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Australia is a land of diversity. It has deserts and tropical rainforests, beaches and salt lakes. It is also home to many fascinating species of wildlife. The following is an introduction to the land Down Under.

Geography -- The Land Down Under

There are many reasons why Australia is a unique country. It is the only country in the world that makes up an entire continent. It's also the lowest, flattest, and with the exception of Antarctica, driest continent on earth. And although it is the smallest continent, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world.

There are six states in Australia: New South Wales, Qeensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, and two territories; the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Most of Australia is very dry and hot and almost 90% of Australia's 19 million people live in urban areas near the coast. Sydney , home of the 2000 Olympic Summer Games, is the state capital of New South Wales and is Australia's largest city. Other Australian cities include Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra, the federal capital.

Like Canada, much of Australia is sparsely populated and there are many natural wonders. Beyond the coastal areas lie the dry plains, deserts and low and eroded mountain ranges of The Outback. The Outback covers about four-fifths of Australia. Although it does not have a defined boundary, it makes up almost all of the country west of the Great Dividing Range, an over 3500 km long system of mountain ranges and plateaus that runs down eastern Australia.

Uluru, formerly known as "Ayer's Rock," is found in Australia's Red Centre in The Outback. It is the world's largest monolith (single stone) and has a circumference of 8 km and a height of 335 metres. When the sun is setting in The Outback the smooth sandstone surface of the rock turns several different shades of red before becoming mauve and gray.

Very few people call The Outback home because it is so dry, hot and remote, but its bush, salt lakes and rock formations are popular with adventurers. Alice Springs, a small city in the middle of The Outback, is popular with tourists and is one of the world's most isolated modern settlements.

The Great Barrier Reef, a national marine park off the coast in Queensland, is another of Australia's natural wonders. It extends for 2,000 km, is made up of 400 different kinds of coral, and is the largest reef system in the world. It's also a frequent breeding ground for humpback whales and sea turtles.

In all there are over 2000 national parks and reserves in Australia and 13 areas on the United Nation's World Heritage List, including the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

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