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Unreal Odyssey: Charting the Most Surreal Places on Earth 42

Regardless of country, culture or continent, one thing unites every single area of the globe - landscapes which fascinate, mesmerize and genuinely leave us baffled and lost for words. If you're a traveller looking for something out of the ordinary, a naturally curious human or even a homesick alien from outer space looking for something familiar, join us as we use our own logic-defying images to create the definitive all-star map of surreal, staggering and breathtakingly bizarre sites around the world and add a refreshing twist to the usual travel experience. These places have to be seen to be believed. Not only do they amaze and leave us awestruck, but they make those lucky enough to lay eyes on them feel as if they've been whisked off to another planet, taken a portal to a another dimension or transported to a different universe altogether. Caves of crystal spikes, real-life snow monsters in the Japanese Alps and miniature mountains of chocolate rising up from the earth are a tiny taste of the mesmerizing and otherworldly sites which planet earth has to offer as we map the most mind-boggling sites on earth.

To Sua Ocean Trench, Upolu, Samoa

Jun 29 2011

Picking a favourite South Pacific island nation is tough enough but Samoa has something which may just be enough to tip the scale. To Sua Ocean Trench is a set of twin blowholes linked by an ancient lava tube near the village of Lotofaga on the island of Upolu. While all of the South Pacific islands have idyllic beaches and water clearer than crystal To Sua is Samoa's very own slice of inland ocean tropical paradise, slightly inland and cut off from the sea on the surface but connected to it by underwater cave canals.

View from Underground tunnel leading to To Sua Ocean Trench, Upolu, Samoa

Sep 12 2015

To Sua literally means 'Big Hole' in Samoa's Polynesian dialect and one of the two blowholes features water and the other lies dry. At high tide To Sua reaches 98 feet in depth and with its sandy bottom, the blowhole is also the home of brightly-coloured tropical fish. On the other side of the lava tube and cave canal which links To Sua to the ocean and a classic South Pacific-style paradise beach.

Reef and Entrance to Avaiki Cave, Niue

Aug 15 2014

Despite the Pacific Island nation of Niue's tiny size, the country packs a considerable punch in terms of its natural attractions as caves, caverns atolls and reefs dominate its coastline. Among and above Niue's other highlights however, Avaiki Cave on the island's northwest coast has the honour of being named after the mythical and legendary Polynesian homeland which was shaped like 'vast hollow of a coconut shell'.

Lagoon Inside Avaiki Cave, Niue

Jun 17 2015

In addition to its surrounding legend and being an exclusive domain of the old kings of Niue, Avaiki Cave is renowned for its strikingly crystal clear waters and this is encapsulated by the fact that in the bay outside the cave the water is so clear that it has over thirty metres of visibility down to the sea bed. Inside Avaiki Cave is another distinguishing feature as the sacred cave is also home to largest raised coral atoll on earth.

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California, USA

Feb 26 2015

The story of Glass Beach near Fort Bragg, just over three hours north of San Francisco, has an air of romance and triumph behind it. Until the 1960s, the cove was used as a dumping ground and everything from household and industrial waste to cars and electrical goods was unscrupulously heaved over the cliff above and into the Pacific Ocean. In 1967 the local authorities put a stop to this and since then the ocean has transformed the beach from a trash dump into a veritable treasure cove.

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California, USA

Feb 26 2015

A huge clean-up plan was put into action and the metal and was largely removed. Shattered glass proved more difficult to shift and over the ensuing decades the ocean waves eroded and shaped the shards into the smooth and colourful nuggets of sea glass seen on the three coves of Glass Beach today. Before it became illegal to remove the shards the sea glass was even used by locals to make jewellery, especially the 'sapphire gems' from old medicine bottles and 'red rubies' which originally came from the shattered headlights of pre-1967 cars.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Wyoming, USA

Aug 7 2011

Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park is home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, the USA's largest hot spring and the third largest on the planet. Curiously, the striking colours of the hot spring, displayed from the innermost blue to the outermost red and orange, are identical in order to those of the rainbow.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Wyoming, USA

Jun 26 2013

One of the USA's most iconic natural locations and taking its name from rainbow of colour created by the pigmented bacteria that grow around the mineral rich waters, Grand Prismatic Spring spans 300 feet in diameter and was first encountered in 1870 on the Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition, which charted the area now Yellowstone National Park.

