Modern life is a rich and varied confluence of information, technology, social interaction, work, travel, family and fun – if you’re lucky. There are smartphones in the most remote corners of our world and we have advanced in scientific endeavor further than ever before. Our cities are huge bustling metropolises and they’re growing larger every day. More than half of the earth’s population lives in these urban centers and this percentage is steadily increasing. However, despite this cumulative urbanization, there is a tacit understanding among the human race that connection to nature is an essential factor in our happiness.
For all our obsession with man-made wonders nothing compares to the creations of Mother Nature. Vast underground cave systems, wild desert landscapes, breathtaking waterfalls, staggering geology and spectacular vestiges of our prehistoric past all remind us of our small place in earth’s story.
And even with our ever-expanding knowledge of the way the world came to be, some landscapes still leave us utterly perplexed. This is the mystery and the majesty of the natural world. In this book we’ve attempted to capture just a fraction of what it has to offer, and we hope it inspires you to get out and find your own slice of pleasure in the great outdoors.
01. Beach of the Cathedrals, Spain
A religious experience then?
Some might feel a kind of mystical wonder come over them. Others will marvel at the power of nature – these ocean-side rock formations have been carved by wind, rain and sea for a few years now. And by ‘a few’, we mean millennia…
I’m feeling a little insignificant again…
Understandable: a human life doesn’t scale well to geological time, but go with the flow and bask in the glow of these astounding formations. The naves formed into the 30 m cliffs are breathtaking and you can spend hours wandering in and around them.
Time and tide?
Good question! So: time – go see them while you can. Erosion waits for no woman. Or man. Or rock. Some of these arches will fall into the sea soon enough (geologically speaking). Also – yep, low tide – at high tide you won’t be doing much exploring. Time your run well.
God, that water looks delicious!
Maybe it’s divine intervention, but yes, you’re right, the water here looks more like the clear turquoise stuff of a tropical beach wonderland, yet here it is in little old Spain. It’s a marvel.
02. Hidden Beach, Marieta Islands, Mexico
Shhh, don’t tell anyone else about this place! we want it to ourselves.
The secluded setting of this gorgeous beach is the stuff of wild and romantic fantasies, which is why it has also earned itself the title of playa del amour or lovers’ beach. Lovesick dreamers the world over have longed to have these golden sands, gently lapped by crystal blue waters, all to themselves, and due to the beach’s remote and concealed location there’s a good chance these dreams could come true.
How do we get in there?
This secret swimming hole, visible from above through dense jungle and cavernous limestone, can only be accessed by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel of water that links the beach to the Pacific Ocean.
How did this natural wonder come to be?
Mother Nature can’t take all the credit for this one. It is believed that military bomb tests conducted by the Mexican government in the 1900s created a whole series of craters, caverns and unusual rock formations throughout the Marieta Islands, one of which being the magnificent Hidden Beach.
03. Moeraki Boulders, South Island, New Zealand
We imagine this is what it would look like if giants had abandoned a game of prehistoric bowls here on the beach.
It does seem implausible, if not impossible, for these strange stone spheres to have been organically crafted, so giants playing beach bowls kinda makes sense. Though, for the less magically-minded, the story goes that the boulders began forming on the ancient seabed in marine mud, created in a spherical shape by calcium diffusion, and were then exposed through erosion over hundreds of thousands of years. Geological studies estimate some of the larger boulders to be over five million years old.
Magic or no magic, this windswept coastline is a crazy playground.
It’s bags of fun to clamber over the gigantic stone balls, some of which are a huge two meters in diameter, and some sit in clusters, partially submerged in the water.
We’ve never seen anything like it.
The boulders are actually not unique to the South Island; the North Island has its own stone wonders known as the Katiki Boulders, and similar spheres have even been discovered in Barbados and parts of North America.
04. Palawan Island, The Philippines
Ahh, now we’re talking – a tropical paradise.
The Palawan Archipelago is one of the only tropical wonderlands left in the world that can truly claim the title “unspoilt”, and the island of Palawan sits like a giant shining jewel in the center of this glittering paradise.
We’re happy to kick back here on these white sand beaches forever.
If, however, sunbathing in nirvana starts to get old, Palawan has plenty more to offer of a more active nature.
You may as well tell us about it then while we float in the gentle turquoise waters.
Let’s see if we can’t tempt you into action. There’s scuba diving among the numerous WWII shipwrecks at Coron Bay, or snorkeling in the stunning big and small lagoons ringed with dramatic limestone cliffs at El Nido. And the pièce de résistance? The Puerto Princesa Underground River. The 8.2 km-long subterranean river system is believed to be the longest navigable underground river in the world; it flows beneath a mountain range and empties directly into the South China Sea. Don’t miss the opportunity to hire a kayak and explore this uniquely stunning natural wonder.
05. Santorini, Cyclades Islands, Greece
The Greek Islands attract a lot of travelers in peak season…
Among the hustle and bustle that takes over Santorini and the other Greek islands during peak season, it’s easy to forget the astonishing way these places were formed and the rugged gorgeousness beneath the buildings; but look out over the azure ocean and along the steep cliff-faces and you’ll see that this is one of the most lovely places on earth.
The people of Santorini (or Thira as it is also known) sure know how to make the most of what they’ve got.
The traditional Cycladic whitewashing of the buildings that cling to the craggy cliff-faces create such a stark contrast with the sharp blue of the sunken oceanic caldera below that the image has become one synonymous with Greece.
Who wouldn’t want to put themselves in such an iconic scene?
Throw in a balmy Mediterranean climate and a sunset that produces an everyday light show of soft red, orange, peach and ochre reflecting off the white edifices, and you have the makings of one of the world’s most magnificent sights.
06. Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
What’s so wonderful about this Maldives Island? They ALL look amazing!
The Maldives is your go-to place for beach paradise, no doubt. But Vaadhoo takes it up a notch.
The magic does indeed begin after dark, but the bar involved is made of sand. Head to the Glowing Beach (maybe the name gives it away). On a still night, you’ll see the dark waters of the Indian Ocean and just the occasional spark of light in the ripples.
Well this sounds lovely enough.
It’s only just begun! Where were we? Right… ripples, sparks of light… so, enter the ocean and you’ll notice more distinct flashes of light around your ankles. Kick a little water and an arc of blue light, like plasma, shoots out from the ocean.
What on earth are you talking about?
I’m setting the scene. What we have here is bioluminescent plankton that reacts with oxygen and generates a glowing blue light. These critters have made a home here and the effect is mesmerising. Try cupping the water in your hands; it sparkles then fades to black – then you shake it in your hands to get a handful of molten blue fire. Natural wonders just got interactive!