The world’s most unusual beaches
The long black sand beach of Vík in Iceland is met by the crashing waves of the North Atlantic ocean. (Martin Moos/LPI)
Candy sands, disappearing waves, transformed trolls -- if life is a beach, these are its strangest days. These 10 beaches might not all be swimmable but they are all extraordinary.
Bowling Ball Beach, California
Compared to green sand or vanishing tides, “round rocks” don’t initially sound like reason enough to visit this Californian beach. And yet, when you get down there and see the “bowling balls” sitting like some tidy giant’s game on the sand, you cannot help but get a thrill. Best seen at low tide, the rocks are freakily round and freakily regular, and clustered together as if they have been placed there. The truth is, they are stubborn. The softer rock around them washed away, but these tough customers withstood the waves.
The Bowling Balls are on the Mendocino Coast; take the Schooner Gulch Road off Highway 1.
Harbour Island, Bahamas
Are you in some kind of fairy-floss and cream-pie hallucination? Or is that sand really pink? The colour is caused by tiny particles of coral mixing in with the white sand. Pink-sand beaches occur all along the east coast of Harbour Island, sitting pretty next to the lucid, blue Bahamian seas. At the Pink Sands Resort, you can have afternoon cocktails on your private balcony while looking out onto the petal-coloured sands. Leave the rose-coloured glasses at home.
Glass Beach, California
This beach is a testament to nature’s amazing ability to turn trash into treasure. Overlooked by cliffs, it was once seen as just a convenient dumping ground for Fort Braggs’ garbage. Up until the late 1960s people would hurl their refuse – including old cars and appliances – straight over the cliffs and into the ocean. Finally the authorities put a stop to it. Over the ensuing decades, the sea performed a remarkable conjuring act, acting like a huge tumbler to winnow out the glass and turn it smooth. These days the beach resembles a gem shop. People used to collect the glass, but that is now forbidden.
To get there, follow Fort Bragg’s Elm Street to its end and then hike down the dirt trail to the beach. Take care, the path can be treacherous.
Prince William Sound, Alaska
Close to the northernmost point of the Gulf of Alaska, beaches get truly otherworldly. Tidewater glaciers spill into the sea, the air is cold and clear, mountain peaks reflect in the pure water and black sand is framed by green hills and blue ice. Then you see the region’s wildlife – harbour seals, sea otters, whales, eagles and bears to name but a few. It is no wonder Prince William Sound is heaven for kayakers. Alternatively, consider a glacier cruise.
When it comes to beaches, the volcanic islands of Hawaii are not content to leave it at sugar-white. They mix it up with ebony black, Mars red – and green! Papakōlea is not exactly blazing emerald, but it does have a distinct green tint from olivine crystals deposited on the beach by a volcanic explosion about 10,000 years ago. These crystals are heavier than the other volcanic materials, so as the water washes the rest away, the beach gets greener. Eventually the olivine will run out and the beach will be grey, but not any time soon in human terms.
Papakōlea is in the Ka‘u district of Hawaii’s Big Island. You will have to hike in and climb down the cinder cone.
The sea here has a magic trick – it disappears! At low tide it waves goodbye and heads out for around five kilometres. That in itself may not be enough to draw you here, but while you are waiting for the sea to come sloshing back in, you will be able to explore the seabed, complete with shells, driftwood and little red crabs. And when you are in Orissa, why not check out some of its other off-the-tourist-trail beaches? Visit the Orissan town of Puri in June or July for the stunning Rath Yatra festival.