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Cano Cristales, La Macarena, Meta, Colombia
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The 23 weirdest natural wonders of the world

Pink lakes, black beaches, rainbow-coloured mountains: these are the weirdest places in the world

Edited by
John Bills
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What a beautiful world we live in. Every corner of the planet shimmers with wonder, from the cerulean shades of the oceans to the mountains stretching high into the sky. It is easy to forget, but Earth is blessed with nature that not only gives us life but also looks pretty darn good in the process. But, that said, it’s also pretty weird.

These natural wonders exist almost beyond comprehension. Lakes aren’t supposed to be pink, beaches aren’t supposed to be black, mountains aren’t supposed to be rainbow-coloured and caves aren’t supposed to glow, but you’ll find all this and more in our collection of the weirdest places in the world.

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The weirdest places in the world

Jervis Bay, Australia
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1. Jervis Bay, Australia

Australia’s Jervis Bay is actually home to the whitest sandy beach on the planet, but visitors don’t flock here for whiter-than-white sand. Okay, some do, but most head to this 102-square-kilometre oceanic bay for the magic that comes after dark. Jervis Bay is one of the few places on the planet where people can see the wonder of bioluminescence, as masses of plankton glow in the dark and give the water a gorgeously ethereal look. These are noctiluca, or maybe the more apt ‘sea sparkle’, and the light is a chemical reaction causing excitement and vibration, generating the glow in the process. Bioluminescence is most often seen in the warmer months, but you can get lucky at all times of the year in Jervis Bay. 

Spotted Lake, Canada
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2. Spotted Lake, Canada

Hidden away in British Columbia, Canada’s Spotted Lake (known to First Nations people as Kliluk) is straight out of science fiction. This small body of water is packed with different minerals, from masses of calcium and sodium sulphates to small amounts of silver and titanium. When the water evaporates in summer, a weird collection of deposits is left behind, giving the Spotted Lake its moniker. You can actually walk around the deposits in summer, although good luck shaking the feeling that something might jump out at any moment…

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Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
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3. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

If aliens exist on Earth, they exist here. The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is a weirder-than-weird piece of wonder that is the result of three tectonic plates diverging and leaving behind lava lakes, acidic springs and more. It is known as the ‘hottest place on the planet’, and that is no joke. Geothermal activity in summer causes temperates to reach as high as 55 degrees celsius.

Zhangye Danxia, China
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4. Zhangye Danxia, China

It's easy to convince yourself that the swirling colours of China’s Zhangye Danxia mountains are actually a painting, but this gorgeous landscape is very, very real. The colours are thanks to the whimsical movements of mineral deposits over millennia, although it took just about that much time for China to pay much attention to it. Several observation decks offer visitors stunning views without damaging the landscape, which is good news for everyone. 

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Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
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5. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

According to legend, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland dates back to the time of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, a giant tasked with defending his land from the fearsome Benandonner. The story goes that Fionn decided to take the challenge head on, and built this causeway as a way to approach his foe, although the story goes off in many directions from there. Whatever its origins, the sight of some 40,000 basalt columns jutting out into the North Atlantic Ocean is one of the most unique images around, backed by imposing hills and the quietly seething sea. 

Lake Hillier, Australia
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6. Lake Hillier, Australia

We wouldn’t ever claim to be expert limnologists, but we know enough about lakes to know that they aren’t usually pink. Not pink of any shade, let alone bright bubblegum pink, but that is the hue of Lake Hillier, a saline lake found on the edges of Middle Island in Western Australia. Algae, halobacteria and other microbes create this incredible scene, one that would be safe to swim in if you could actually go in the water. It isn’t the easiest to get to, though, with scenic flights pretty much the best option.

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Tianzi Mountains, China
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7. Tianzi Mountains, China

Not your ordinary mountain peaks, that’s for sure. The peaks of the Tianzi Mountains are China look as if they were designed by a writer of dystopian fiction, straight out of a post-apocalyptic planet where survival is the only ambition. That may sound very dramatic, but the drama is inspired in heavy doses by these stunners, found in Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province. The mountains are easily accessible from Zhangjiajie, although you really need to be a bird to see the full picture. 

Green Bridge of Wales
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8. Green Bridge of Wales

Natural arches are weird wherever they are, be it the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina or the massive arch found in Arches National Park, Utah. There is something beautifully fragile about the Green Bridge of Wales, however, and it’s accentuated by the sleepy serenity of the Pembrokeshire coast and that inimitable sense of poetry that flows out of this small nation. The arch is located in the Castlemartin military area, so be sure to call ahead and make sure you can actually get to the thing.

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Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan
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9. Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan

If you’ve always wanted to visit the Gates of Hell, you better get your skates on. Not the actual gates of hell, that will have to wait for the afterlife, but Turkmenistan is planning on closing its Darvaza gas crater soon. The crater has been burning for decades, creating one of the most intense images on the planet, and visitors have flocked here for the sort of view that just shouldn’t be possible. Nobody really knows how it ignited, but we can only assume it had something to do with Beelzebub. 

Rainbow River, Colombia
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10. Rainbow River, Colombia

The name is something of a giveaway. Okay, the official name is Caño Cristales, but Colombia’s Rainbow River is an incredible celebration of colour that must be seen to be believed. Red, yellow, purple and greens abound in this liquid rainbow, flowing dramatically through the Serranía de la Macarena National Park, with the colours changing depending on light conditions. Red dominates, thanks to the Macarenia clavigera plants on the river’s bed, and the many waterfalls accentuate what is already an incredible sight. 

