Marvels of the modern world
In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's Secret Marvels of the World, we take you to far-flung corners of the Earth in which pigs catch some rays, monkeys soak the day away and nature paints on a canvas all its own
1. Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees – Hawaii, U.S.
The road to Hana is one of the most incredible drives anywhere on the planet, featuring an overwhelming abundance of sights, sounds and colours as the road winds its way down to the sleepy town nestled in the fragrant bosom of Maui's rainforest. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing you'll see on this journey is the "painted forest" of rainbow eucalyptus trees: a quirk of nature producing trees that literally look like frozen rainbows. The reds, purples and greens are particularly vivid within these spectacular oddities of evolution, thanks to sections of bark shedding at different times during the year.
The real beauty of this phenomenon, however, is that the process is ongoing, so the multicoloured streaks continuously evolve, forming a grove of living kaleidoscopes. The rainbow eucalyptus grove can be found at mile marker 7 on Maui's Hana Highway in Hawaii. You can also see some of the trees at the nearby Ke'anae Arboretum.
2. Pig Beach – Big Major Cay, the Bahamas
The Bahamas, an alluring chain of islands surrounded by luminous turquoise waters, is an ideal place to bask in the bright Caribbean sun or snorkel with rainbows of fish. Turns out it's also the best place in the world to hit the sands with some rather unusual local beach bums: swimming pigs.
The southernmost beach on the uninhabited Big Major Cay, part of the Exuma Cays, is a porcine paradise, home to a gaggle of wild pigs that love nothing more than to take a daily ocean dip.
You can ask Bahamians about how these porky paddlers arrived in such a place, but you'll receive a wide range of answers. Some locals believe that ships carrying livestock to Nassau wrecked off the coast of the islet, leaving the animals to swim ashore to the cay; others think that they were intentionally brought by explorers (perhaps even Columbus himself) and pirates. Whatever their origin, the pigs are a hit with visitors looking for an unconventional day at the beach. While the animals are indeed feral, they are known for their friendly nature and have a habit of swimming out to greet passing boats, their snuffling snouts poking out of the gentle waves.
The Exumas, 60 kilometres south of Nassau, can be accessed via flight or ferry
3. Zhangye Danxia National Geopark – Zhangye, China
Bands of colour from vermilion to pale green cover a mountainous 500-square-kilometre site in Gansu province, where more than 20 million years of geological movement have pressed the sandstone into a multicoloured layer cake. Over centuries, the sandstone was weathered into pillars, while extreme desert temperatures split the rock to form creeks and cliff faces hundreds of metres high. The name given to this kind of Martian landscape is "danxia," and it can be found elsewhere in China, such as at the Binggou Danxia Park. There, too, is a landscape of towering rock columns and sheer cliffs, but its colours don't come close to matching the geopark, where the hills blaze in shades of yellow and red.
The park is threaded with walking trails and sightseeing cars trundle through, allowing access to lookout points over the spindly rock formations and tiger-striped hills. Most arresting is the Seven-Colour Mountain, which can be admired from the park's fourth and largest viewing platform (easily reached by the park's sightseeing cars). The hills flame scarlet and gold during sunrise and sunset, so photographers should rise early. A spot of rain also makes the colours of the rainbow hills pop, so time your visit for between May and September.
Take a train to Zhangye (30 kilometres from the information centre) or fly via Xi'an. Plan on www.zydanxia.com.
4. Valley of Geysers – Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
Stretching towards Japan, the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's far east is a place where the Earth's fuming fury is never far from the surface. Kamchatka's six-kilometre-long Valley of Geysers is fed by the 250 °Celsius heat of the stratovolcano Kikhpinych. More than 100 hot springs and geysers huff steam into the frigid air. This basin in Kronotsky Nature Reserve is so far-flung that its geological marvels were only fully explored in the 1970s. One of the most chilling discoveries was the Valley of Death, a narrow two-kilometre-long creek where volcanic gases accumulate in such a high concentration that they kill animals and birds who stray too close.
Reach the Valley of Geysers by helicopter on a tour with Travel Kamchatka
(www.travelkamchatka.com). Flights from Moscow reach the closest airport, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
5. Jigokudani Hot Springs – Jigokudani, Japan
We have 98 per cent of our DNA in common with monkeys, so why shouldn't they share the very human joy of soaking in a hot bath? Jigokudani was named "Hell Valley" because of its steaming springs and saw-edged cliffs. But there is nothing infernal about the sight of Japanese macaques (or 'snow monkeys') lolling in the naturally hot pools, particularly during the four months of the year when the valley is coated in snow. Japanese macaques are the most northerly primates in the world. Bathing isn't their only human-like habit: scientists have seen them washing food before eating it, and even making snowballs.