Entrance to the Naica Mine, Chihuahua, Mexico

Mar 20 2008

In the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua the tiny mining town of Naica is home to one of the most extraordinary sights on, above or below ground anywhere in the world. Historically the Naica mine yielded silver, lead and zinc but in 1910 the miners discovered a hitherto unknown chamber full of naturally-formed, stalagmite-shaped crystals with some measuring over one metre in length. The miners named the chamber 'The Cave of Swords' and in the year 2000 the Naica Mine outdid itself once again with another discovery made by the miners.

Cave of Crystals, Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico

Mar 3 2008

If the metre long-plus crystals in the Naica's 'Cave of the Swords' amazed the miners in 1910, what the miners in the year 2000 discovered was nothing short of unbelievable. More giant crystals were discovered, this time up to forty feet long and the largest natural crystals ever found on earth and this new chamber was dubbed 'Cueva de Los Cristales', or 'Crystal Caves'. The crystals inside are so big that scientists and geologists, who have have to wear suits packed with ice due to the sweltering 50-plus degree heat of the chamber, are even now still conducting research in the sixteen years after its discovery.

Caño Cristales, Meta, Colombia

Sep 20 2014

Also known as the 'River of Five Colours', 'Liquid Rainbow' and 'The River which Ran Away from Paradise', Caño Cristales is often quite rightly hailed as the most beautiful river in the world. When the blood red of the Macarenia Clavigera works its magic alongside the water, sand and surrounding jungle landscape Caño Cristales transforms into an a scene which would look completely at home in a Hollywood fantasy movie.

"Five-Coloured River", Caño Cristales, Meta, Columbia

Sep 20 2014

From the end of July to November each year, between the wet and dry seasons in central Columbia's Serrania de la Macarena region, a tributary of the Guayabero River known as Cano Cristales explodes with colour. The reason for the vibrant transformation from indistinguishable stream to multicoloured river is due to a species of plant known as Macarenia Clavigera blooming bright red on the river bed at this time of year and fusing with blue water and the yellow and green sand to create the illusion that the river is almost running with paint.

Marble caves, Chile Chico, Chile

Apr 14 2009

With a surface area of 1850 square kilometres General Carrera Lake in Chile, also known as Lake Buenos Aires on the Argentinian side, is a glacial lake in Patagonia surrounded by the southern Andes mountains. The lake is shared between Chile and Argentina and in the middle of the Chilean side the Cuevas de Mármol, or 'Marble Caves', have been formed by more than 6000 years of waves crashing up against the interior caves and caverns of a group of natural rocks formed from solid marble.

Marble caves, Chile Chico, Chile

Mar 24 2016

Cuevas de Marmol is accessible from the towns of Puerto Río Tranquilo across the lake to the northeast and from Chile Chico to the west and the swirling blue shade of the walls has been formed by the waves of the lake slowly eroding the natural marble of the caves. "Capilla de Marmol”, or 'Marble Cathedral', is the most awe-inspiring of the caves and the crystalline azure water of the lake makes the swirling blue marble patterns change both shape and shade depending on the season and water levels.

Poço Azul, Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brazil

Apr 25 2007

Chapada Diamantina National Park, in Brazil's Bahia State, has long been an area where prospectors eager to get rich quick have come to seek their fortunes. Gold and diamonds are not the only source of treasure in this part of Brazil, however, and Poço Azul, or 'Blue Pool', is a sinkhole at the bottom of a flooded cave full of crystal clear water which shimmers an electric shade of blue when the sun's rays beam down on it. Image Credit: Flickr - Danielle Pereira

Poço Azul, Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brazil

Jun 12 2015

Locals will tell you that the hole in the roof of Poço Azul's karst cave is shaped liked a map a Brazil and the cave receives its mesmerizing crystal clear water from runoff from the nearby Rio Paraguaçu. Poço Azul was created by both volcanic and glacial changes in the surrounding landscape more than five hundred million years ago and perfectly preserved fossils of prehistoric animals and plants have been discovered at the bottom of the cave pool's mystical sixty foot depths. Image Credit: Flickr - Rosanetur

Mer de Glace, Chamonix, France

Sep 15 2012

Like a river of snow and ice snaking its way down the northern slope of Mont Blanc, 'Mer de Glace', or 'Sea of Ice' is France's largest glacier at six kilometres long and 200 metres-deep. The glacier is also the second largest in the Alps, behind Switzerland's Great Aletsch Glacier, and sits above the Chamonix Valley at a height of just under 7000 feet. A five kilometre-long railway, the Train du Montenvers, connects Chamonix with Montenvers and from there a gondola descends down onto the glacier itself. The glacier can also be accessed from a roughly two hour alpine hiking trail which starts in Chamonix.