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Vinicunca, Peru
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11. Vinicunca, Peru

Sticking with rainbows and South America, Peru’s Rainbow Mountain is straight out of a psychedelic dream. Vinicunca’s unique multi-coloured marble look is the result of sedimentary deposits over the centuries, and the whole thing makes for a truly remarkable hike. It takes around four hours to scale the mountain, depending on how often you stop to marvel at how you’re actually climbing a rainbow mountain. 

Chocolate Hills, Philippines
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12. Chocolate Hills, Philippines

Unfortunately, these natural wonders aren’t literally made out of chocolate, they are simply covered in grass that turns brown during the dry season. Found in the Bohol province of the Philippines, the Chocolate Hills are among the most popular tourist attractions in the country and are undoubtedly its weirdest. Nobody really knows how many chocolate hills there actually are, with most estimates in the 1,800 range. That doesn’t really matter though – only chocolate does.

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Lunar Rainbow, Victoria Falls, Zambia
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13. Lunar Rainbow, Victoria Falls, Zambia

A moonbow! No, it isn’t the fantastical creation of a children’s fiction writer, but a very real phenomenon found at the already-magnificent Victoria Falls in southern Africa. These nighttime rainbows are only visible when there is a considerable amount of spray splashing back from the powerful cascades, so don’t bother heading here during the dry season in hopes of a miracle. The rainbow happens when light from the moon interacts with all the spray, and the results are magical. 

Thor’s Well, USA
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14. Thor’s Well, USA

Some people refer to Thor’s Well as the ‘Drainpipe of the Pacific’, but that just sounds downright disgusting. We’ll stick to Thor’s Well, a thrilling sinkhole that seems to suck the power of the ocean into its grasp at will. It is something of an oceanic black hole, so don’t expect to be able to go for a dip in it, lest you be sucked into the underworld for all eternity. This rough basalt hole is a few miles south of Yachats in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, Oregon. 

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Champagne Pool, New Zealand
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15. Champagne Pool, New Zealand

We aren’t entirely sure if swimming in champagne sounds fantastic or just really, really sticky, but New Zealand’s Champagne Pool well and truly deserves its spot on our collection of weird and wonderful places around the world. This fascinating pool (some 30km southeast of Rotorua) isn’t actually filled with champagne, but it gets the name from the constant flow of carbon dioxide gas, giving it a bubbling characteristic similar to that oh-so-luxurious beverage.

Pamukkale, Turkey
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16. Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale literally translates as ‘cotton castle’, and that feels like a particularly apt name for this incredible network of thermal waters found in the west of Turkey. The geothermal phenomenon has been attracting visitors looking for revitalisation for centuries, but it took designation as a Unesco World Heritage site for the area to be maintained and preserved. The nearby Hierapolis ruins can be underwhelming, but the Cotton Castle never fails to delight. 

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Sand Pyramids, Bosnia and Herzegovina
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17. Sand Pyramids, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sand pyramids are weird. They crop up here and there across the world, but the small collection of sand structures found just outside Foča (Bosnia and Herzegovina) are the only ones in the world that are still growing to this very day. What does that mean? It’ll take many a year before we find out, so make a beeline for this beautiful part of the world for some tranquil observation. 

Red Beach, China
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18. Red Beach, China

What an incredible image this is. China’s Red Beach (found in Panjin) looks like something straight out of a heavily-edited movie, as deep crimson takes the place of colours we’ve come to expect in marshes. The Red Beach forms part of the biggest wetland on the planet (itself pretty darn weird), and the colour comes from the Suaeda salsa plant, one of the few species that have what it takes to survive in highly alkaline soil. Don’t worry about the science, just focus on how darn beautiful it is.

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Fly Geyser, USA
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19. Fly Geyser, USA

Nothing to see here, just a vivid six-foot geyser spitting water into the air at all times in the middle of the Nevada desert. It has been described as an accidental wonder, but nothing this marvellous can be an accident, so we’re chalking the Fly Geyser up to the ingenious creativity of whoever created this world.  The only way to visit it is via a private tour with the Friends of Nevada Black Rock High Rock. 

Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia
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20. Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia

Human beings couldn’t survive without salt. The most important of all seasonings is responsible for a heck of a lot more than people realise, so there’s an extra special joy to the Uyuni Salt Flat. Of course, nobody really comes here to ponder the importance of salt. They come to see something truly incredible: nearly 11,000 square kilometres of flat land that is simultaneously otherworldly and very much of this place.

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Badab-e-Surt, Iran
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21. Badab-e-Surt, Iran

A preposterous amount of iron oxide has come together at this natural wonder in Iran’s Mazandaran province, giving Badab-e-Surt a distinctive orange glow that is straight out of an Ursula K. Le Guin novella. The name sort of translates as ‘fizzy water’, although the copper colour will likely put you off sipping the stuff (a good thing!). That said, the waters are considered to be particularly good for rheumatism and certain skin conditions. Either way, you will find yourself needing to devote attention towards working out what planet you are on. 

Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
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22. Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

The definition of a cave is ‘a natural underground chamber’, and you’d be right if you assumed that the ‘underground’ part of that meant that you don’t find a huge amount of light. New Zealand’s Waitomo Caves are a little different, however, lit up as they are by thousands upon thousands of glowworms, giving this subterranean place an undeniably romantic feel. Unless you’re scared of glowworms, of course. 

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Echo Beach, Indonesia
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23. Echo Beach, Indonesia

We know a thing or two about beaches, and we’re sure that they traditionally aren’t black. Sand usually veers towards the lighter end of the colour scale, and this makes the black sand beaches of Bali all the more jarring. Jarring in a good way, obviously, as there is something otherworldly about wandering down a jet-black beach, hand-in-hand with your loved one, as the turquoise waters do their thing. There are several black beaches in Bali – Echo being one of them – so get your Pokemon on and try to, erm, visit them all.

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