Eight of the World’s Strangest Landscapes

Bizarre and Wonderful Natural Landscapes

Our planet is filled with bizarre natural landscapes, much more surreal and wonderful than anything man can create. Some of them are halfway around the world, and others are very close to home.

Here are eight of the most unique:

Chocolate Hills

Located in the middle of the Philippine island of Bohol, the Chocolate Hills are a range of unusually shaped mounds, spread over an area of more than 20 square miles. Most of the hills measure between 30 and 50 meters in height, and they’re covered with grass, which at the end of the dry season turns chocolate brown.

The hills retain a uniform look at all times because, strangely, no trees or shrubs will grow on them. The exact number of the hills is unknown, with estimates between 1,268 and 1,776.


Geologists have not reached consensus on how the Chocolate Hills were formed. The most commonly accepted theory is that they are the weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone lying on top of an impermeable layer of clay.

Fossils of marine life embedded in the rocks have been discovered.

Champagne Pool

The gorgeous Champagne Pool of northern New Zealand looks inviting, with its vibrant colors and bubbly appearance. But beware — the natural hot springs that feed the pool keep the surface water temperature hovering around 167 °F.

The hot spring was formed 900 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption. The name of the pool is derived from the abundance of carbon dioxide, which causes the colored waters to percolate up from underground, similar to a bubbly glass of champagne.

The pool gets its vibrant colors from rich deposits of minerals, including gold, silver and arsenic. Gray-white silica that forms at the edges of the pool is lined with bright orange stibnite deposits and provides a striking contrast.

Lake Hillier

And speaking of strange-colored water, how about a pink lake? We’re talking Pepto-Bismol pink.

Australia’s Lake Hillier is situated right next to the Pacific Ocean, which makes its unusual color all the more striking. And unlike other pink lakes around the world, Lake Hillier’s water remains distinctively pink even when transferred into a glass.

The cause of the lake’s unique color is not fully understood by scientists, although most suspect it has to do with the presence of dunaliella salina microalgae, which produce carotenoids.

Another explanation could be the presence of certain bacteria in the salt crusts. Or a  reaction between the salt and the sodium bicarbonate that is found in the water.

Despite its unusual hue, the lake exhibits no known adverse effects upon humans, and is safe to swim in. (The salt content levels are comparable to those of the Dead Sea.) But because of its remote location, Lake Hillier is commonly accessible only by helicopter.

Elephant Rock

If you head out to the Valley of Fire in Nevada to view its dramatic red sandstone landscapes and Indian rock carvings, you won’t want to miss the Elephant Rock.

This massive natural rock formation eerily resembles a giant elephant with its enormous trunk pointed downward and clearly defined haunches. From certain angles, you can even make out shoulder blades, knees, and perhaps ears, if the shadows are right.

The Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. It derives its name from red sandstone features, which appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays.

By the way, if the Elephant Rock seems familiar to you, perhaps it’s because it was featured in some pretty well-known movies, such as Total Recall and the original Star Trek.

Cave of the Crystals

Just north of Chihuahua, Mexico, sits one of the world’s most remarkable displays of natural mineral formations. The Cave of the Crystals, located almost 1,000 feet underground in the Naica Mine, is home to some truly gigantic, sword-like gypsum crystals.

In fact, humans appear minuscule in comparison to these beauties, the largest of which is 36 feet high and weighs 55 tons. Some of the largest crystals may be over 500,000 years old. Surprisingly, the cave remained undiscovered until 2000, when two miners drilling for lead and silver broke through the subterranean mine.

The enormous crystals are believed to have formed when gypsum-saturated groundwater flowed through the caves, and was heated and cooled by hot magma below.

The magma within makes the cave unbearably hot and humid. Without proper protection, people can only endure about ten minutes of exposure. As a result, the Cave of the Crystals remains largely unexplored.

The Moeraki Boulders

Rising up from the beach like giant turtle shells, the spherical Moeraki Boulders lie strewn along New Zealand’s southeastern coast.

The boulders are scattered singly or in clusters within a stretch of beach where they are protected in a scientific reserve. At lease two-thirds of the boulders are between 5 feet and 7 feet in diameter, and weigh several tons.

These massive boulders started forming in sediments on the sea floor over 60 million years ago. Carbonates built up around a central core, similar to the way pearls form around a speck of grit.

The Wave

This sandstone marvel with its remarkable shape is located on the slopes of the  Coyote Buttes on the Arizona-Utah border. Reaching it requires an arduous trek over rough terrain, and hiking permits are limited.

The undulating pattern originated with layers of sediment under long-gone seas, and the eroding of rock by the elements, particularly windblown sand. As Jurassic wind patterns changed, different sand dunes blew across the southwest desert, cementing into The Wave’s various striations.

Grand Prismatic Spring

When it comes to natural beauty, it would be hard to top the dazzling colors of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S.

Although the vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow, green and blue may appear to be photoshopped, the colorful spectrum actually derives from different types of bacteria, each of which thrive in a particular (albeit, extremely hot) water temperature.

These microbial “mats” of bacteria change color according to season. In the summer, the mats tend to be orange and red, while in the winter they’re usually dark green. The center of the pool is sterile due to extreme heat (189°), and looks extremely clear. Its beautiful, deep-blue color is due to the scattering of blue wavelengths – the same property that makes the sky, ocean and lakes appear blue.







Lonely Planet

Smithsonian Magazine

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