The Chosen Ones
Five recently designated World Heritage Sites worth your while
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Since 1972, UNESCO has bestowed 690 spots in 122 countries with the title “World Heritage Site,” which translates to “a property of outstanding universal value.” While 529 of these sites are culturally significant, 161 are “natural” properties—more endowed with endangered species, magnificent scenery, and fragile ecosystems than your average hunk of terra firma. Here, the best of the ten most recently designated “natural” sites:
GUNUNG MULU NATIONAL PARK
Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Size: 204 square miles
Outstanding Universal Value: The world's largest limestone cavern, Deer Cave—at 1,968 feet long and 262 feet high—could house eight 747s nose to tail.
Why go: Serious spelunking. Also: Hike 7,799-foot Mulu mountain, trek the seven-mile Headhunter Trail to Terikan River hot springs, or watch a half-mile-long stream of bats exit Deer Cave in search of dinner.
UKHAHLAMBA DRAKENSBERG PARK
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Size: 938 square miles
Outstanding Universal Value: 3,110-foot Thukela Falls, the world's second-highest waterfall; 11,355-foot Makheka mountain, southern Africa s second-highest peak.
Why go: Summit Makheka, 10,822-foot Mont Aux Sources, or countless other unclimbed (and unnamed) peaks.
GREATER BLUE MOUNTAINS AREA
New South Wales, Australia
Size: 3,977 square miles
Outstanding Universal Value: Home to the recently discovered Wollemi pine, which dates back to the dinosaur age, this site includes Blue Mountains National Park and seven other protected areas.
Why go: Canyoneer, climb, rappel, hike, and swim in 328-foot-deep Grand Canyon; take a moonlit mountain-bike ride along miles of fire roads lit by thousands of luminescent glowworm larvae.
on the Gulf of Bothnia, Västernorrland, Sweden
Size: 550 square miles
Outstanding Universal Value: Hundreds of miles of wild, fjord-riddled coastline.
Why go: Kayak the waters of Gaviks fjord, hike the 80-mile Höga Kusten trail, camp in spruce forests, and rock climb in Skuleskogen National Park.
Web: www.mittsverigeturism.se; www.highcoast.net
CENTRAL SURINAME NATURE RESERVE
District Sipaliwini, Suriname
Size: 6,178 square miles
Outstanding Universal Value: Fifteen people and 400 bird species inhabit this New Jersey-size site lying between the Amazon and Orinoco River Basins.
Why go: Boat into remote Foengoe Island on the Coppename River; then hike four miles to the 787-foot granite Voltzberg Dome for a rainforest view. Observe the world's largest lek for Guianan cock-of-the-rock birds.