Our planet Earth has many strange and often beautiful places that retain the power to inspire and mystify. They remind us that even in this age of technical and technological marvels there are still amazing places to be discovered.
1. PAMUKKALE – TURKEY
The strange and weirdly beautiful terraced pools of Pamukkale have been appreciated for over two millennia and yet still remain a little known wonder of the world. Thousands of years ago earthquakes, which are common in Turkey, created fractures that allowed powerful hot springs to bring water rich in calcium carbonate to the surface. As the water evaporated the chalky material condensed and formed layer-upon-layer of Travertine and thus slowly built up the walls over time in the same way that a stalactite forms in a cave. Apparently Pammakale means Castle of Cotton but the Greco-Romans built a town above it called Heirapolis – meaning “Holy City” or “Sacred City”. They too recognised it as a rare and important place attributing healing powers to the milky-white waters.
2. MOERAKI – NEW ZEALAND
These large, spherical, alien and strangely beautiful boulders are mainly located on Koekohe Beach, part of the Otago coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Known as “Moeraki Boulders” they were originally formed on the sea floor from sedimentary deposits that accreted around a core in the same way that a pearl will form around a particle of sand. The erosion of the cliffs often reveals these boulders from the surrounding mudstone allowing them to join those already on the beach. Some of the larger boulders weigh several tonnes and can be up to three metres wide.
Maori legend attributes their origin to the arrival of the first ancestors / giants who came in the great Araiteuru canoe which was sunk by three great waves at nearby Matakaea.
3. NINE HELLS OF BEPPU – JAPAN
Beppu, located on the Japanese island of Kyūshū, is the second largest producer of geothermal water in the world. Located in the same area are the “Nine Hells” or ponds that each has its own remarkable character and colour thanks to the variety of minerals in the outflows. These “Hells” are a popular tourist attraction in Japan but are little known outside of the country. Seven of the strange geothermal springs are located in the Kannawa area and are known as: Sea or Ocean Hell (Umi Jigoku), Shaven Head Hell (Oniishibozu Jigoku), Cooking Pot Hell (Kamado Jigoku), Mountain Hell (Yama Jigoku), Devil or Monster Mountain Hell (Oniyama Jigoku,) Golden Dragon Hell (Kinryu Jigoku) and White Pond Hell (Shiraike Jigoku). Sadly, as with many incredible natural wonders, the area surrounding it has become over commercialised and “tacky”.
4. LAS CAÑADAS – TENERIFE
Las Cañadas caldera, Mount Teide – Not dead just sleeping! The UN Committee for Disaster Mitigation has listed Teide for close observation due to its history of powerful eruptions and its location near several large towns.
At the summit of Mount Teide, one of the largest Island volcanoes in the World is the Las Cañadas caldera. The crater, which is an enourmous sixteen kilometres across, is a picture of what Hell might look like if it cooled a little. Sheer walls that formed when the caldera first collapsed encircle this dry and alien place. And, with an arrogance than can only be accepted as typical, humanity has built roads and observatories across this no mans land that is little more than a plug over a sleeping yet still active and very large volcano. When we visited it some years ago we were standing in the viewing gallery when the ground beneath our feet trembled and several windows suddenly cracked. The sleeping giant was grumbling in its sleep. The land mass created by the volcano is Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
5. GREAT BLUE HOLE OF BELIZE
The Great Blue Hole is located in the Light House Reef aproximately halfway between Long Caye and Sandbore Caye. It is about 60 miles east from the mainland of Belize (city). In 1997 it was designated as a World Heritage site.
