Ten strange places
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 CAŅADAS - TENERIFE
At the summit of Mount Teide, one of the largest Island volcanoes in the World is the Las Caņadas caldera. The crater, which is an enourmous sixteen kilometres across, is a picture of what Hell might look like if it cooled a little. Shear 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
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
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
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
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?