Mer de Glace Ice Tunnel, Chamonix, France

Jan 20 2011

The highlight of a trip to Mer de Glace, alongside the sight of the glacier itself, is a walk through the 'Grotte de Glace', an ice grotto cut into the living glacier. Saturated in hazy blue and purple light featuring ice sculptures, the grotto takes you on a journey seemingly to the belly of the glacier and the 'Gallery of Crystals' showcases a collection of Mont Blanc's finest and most pristine ice crystals.

Externsteine, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Jun 23 2015

With two of their more evocative and mystical aliases translating to 'Star Stones' and 'Mystery Stones of Egge', the sandstone rock pillars of Externsteine in northwest Germany's Teutoburg Forest were once a pagan worshipping ground and an astronomical calendar. The complex consists of five natural stone pillars, with the tallest at over 100 feet, and even today remains a place of pilgrimage for neo-paganists.

Relief Carvings at Externsteine, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Nov 14 2006

Stairs and bridges link Externsteine's rock pillars, allowing access between each of the summits, and the site still pulses with astronomical symbolism, most notably a stone window which aligns perfectly with the rays of the sun during the summer solstice. The 'Kreuzabnahmerelief', a relief carved into 'Rock I', depicts Christ being taken down off the cross after crucifixion. The relief is the oldest of its kind north of the Alps and experts estimate that it was carved by Byzantine monks in the twelfth century.

"Viewpoint of the Moon", Luanda, Angola

Jul 30 2015

Miradouro da Lua's moonscape stretches over the edge of a large ravine for just over one kilometre and another reason behind its christening as 'Viewpoint of the Moon' is due to its tricolour soil. After investigation and research, scientists and geologists confirmed that the orange, red and pale yellow soil found at Miradouro da Lua is similar in consistency to that found on the moon itself.

Miradouro da Lua, Luanda, Angola

26 2009

Miradouro da Lua's moonscape stretches over the edge of a large ravine for just over one kilometre and another reason behind its christening as 'Viewpoint of the Moon' is due to its tricolour soil. After investigation and research, scientists and geologists confirmed that the orange, red and pale yellow soil found at Miradouro da Lua is similar in consistency to that found on the moon itself.

Zlatnite Mostove, Vitosha, Bulgaria

May 15 2007

Looming over the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Vitosha mountain range and its adjoining nature park is the oldest natural reserve in the Balkans and where you'd normally expect to find spring water flowing off the top of a mountain, Vitosha is home to rivers of a completely different kind. The highest peak in the range is Mt Cherni Vrâh, at just under 3000 metres high, and the sides of the mountains are clustered with lines of huge rocks and boulders known as the 'Stone Rivers', or 'Kamenna Reka' in Bulgarian, which stretch up to two kilometres long.

Zlatnite Mostove (Stone River), Vitosha, Bulgaria

Jan 1 2011

The largest of Vitosha's stone rivers is Zlatnite Mostove, on one of the southwestern slopes of the mountain range and which literally means 'the Golden Bridges'. Dating back to the ice age, the river of boulders stretches over two kilometres and the name 'Golden Bridges' alludes to the yellow moss and lichen which gathers on the faces of the stones.

Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey

Jul 7 2009

Roughly four hours from the popular Turkish resort town of Marmaris, Pamukkale is home to a stretch of hot springs and brilliant white limestone formations which seem like a cross between a salt flat and the petrified skeleton of a waterfall. These formations are known as travertines, a geological phenomena which sees the calcium carbonate and mineral deposits often found at the mouths of hot springs solidify into a kind of staircase-like formation.