The park is open year-round but bathing macaques are only guaranteed in winter. Buses run between Nagano rail station and the car park, a 30-minute walk from the springs. See en. jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp.
6. Drina River House – Bajina Basta, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ever grumbled about noisy neighbours or dreamed of having river views? This tiny house is marooned on a rocky islet on the Drina River, the watery seam that separates Bosnia and Hercegovina and Serbia. Built in the 1960s by locals yearning for some blissful isolation, the photogenic chalet seems to defy gravity on its rocky perch, with barely enough shore space to moor a kayak. Vulnerable to flooding, this pocket-sized hideaway has been rebuilt more than once. These days it's much photographed by visitors to tranquil Bajina Basta village, and remains a curiosity for canoeists wending their way down the river.
Bajina Basta is quiet spot; you'll need private transport. It's a three-hour drive from Belgrade.
7. Kubu Island – Botswana
Visiting Kubu Island is like stepping through the looking glass into an entirely different dimension.
Rising from a remote corner of the world's largest network of salt flats, the Makgadikgadi pans of the Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana, Kubu is a magical world of epic baobabs and horizons that never seem to end, a hallucinatory place where the sense of scale and singular beauty can be a dizzying experience. And don't be fooled by the absence of water. Perhaps just five centuries ago, hippos wallowed in the shallows of what was once a vast inland sea (the word "kubu" means hippopotamus in the local Setswana language).
More prosaically, the shorebirds of old bequeathed more than a mere name to this magical place – the white that stains the boulders overlooking the void is fossilized guano (bird feces) left by avian sentinels that rested here between fishing expeditions on what was once a real island. There's even a stone semi-circle and stone tools left by peoples now vanished from the earth, as if to deepen the mystery. To here find such unlikely connections to an otherwise forgotten past may seem incongruous. But when you sit with your back to a baobab and look out over the never-ending sweep of a world seemingly without end, time slips away into eternity.
There's a community-run campsite ( www.kubuisland.com) on Kubu. Get here by 4WD with reliable GPS.
8. Catedral de Sal – Zipaquirá, Colombia
Colombia's salt cathedral, one of only three in the world, sounds like a tourist trap. But descend 180 metres below ground into the otherworldly house of worship carved from 250,000 tonnes of salt and you'll be swiftly corrected. Located in the town of Zipaquirá, the stunning, dramatically lit sanctuary is a moving marvel bathed in cinematic crystalline. Ambling along the 14 small and maudlin chapels – each representing a Station of the Cross from Jesus's final journey – as an amazing passage through exquisite religious symbolism and mining triumph. If there is a God, he surely had a hand in the creation of the central nave (the world's largest underground church) where a mammoth cross, lit from head to toe, casts an unforgettable, ethereal glow.
Buses depart for Zipaquirá from Bogotá. The cathedral is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. See www.catedraldesal.gov.co
9. Vale da Lua – Alto Paraíso de Goiás, Brazil
It has taken millions of years and trillions of litres of water to sculpt out the beautiful rock formations at Vale da Lua (Moon Valley), on Brazil's São Miguel River. Stretching along a kilometre-long course of water, just beyond the southern edge of the Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros, is a bizarre looking series of natural rock formations, caves, waterfalls, pools and crevices. It's a bit like a water park, but without the screaming tourists or garish swimming trunks.
According to Brasilia University's Instituto de Geociencias, the endless curves are all caused by something known as fluvial abrasion, where the pressure of sand and continuously flowing water over several millennia has carved out the cups, bowls and smooth lines that you see today. And they are carving it out still – so it is, in effect, a constantly evolving sculpture. There's a distinctly lunar feel to the entire landscape, hence the name Vale da Lua. Visitors can walk across the rocks, bathe in the rock pools and wade down many of the water courses. (Except during heavy rain when flash flooding makes proceedings very risky indeed.) But most amazing of all are the quartz crystals embedded within the rocks. Thanks to these, some visitors report feeling an added energy and healing power.
Vale da Lua is on private property, four kilometres southeast of São Jorge village. The final approach is on foot.
10. Lake Kaindy – Tian Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan
Spears of spruce rise up from the water at this pristine lake, where a forest was drowned after an earthquake. The Kebin earthquake in 1911 triggered a landslide in the Tian Shan mountains, creating a natural dam that eventually brought this glassy, 400-metre-long lake into existence, submerging part of the forest. The lake occupies an ear-popping location at 2000 metres of altitude, close to Kazakhstan's border with Kyrgyzstan. Glowing an unearthly shade of turquoise and backed by forest-clad mountains, the sunken forest adds to the mystique of this tranquil place and has made it a hit among divers.
Reach Lake Kaindy by car. On paved roads from Almaty it's about a 280-kilometre drive, east on the A351 then southwest.
Reproduced with permission from Secret Marvels of the World, © 2017 Lonely Planet