change in the dominant tectonic influences as Antarctica and Australia began to separate and a major rift, with rapid sea-floor spreading, began in what is now the Tasman Sea. It seems likely that the high plateau-edge features of the Blue Mountains may be related to such a divergent margin: although the exact mechanisms are unclear there is some evidence that there may have been significant uplift during this period (Mosley, 1989, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998b).
Volcanism during was an important feature during both the Siluro-Devonian, but also during the Jurassic, when a number of diatremes (volcanic necks) were produced. A number of these have now eroded away to form circular depressions or amphitheatres. Even more recently, lava flows from the Miocene have produced hard basalt caps protecting the summits of a number of mountains such as Wilson, Banks and Tomah (Mosley, 1989, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998b).
It is the contemporary physical manifestation of this geological history which is of particular interest in the park. The drainage patterns are anomalous and complex and have led to considerable discussions about wider issues of drainage and landscape evolution. Despite the small size of the rivers vast valleys and gorges have been formed. The very hard nature of the sandstones is highly resistant to erosion, while in many areas it is underlain by much softer shales, thus shallow plateau valleys have eroded into narrow slot canyons (at one point, the Grand Canyon is 30m deep while being only 3m wide at the top of the slot), and then becoming wide open valleys where the overlying sandstone cap has been cut through. High cliffs are a major feature, including a feature known as the Cliff Wall which begins in the north of Wollemi National Park and runs south for almost 280km, reaching its highest point of nearly 300m just south of Wentworth Falls. A large number of spectacular waterfalls are found associated with these cliffs (Mosley, 1989, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998b).
In addition to riverine erosion processes the Blue Mountains provide important example of wind and fire as erosional forces. There has further been discussion of the role of plants and animals. It has been suggested that one species alone, the superb lyrebird, may have had some impact on rates of erosion over geological time-scales. It has been estimated that these birds may turnover an average of 63 tonnes of debris per hectare per year while excavating for food or building nest-mounds (Mosley, 1989).
Climate
The climate is highly varied across the park, although essentially warm-temperate. Average summer (January) maximum temperatures are around 23ēC at Mt Victoria (1,050m), but 28ēC at Lake Burragong (150m). Average winter (July) minimum temperatures are 2-3ēC at Wentworth Falls (900m). Again at Mount Victoria there are an average of 40 days with frost per year, and 10 days with snow, although this rarely lasts through the day. Rainfall patterns are varied, with a pronounced summer maximum. Mean annual rainfall typically ranges from 1,100 to 1,400mm in the central areas, but with some areas of rain shadow to the west of the escarpment and in some of the deeper valleys: Little Hartley receives and annual average of 748mm. Winds are typically from the north-west and north and are most pronounced in the winter (Mosley, 1989).
Vegetation
Largely due to their topographic diversity and complexity, the Blue Mountains have maintained a broad range of climatic and other environmental conditions throughout the climatic extremes and relatively rapid oscillations, particularly of recent geological history. In this way the mountains have acted as refugia, enabling the survival of a broad spectrum of vegetation types, and a number of more unusual species groups. A list of vascular plants from the World Heritage nominated area has been provided in the World Heritage nomination (WCMC, in litt.).
A diverse range of over 70 plant communities have been described and mapped for the World Heritage nominated area, over 40 of which have been recorded from the Blue Mountains National Park (1998b). In all over 1000 species of flowering plant have been estimated to occur in the BMNP (Mosley, 1989). The predominant vegetation types are open forest to woodland, where eucalypts are predominant. Dominant species in the BMNP include the scribbly gum Eucalyptus sclerophylla, yellow bloodwood E. eximia, Angophora bakeri, blue gum E. deanii, turpentine Syncarpia glomulifera, the Sydney peppermint E. piperita, and black ash E. sieberi. A number of classification schemes have been devised which subdivide these forest types, based on dominant species, as influenced by geology and climate. Other significant communities include mallee scrub and woodland. Heaths are recorded in the highest areas above 1000m, and in areas exposed to strong winds such as ridge-tops and cliff edges. At similar altitudes where the drainage is restricted, as well as in steep-sided basins in headwater valleys Blue Mountains Swamps have developed, with distinctive sedge, herb and shrub flora, often dominated by button grass Gymnoschoemus sphareocephalus.
A number of rainforest communities have been described with alliances to subtropical, dry, warm-temperate and cool-temperate ecosystems. These rainforest patches are restricted to areas of higher rainfall or higher soil moisture, typically they are also in areas of deeper, nutrient rich soils, and are restricted to areas unaffected by fires. One of the richest areas of warm temperate rainforest is on the slopes of Mount Wilson. Although of interest in the regional context most of these associations are defined by the absence of species found in similar formations elsewhere.
In all some 127 rare or threatened plant taxa have been listed from the World Heritage nominated area and these are listed in full in NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, (1998b). Endemism is also important, 114 taxa have been listed as being exclusively or predominantly found only within the nominated area. Many of the rare, threatened or endemic species are restricted to highly specialised habitats, including the cliff-communities, mesa-tops and heathland. For example, the podocarp Microstrobus fitzgeraldii is restricted to the wet rocks near the base of waterfalls and has only been recorded in the Jamieson Valley, notably around Wentworth Falls. The area provides a considerable range of habitats for eucalypts which are the dominant tree species throughout most the park. In all there are 90 separate eucalypt taxa (13% of the global total), and on a unit area basis there are some of the most diverse eucalypt sites in the world. These include representatives of all of the major phyletic sub-groupings. Among these there are 12 taxa which are considered endemic to the Blue mountains and nearby sandstones, including eight which are considered rare or threatened.
Fauna
The Blue Mountains host a wide variety of native Australian fauna, associated with the floristic and structural diversity of the region. There is only one endemic species, a snake, and most species, including those which are rare or threatened, are relatively widespread. In all about 400 vertebrate species have been recorded.
The mammalian fauna is made up of 52 native and 13 introduced species. The former include a number of well-known Australian mammals such as the eastern grey kangaroo Macropus giganteus, the red-necked wallaby M. rufogriseus, wallaroo M. robustus, koala Phasocarctos cinereus (LR/nt), and wombat Vombatus ursinus. Some 12 of the mammals listed for the World Heritage nominated area are considered rare or threatened, including the spotted-tailed quoll Dasyurus maculatus (VU C1+2a), long-nosed potoroo Potorous tridactylus (VU C2a) brush-tailed rock wallaby Petrogale penicillata (VU C2a).
The avian fauna is diverse, with some 265 native species and a further 10 introduced species. This figure comprises one third of the total number of species found in Australia. Particularly significant is the high diversity of honeyeaters: 25 species have been recorded from the World Heritage nominated area. The white-eared honeyeater Lichenstomus leucotis and New Holland honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae are found in the drier forests, while the Lewin honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii frequents the rainforests and wet sclerophyll forest. Other species include the well-known gang-gang cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum, superb lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae, crimson rosella Platycercus elegans, kookaburra Dacelo gigas, and satin bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus. Predatory species recorded from the area include the wedge-tailed eagle Aquila audax and a number of owl species.
In all over 60 species of reptiles have been recorded, including two tortoises. The broad-headed snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides is largely restricted to the Hawkesbury sandstone. Over 30 species of frog have been recorded from the Greater Blue Mountains area.
The invertebrate fauna is poorly known, but likely to be highly diverse. The rainforest areas are particularly rich. The primitive phylum Onychophora is particularly important, with at least five species (out of a global total of only 200). Glowworms are also of interest, particularly the primitive members of the genus Arachnocampa.
 