Found on both land and in the ocean throughout the Bahamas and the national waters of Belize are deep circular cavities known as Blue Holes which are often the entrances to cave networks, some of them up to 14 kilometres in length. Divers have reported a vast number of aquatic creatures some of which are still new to science. In addition, they’ve recorded chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites which only form in dry caves. For the explorers this was proof that at one time, nearly 65,000 years ago, when the world was in the grip of the last major ice age, the sea level of the Bahamas was up to 150 metres lower than it is today. Over time the limestone of the islands was eroded by water and vast cave networks created. When sea levels rose again about 10,000 years ago some of these collapsed inwards and the Blue Holes were formed
6. HELL’S DOOR – TURKMENISTAN
It is most impressive at night and the glow from its flames can be seen miles away. The inside of the crater is black from carbon build up and the heat is so intense that it is only possible to stay near the edge for a few minutes.
Located in the Kara-Kum desert of Turkmenistan is the village of Darvaza (Derweze) near to where, in 1971, a team of Soviet prospectors allegedly drilled into a large chamber filled with natural gas. The roof of the cavern collapsed leaving a crater-like sinkhole some 25 metres deep with a diameter of approximately 60 – 70 metres. It soon became evident that natural gas was still rising into the crater from even deeper sources and the story goes that the decision was made to ignite the emissions rather than risk either a concentrated build-up of gas or local poisoning. According to various sources it has burned continuously since then and has apparently been named “The Gate to Hell” by the local people. However, another source that spoke with the guides from the region claims that it is a wholly natural phenomenon.
7. SANQINGSHAN – CHINA
A story that is told is that Mu-Go the “Lord of the East” wished to create a garden for the amusement of his consort “Yin” and persuaded the four elements to fuse together and create Sanqingshan as a private garden for her amusement.
Sanqingshan is a relatively small National Park near the city of Shangrao in the Jiangxi province of China. What it lacks in size it makes up for in shear natural beauty. It is officially the 7th World Heritage Site designated in China and has been noted for its exceptional scenic attraction. The key mystique of this remarkable place is the combination of extraordinary granite geology in the form of weird outcrops and pillars combined with seasonal climate variations than often cause mists, fogs and striking sunsets. Those that have visited this place describe a feeling of overwhelming peace and tranquility. This effect is enhanced by the profusion of natural waterfalls, pools and springs. If you allow yourself, it is truly possible to see Earth, Water, Wind and Fire joined in time.
8. EYE OF AFRICA – MAURITANIA
Currently scientists believe that they know what caused this formation. Hey! It’s a Richat structure … whatever that really means. A more Bizarre theory is that it is the impact site of an ancient but very powerful bomb.
From space this mysterious depression in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania really does look like a human eye. The image to the left is the “pupil” but a visit to Google Earth zoomed out a little will reveal the cliffs that make up the rest of the eye. This natural phenomenon is actually a richat structure caused by the dome shaped symmetrical uplifting of underlying geology now made visible by millennia of erosion. Please note that this explanation is not wholly accepted by the scientific community. There still remain academics that believe it is the sight of a meteor impact and yet others still that believe it resembles the formations caused by underground nuclear blasts. By the way, we estimate that the detonation would have had to be in the gigaton range. Currently no country in the world has a weapon even close to this destructive yield.
9. SUQATRA ISLAND – YEMEN
This enchanting and little known island also known as Socotra is located off the coast of Yemen in the Middle East. Isolated from the rest of the world its plants have evolved into many bizarre shapes and forms that are unknown in other parts of the world. One of the most famous of these is the Dragon’s Blood Tree the sap of which is used to make crystals that can be used as a dye or as an alleged aphrodisiac. The plant depicted on the right is the strange Desert Rose (Adenium obesium) but sometimes more popularly called the Elephants Leg Tree. The Island is slowly becoming known to the world and has great potential for eco-tourism as long as the visitors don’t do more damage than good. Other species include the Cucumber Tree and the Socotran Fig. Suqatra was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
10. RACETRACK PLAYA – USA
Located in one of the flattest places on the face of this planet are the strange and unexplained Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa – Death Valley – California – USA. Once a year the “Playa” or flat desert pan experiences short winter rains and becomes slippery as the hexagonal desert floor turns back to mud. During this time the boulders and rocks move leaving clearly visible tracks behind them. Although scientists believe that high winds are responsible, some of the rocks will suddenly change directions and move at almost perfect right angles to their previous direction. All the evidence suggests that this is not a hoax although it is also said that the movement of these rocks has never been captured on film or video. In this technological age we wonder why long-term time lapse photography hasn’t been used?