Pamukkale at Sunset, Denizli, Turkey

Oct 16 2006

Literally meaning 'Cotton Castle' in Turkish, Pamukkale and its calcium steps shimmer with pools of azure blue water and the site's natural formation dates back millennia to when a tectonic shift in western Turkey gave rise to mineral and calcium-rich hot springs. During the classical era the now ruined city of Hierapolis was built above Pamukkale by the Greeks who, along with the later arriving Romans, used the hot springs as a luxurious natural bath.

Seven Coloured Earth, Chamarel, Mauritius

Mar 14 2005

The Seven Coloured Earth is a group of seven multicoloured and naturally formed sand dunes in Chamarel, Mauritius and, as the name suggests, seven different colours of sand are on show at the site. These colours are red, brown, green, violet, blue, yellow and purple and the wind causes the sand to mix together meaning that the dunes can change both colour and pattern multiple times during the day. Image Credit: Flickr - Shankar. S

Seven Coloured Earth, Charamel, Mauritius

Sep 8 2012

Despite the torrential rain which regularly falls on Mauritius, the sand never erodes even though it is formed from volcanic rock. This volcanic rock, which has cooled at different temperatures over millions of years, is the main reason that the sands are multicoloured and the site is also known by some French-speaking Mauritian locals as the 'Earthen Meringue'.

Amarnath Cave, Kashmir, India

Jun 13 2004

Just under ninety kilometres west of the city of Srinagar in Indian Kashmir, Amarnath Cave captivates on both a natural and cultural level. As well as being surrounded on all sides by snow-capped Himalayan peaks and being covered in snow itself throughout the year, save for a small window every summer, the cave is one of the holiest Hindu sites in northern India.

Solid Ice Shiva Lingam, Amarnath Cave, Kashmir, India

Jun 13 2004

One story goes that a legendary Kashmiri king by the name of Aryaraja would come to the cave over two thousand years ago to worship a 'lingam', an object representing the energy and creativity of the great god Shiva himself, which was made of solid ice. In time, the cave was abandoned, forgotten and snowed over until its rediscovery by a shepherd in the fifteenth century. Today, Hindu devotees flock to Amarnath Cave during the window of opportunity when the snow melts in the summer to worship the same Shiva lingam as Aryaraje once did which is still there and still formed of solid ice.

Zhangye Danxia, Gansu, China

Jul 20 2011

With its red cliffs and ridges which flash red, yellow, blue, pink and more, Zhangye Danxia resembles a multicoloured geological layer cake and in total the section of the reserve which contains the famous landform covers an area of 510 square kilometres. One of the most common descriptions of Zhangye Danxia casts it as being painted in pastel colours by a god or a giant and some of the more captivating of the multicoloured rock surfaces feature swirling marble and tidal wave-like patterns.

Zhangye Danxia, Gansu, China

May 25 2013

A trip to the ravines, ridges, cliffs and rock pillars of northwestern China's Zhangye Danxia landform is like walking through a geological kaleidoscope. Located in Gansu Province on the edge of the same Silk Road desert that the old traders and merchants used to cross on their way to and from Xi'an, Zhangye Danxia has been declared a national geological reserve of China and was formed by desert winds eroding the area's red sandstone peaks which are themselves the result of millions of years of oceanic crust being folded.

Yao Village and the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng, China

Jun 15 2011

Three villages, Ping'an, Jingkeng and Zhuang, cluster around the rice fields and are still inhabited by the Guangxi's ethnic Yao population. Some of Longji's better known sights, which still contribute to the rice harvest despite being tourist attractions, are found near the central Yao village of Ping’an Village especially. These include two small ridge sections known as Jiu Long Wu Hu, or ‘Nine Dragons and Five Tigers’, which the locals say represent dragons drinking from the nearby river, and Qi Xing Ban Yue, or ‘Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon’, which features a series of seven small ridges seemingly gathered in a circle formation.

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng, China

Apr 11 2016

Located roughly one hundred kilometres from Guilin in southwestern China's Guangxi Autonomous Province, the Longji Rice Terraces and their cultivation date back to the Yuan Dynasty. The name 'Longji' sensationally translates to the 'Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces' and these terraced rice fields spiral up from a river valley below and encrust the edges and hillsides of a mountain. Rice cultivation and harvesting in the terraced fields has been going on for over 650 years and the terraces are still used as a staple food source by the local Yao ethnic population.