History
The World Heritage nominated area has important cultural associations both with indigenous cultures and in the history of western colonisation and development.
As with most parts of Australia, local Aborigines had a close association with the land. This is thought to date back at least 14,000, as possibly as much as 22,000, years, although it remains unclear as to whether the area was permanently occupied during these periods (Mosley, 1989). An intensification of human activity has been dated from about 7500 years ago, and even more from about 3,500 years ago when a tradition of tool use began in this part of Australia. Evidence for such early occupation includes evidence of the use of rock shelters, stone implements, factory sites for tool production, axe grinding grooves and extensive art-work: in all nearly 700 sites have been recorded from the Blue Mountains NP, of which 40% include an art component.
The three main language groups in the area were Gundungurra, Daruk and Darkinjung, each maintaining traditions and stories associated with creation and the landscape. While many of these stories are now lost some of the Gundungurra stories were noted down. The origin of the great valleys of the Cox and Wollondilly, BMNP and Nattai is explained in the story of the epic journey of the Gurangatch (Rainbow Serpent) and the Mirragan (quoll). The language groups of the Aboriginal peoples were further sub-divided into bands with whom they identified.
Art-work identified in the region is largely associated with the Simple Figurative group of styles which are widespread across Australia. Such work includes a wide range of motifs from anthropogenic figures, hands, feet, terrestrial and marine animals, birds and tracks of humans and animals. Styles include engraving and pigment art - both styles are found in shelter sites, while only engravings are found in a number of open sandstone platforms.
The region played a significant role in the development of European settlement in Australia. Initially the mountains were simply seen as a major physical obstacle, lying close to the major new centres of European population. The earliest forays into the region were part of attempts to traverse the mountains, indeed within 3 months of first arriving in 1788, the first Governor, Phillips made his first attempt to reach the mountains. A number of ventures succeeded in penetrating a long way into the mountains, including that of George Caley, botanist and plant collector for Joseph Banks who reached the base of Mount Banks in 1804. Caley noted that the mountains were "impassable" and "must forever remain an unsurmountable barrier to the extension of the settlement". It was not until 1813 that Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson eventually crossed the region, following ground between the Cox and and Grose Rivers. By the start of 1915 their route had been converted into a rough road which even today forms the basis of the Great Western Highway. This, and a smaller route through the Bell Range remain the only roads which cross the mountains over a length of some 310 kilometres.
As the new colony grew and became the city of Sydney so the value of the mountains grew as a place of recreation, and indeed can be seen to have played a critical role in the development of conservation and wilderness values in modern Australian culture. A number of walking tracks were built as far back as the 1830s and 40s, while the number of users of these tracks increased dramatically with the completion of a rail connection in 1867-8. The earliest gazetted public recreation reserves were the Fish River Caves (later Jenolan Caves) in 1866 and the Grand Canyon in 1872. A number of other reserves were developed, particularly along the lines of the railway: for example Katoomba Falls were gazetted in 1883 following presentation of a public petition arguing their value for the "health, morale and intellectual advancement" of the residents of Sydney.
 
Condition and Integrity Not Available
Location
About 1,032,649ha, located to the north and to the south of Katoomba, comprising the following eight areas:
Wollemi National Park                          499,879ha
The Blue Mountains National Park        247,840ha
Yengo National Park                            153483ha
Nattai National Park                             47,855ha
Kanangra-Boyd National Park              65,379ha
Gardens of Stone National Park            15,150ha
Jenolan Caves Karst Reserve                2,422ha
Thirlmere Lakes National Park              641ha
Bibliography
Mosley, G. (1989). Blue Mountains for World Heritage. Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Sydney. 135pp.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (1998a). Blue Mountains National Park: draft plan of management. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. 103pp.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (1998b). The Greater Blue Mountains Area - World Heritage Nomination. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service in association with Environment Australia. 287pp.
 

Report Produced  Sat Apr 19 23:46:07 2014