11. EAGLEHAWK NECK – TASMANIA
The tessellated pavement of Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania. Strangely … created by nature and not by man. The dogs of the infamous “Dog-line” were described as the most ugly and evil-tempered found anywhere in the world. Those Images is accredited to: Stephan Roletto, Matthew Stewart and David Windeyer
Located near the southern end of Tasmania, Eaglehawk Neck is a thin stretch of land which links two Islands and is remarkable for two reasons. It is the World’s finest (surface-level) example of a Tessellated Pavement and is also credited as the place where the notorious “Dog Line” was first invented. The indented slab formation is a geological feature caused by the erosion of fractures in the rock. The same area was also once a crossing place for escaped criminals that had been deported from Britain to Tasmania. To stop escaped convicts crossing this 200 metre wide strip of land the local military commander deployed nine ferocious dogs – each chained so that that they could nearly reach each other but couldn’t actually fight. Convicts that tried to cross the neck would find himself within range of two of these half-starved monsters. Only three people ever made it past the dogs.
12. BEAR LAKE AURORA – ALASKA
The Polar Lights of Bear Lake.This is a real picture taken near Eielson Air Force Base. Another Finnish belief from ancient times was that the lights were caused by the “Fire Fox” or “Revontulet” sweeping its tail through the snow. Accredited to Mr. Airman Joshua Strang of the USAF
You will find Bear Lake in the borough of Fairbanks North Star in the American state of Alaska. While the Lake itself is beautiful it is also the place from where a person can often see the incredible celestial display known as the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis. Literally translated the name means – Dawn Winds.
This phenomenon has been recorded for thousands of years (Pliny). Legend is that the lights were caused by Aurora – the Roman Goddess of the Dawn – who flew across the night sky to foretell the rising of the Sun. Many legends refer to the dance of the lights and Vikings are said to have believed that they were Valkyrie taking the souls of dead warriors to Valhalla. Scientists believe that they are really caused by solar winds as they collide with the magnet field that encompasses the Earth.
13. CHAMPAGNE POOL – ROTORUA
Part of the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal complex located near Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand, Champagne Pool is one of the most striking natural wonders. The brilliant orange ledge is actually formed from arsenic deposits and the gasses that rise and sparkle like champagne are carbon dioxide released from the water vents. Translated from the Maori language, Wai-O-Tapu means “Sacred or Colourful Waters”. The entire region of Rotorua is intensely active and Champagne Pool is just one of the hundreds of strange geological features that have been formed by the action of water, steam and subterranean volcanic energy. Translated, Rotorua means The Second Great Lake of Kahumatamomoe who was the uncle of the Maori lord Inhenga who discovered the lands.
14. BADLANDS GUARDIAN – CANADA
From the ground the Badlands Guardian appears unremarkable and is merely a collection of small grass covered ridges and valleys but from the air its uncanny resemblance to a either a Native American Medicine Man or an Egyptian Pharaoh has caused much speculation and debate with each theory wilder than the one before. The discovery is credited to Lynn Hickox of Saskatchewan Province.
This is yet another strange geological feature discovered by users of Google Earth. Often described as a Native American wearing a traditional headdress it has caused controversy since its discovery due to what appears to be an audio plug in its ear. Located near the town of Medicine Hat and the village of Walsh in Southern Alberta, Canada it is known as the Badlands Guardian. Although the formation is approximately 70 million years old the earphone is a new addition and is reputed to be either a natural gas or oil well. The actual location was visited in 2006 by TV News Watch Reporter Dale Hunter who interviewed local residents who, up until that time were unaware of its existence. It’s probably just a strange geological feature caused by erosion but who knows for sure. A competition was held to name the face and Cypress County Council selected “Badlands Guardian”.