Kelimutu Crater Lakes, Flores, Indonesia

May 12 2014

On the Indonesian island of Flores, Kelimutu is an active volcano featuring three crater lakes. Volcanoes and crater lakes can be found all around the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', but what makes Kelimutu so striking in addition to its sheer scale are the colours of its crater lakes which vary depending on the type of volcanic gasses emitted below the surface.

Tiwu Ata Polo, Kelimutu, Flores, Indonesia

Apr 19 2007

Kelimutu is so famous and iconic throughout Indonesia that the volcano and its coloured crater lakes were featured on the back of a special edition 5000 Rupiah bank note and the lakes are also named. Tiwu Ata Bupu, is the westernmost lake and is usually blue or turquoise and Tiwu Ata Polo and Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri are usually red and green respectively. Periodically, Tiwu Ata Polo also changes to thick and syrupy-looking brown colour which seemingly transforms it into a huge bowl of volcanic rock filled with chocolate.

Rice paddies and Chocolate Hills near Carmen, Bohol, The Philippines

May 28 2009

More scientific, geological and all round less fantastical explanations for the formations of Bohol’s Chocolate Hills include natural limestone weathering, the remnants of an ancient coral reef and the eruption of an oceanic volcano which spewed huge chunks of molten lava around the area which then cooled to form today’s mounds. 1400 of the hills are scattered around an area of central Bohol encompassing roughly 50 square miles and the most visited and easily accessible stretch of the Chocolate Hills is near the central town of Carmen.

Chocolate Hills near Carmen, Bohol, The Philippines

Sep 20 2010

Local legends abound about Tsokolateng Burol, or ‘Chocolate Hills’, on the Philippine island of Bohol. The first has it that, after a battle between two giants, the sand, earth, coconuts and rocks used as projectiles during the battle were simply left where they were – later to become the rising hills seen today. Philippine legend also tells of another giant, named Arogo and who fell in love with a mortal named Aloya. After Aloya’s sudden death, Arogo’s sorrow caused him to cry and when his giant colossal tears dried, they became the Chocolate Hills. Image Credit: Flickr - Mendhak)

'Snow Monsters' at Zao Onsen, Yamagata, Japan

Jan 30 2014

In winter, usually around February, freezing winds lash ice onto the alpine fir trees which cluster all over the slopes of Zao Onsen's Mount Jizo. The icy winds are then followed by heavy periods of snowfall which cover the trees, encasing them completely in ice and snow. The result is a vast army of staggering, and slightly imposing, snow towers which are famously known as 'Juhyō', or 'Snow Monsters'. Image Credit: Getty (Editorial: The Asahi Shimbun)

Zao Onsen, Yamagata, Japan

Feb 1 2011

Japan is crammed with natural highlights, any number of which could have made this list. For uniqueness not just of the site itself but also of the story its name, however, the snow-covered slopes of Zao Onsen and its legions of alpine fir trees are hard to top. Zao Onsen itself is a hot spring located in Yamagata Prefecture as well as a famous skiing and snowboarding resort on the slopes of Mount Zao, one of Yamagata's highest peaks and the most active stratovolcano on the main Japanese island of Honshu.

Volcanic steam on Inferno Crater Lake, Rotorua, New Zealand

Mar 15 2013

For such a famous geothermal pool, Inferno Crater Lake only came into existence as recently as 1886 after nearby Mount Taraweera erupted and forged volcanic rift craters for miles around it. The lake also has a unique relationship with another of Waimangu's geothermal pools which is found nowhere else on earth as when the water levels of nearby Frying Pan Lake increase, Inferno Crater Lake's water levels decrease and vice-versa.

Inferno Crater Lake, Rotorua, New Zealand

Dec 2 2012

In Waimangu's 'Volcanic Rift Valley', 25 kilometres southeast of Rotorua on New Zealand's North Island, Inferno Crater Lake is a large hot spring and the largest non-oceanic underwater geyser on earth. The lake is one of the most impressive and brightly coloured geothermal sites in the southern hemisphere and its volcanic waters, which cycle through shades of blue from electric and azure to pale depending on silicon levels, can reach a heat of up to eight degrees. Image Credit: Flickr - Vašek Vinklát

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