15. THE WHITE DESERT – EGYPT
The Mushroom Rock of the Egyptian White Desert is considered to be one of the finest examples low-level wind erosion in the world. Still, many irresponsible tourists light fires against these ancient rocks causing them to fracture and at certain times of the year after key religious festivals the area is littered with refuse. This wonderful image is accredited to Hathor 13 of Wiki Commons.
At one time in pre-history this part of the Sahara Desert was deep underwater and deposits of chalk built up over the millennia. Today, this region near the oasis of Farafra, is above sea level and the wind has eroded the ancient lime and chalk deposits to create a bizarre and beautiful landscape in a truly White Desert. (Sahara el Beyda) The actual region is 45 kilometers north of Farafra and has become a popular tourist destination that is also close to the Black Desert and the Crystal Mountain. After years of petitioning by leading figures in the world of conservation and archaeology it has now been identified as a protected natural reserve but it appears that this has barely limited the ecological damage that careless tourists are causing to the area. Like so many natural wonders that exist for us to see it may be that all our children will have is the digital images our cameras take today.
16. SALAR DE UYUNI – BOLIVIA
Salar de Uyuni is almost entirely lacking in visible wildlife – either flora or fauna. While there is an abundance of water it is undrinkable and in geological terms it is an also a desert. However, during the wet season the lake becomes home to the pink flamingo which feed on the short-lived pink algae. This wonderful images is accredited to: Jo Van Herck, Szymon Kochanski and Jessie Reeder)
At 4,085 square miles in size Salar de Uyuni is the biggest “salt flat” in the world. What is even more remarkable is that it is over 3,500 metres above sea level and is the world’s most important future source of Lithium containing as much as 70% of all known reserves. It is also incredibly flat and people have been known to experience a form of vertigo and visual disorientation when looking across this vast and desolate vista. It covers a lake said to be up to twenty metres deep and was once part of a vast lake some 40,000 years ago before the effects of a series of Ice ages changed the topography. The Aymara, the indigenous people of the Western Andes have a legend that the Salar (Salt Flat) was created when the Giantess Tunupa and her baby were abandoned and cried so that her tears mixed with breast-milk creating the lake. As such, there is a local movement to have the area renamed Salar de Tunupa.
17. PU’U ‘O’O, KILAUEA – HAWAII
Located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Pu’u ‘O’o geo-magmatic vent. At the time of writing (2009) the Pu’u ‘O’o eruption has been taking place sporadically for over a quarter of a century. During this time it has produced more than 3 cubic kilometers of lava that have re-buried 117 square kilometers of the islands surface. Some of the lava flows from this vent have managed to travel 12 kilometres before plunging into the sea.
Even as we write this article (16 December 2009) we’ve just discovered that Kilauea is erupting again and the plume is visible from space and completely obscures the Pu’u ‘O’o crater. This is one of Hawaii’s most energetic volcanoes and has provided scientist with some of the most important insights into the relatively new science of volcanology.
18. THE BIG HOLE – SOUTH AFRICA
The Big Hole of Kimberley – South Africa. The enormous labour involved and the, often forgotten, loss of life makes this more than equal to the human effort put into the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza which is estimated to weigh only 6 million tons. This image is accredited to Irene (2005) Wiki Commons.
Created by 19th century diamond miners, it is still widely believed to be the biggest hand-excavated hole in the world as it also once had a hill above it. The first diamonds were discovered in 1871 on the De Beers farm near the town that is today called Kimberley. Within months thousands of prospectors had arrived to unearth the gems. Over the next 43 years more than 50,000 people would discover nearly 3,000 kilograms of diamonds. In total, it is estimated that using nothing more than picks, shovels and miners buckets they displaced more than 22 million tons of earth and rock. At its deepest point it was nearly a quarter of a kilometer in below ground level. After mining became too dangerous and unproductive in 1914 the Big Hole was partially filled in with rock from other excavations and water has since accumulated to a depth of 40 metres.
19. ULURU – AUSTRALIA
Uluru / Ayers Rock – Australia. Many of the Anangu legends feature snakes and reptiles and one in particular refers to the “Sleepy Lizard Women” that distracted even the spirits and sound remarkably like the sirens of western folklore. This image is accredited to Bo-Deh (2005) Wiki Commons.
Located in the Northern Territory of Australia, Uluru is a massive outcrop of eroded red sandstone (inselberg) that towers above the surrounding region. The name derives from the local Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples, the Anangu, and is a sacred place for both groups. There are many myths and legends surrounding the origin and purpose of the formation. One source claims that it is the physical embodiment of the Turtle Spirit. It is reputed to be very bad luck to take away any stone or part of Uluru. There are apparently many reported cases of people who have gone to great lengths to return items that they once took. Geologically Uluru is many millions of years old and has numerous caves and small fountains. It is estimated that the area has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years and examples of ancient rock paintings can still be seen in some of the caves.
20. KILLER LAKE – CAMEROON
Lake Nyos – otherwise known as “The Lake that Killed.” The outgassing of carbon dioxide was so large that it lowered the level of the lake by over a metre and turned the water to the colour of blood. 1,700 people died within two hours. This image is accredited to the USGS – United States Geological Survey.
The real name of this place is Lake Nyos but the locals now call it “Killer Lake” or “The Lake that Killed” – a well deserved name. Located in a crater on the flanks of an inactive volcano the extremely deep waters lie above a pool of magma that slowly leaks carbon dioxide. It’s part of the Oku volcanic configuration and is located in the north-west region of Cameroon. In 1986 a vast bubble of carbon dioxide mixed with sulfur and hydrogen spewed to the surface. In total, 1.6 million tonnes of this lethal gas spread over a huge area – reaching 23 kilometers away from the source. Hugging the ground this deadly and near undetectable concoction swept over villages and small towns. Approximately 1,700 people and 3,500 farm animals were killed within two hours. Survivors experienced long-term side effects including lesions, soft-tissue burns and respiratory illnesses.
21. The blood red Rio Tinto
The blood red Rio Tinto, a river originating in the Sierra Morena mountains of Andalusia, Spain, gets its unusual hue from its high iron content. A site along the river has been mined for copper, silver, gold and other metals for over 5,000 years. However strangely beautiful it may be, this river is actually an environmental disaster due to heavy metal contamination and mine leaks. Though it’s been on hiatus for 10 years, a recent increase in copper prices has prompted plans to reopen it in early 2010.
22. The Black Rock Desert – Nevada
The Black Rock Desert of Nevada is a rather mystical place, with its brilliantly colored geysers, dry rock bed and dramatic mountains. So, it’s not too surprising that this place was chosen as the setting for Burning Man, an annual festival known for its emphasis on disengaging from reality.
23. Kliluk, the Spotted Lake – Canada
(images via: Wikimedia Commons)
Legends of “Kliluk, the Spotted Lake” are woven into the Native Indian heritage of the Okanagan Valley. The Indians soaked away aches and ailments in the healing mud and waters. One story cites a truce in a battle to allow both warring tribes to tend to their wounded in the Spotted Lake, “Kliluk”. It is simply amazing and beautiful.
Spotted Lake is visible from the road, 8.8 kms (5.5 miles) west of Osoyoos on Hwy. 3 ….a rare and unique natural phenomenon covering 15.2 hectares (38 acres). It contains one of the worlds highest concentrations of minerals: magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts), calcium and sodium sulphates, plus eight other minerals and traces of four more, including silver and titanium.
The therapeutic value of Spotted Lake has always proved interesting, however other uses were found for the minerals. During WWI, Chinese labourers were employed skimming the salts from the surface of the lake. The product was then shipped to Eastern American munitions factories.
Yield is said to have reached a ton per day. In the hot sun of summer, the water of Spotted Lake evaporates and crystallizes the minerals, forming many white-rimmed circles: shallow pools that reflect the mineral content of the water in shades of blues and greens.