This is a fiord, some 15 kilometers in length, that leads to a bay onto the Tasman Sea (the strait between NZ and Oz). And down the steep cliffs either side of it stream, flow, fall and fly below streamlets, streams and waterfalls. As with all the other Top-12ers, breathtaking to behold and marvelous to meditate upon. Looking at it from all different sides highly recommended, as is shouting your head off for the mega-echoes ).
Ok, ok: I realize a road is man-made, but it’s not the road itself I’m referring to. It’s the views from it – along its full length (243km) – that I mean. The cliffs, stone columns, arches and tunnels cut into or out of the sandstone over millions of years by the ocean’s waves. Also: the unending views out over the ocean, in the direction of Antarctica…
Pre-1990, one of the arches – actually, a couple of arches – was named ‘London Bridge’, as it resembled (loosely!) its namesake. However, in 1990 one of the arches collapsed due to corrosion, and became known – as it still is today – as London Arch! (Incidentally, the same thing happened just last week in the Galapagos Islands!). Fortunately no one was on the part that collapsed – but there were some tourists on the outer section who were stranded. They had to be evacuated by helicopter.
The bonus of this entry on my list is that you can behold all, or most, of these awesome sights in the comfort of your car. Still, stopping for snaps is hardly a chore.
It’s recommended to drive its full length in both directions. We did this in a couple of days, but that was way too little time to fully appreciate the sights. I’d recommend at least three days, better – four, or even more…
The Twelve Apostles are one of the highlights of a Great Ocean Road trip. They’re really impressive: massive, stratified with layers of different colored rock, and the loud crashing waves below. Originally they were called the ‘Sow and Piglets’. Then, around a hundred years ago someone thought they might attract more tourists with a more venerable name, so they were renamed the Apostles!
Why they’re called the ’12’ Apostles I don’t know (apart from the obvious but still hardly applicable reason), since there are just eight of them, down from nine not too long ago when one of them collapsed. Oh those Aussies ).
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Aka Uluru (pics only; Russian text), this is another unique natural object, sat right in the middle of this vast country. No one knows how it formed, but that mystery only adds to the appeal of this red rock formation:
More mind-blowing naturalnesses. But, they’re on this list – so of course they are. More than 3000 quartzite sandstone pillars and peaks – some reaching nearly a kilometer in height! – covering an area of nearly 370 square kilometers. Oh my god-who-created-this-magical-scene! ->
There are at least three entirely different spectacles to be viewed here. In sunny weather – you get like in the above pic. If it’s overcast it’ll probably also be foggy – like this:
#7 on my lists is a mountain. And it happens to be in China. ‘Fair enough’, I hear you say ).
But… it’s the only mountain on this list. Some of you will say ‘fair enough’ to that, too. But I’m certain many others won’t. For I know there a mountain fans who will insist there MUST be more, since there are so many OMG mountains with OMG walks thereon and OMG views therefrom. So, before I get to this entry, first, a bit of an explanation as to why there’s just one mountain!…
First, there are a great many volcanoes in the world, yet in this unashamedly elitist list, there’s just one volcano. Sure, it happens to be the ‘king’ of the list (it’s the king of the volcanoes too), but still: just one. And that’s it: I’ve mentioned before the clearly objective fact (!) that volcanoes are superior to mere mountains in terms of aesthetics; so why would there be more mountains in this list than volcanoes?
Second: when it comes to mountains, to reach the mind-blowing views that they can offer (incidentally, enhanced by the euphoria you get when the effects of altitude sickness start to take hold), you need to climb, and climb, and climb, and climb significant distances – normally up steep slopes. Now, my list is populated exclusively with objects that can be visited by practically any adult with a bare minimum of physical fitness. For example, a 10-15km trek across easy (not too steep) terrain, like walks to and around Krenitsyn volcano or Englichek Glacier.
Yes, besides physical preparedness, there’s also the fact that some objects require a not insignificant budget to get to, which might push them off-limits to some. However, the financial side of things is beyond the scope of discussion re my top-12.
Third, the other contenders for the only mountain to be featured on my list also happen to be in China. There are simply that many oh-my-grandiose mountains in this huge country. So I decided the single mountain simply had to be a Chinese one and not a mountain in any other country. Ok, I think I’m exhausting this caveat-proviso build-up, if not losing the thread completely. Enough! And the single mountain is…
A humungous hulk of granite with practically vertical walls more than two kilometers high. The views of the mountain itself and from the mountainside are out-of-this-world. There’s no other way to describe it:
Perhaps surprisingly, the Grand Canyon isn’t the world’s largest – neither in terms of width, depth or length. But in terms of it’s meditative-ruminative-reflective & zoning-outative suitability – it beats the rest by a long way, at least those I’ve seen personally or seen photos of on the net.
If it’s possible to be able to choose one’s kings and queens among volcanoes, bodies of water, and bodies of iced water, to be able to do the same for the world’s mountains-and-rocks elite is much more difficult. First – there’s just so much rockinesses around the world. Second – there are so many different kinds of it. Therefore, I’ll list them according to geography. And first up is…
Now, if you believe the theories put forward as to how other, similar natural arches and rocky formations were formed – including by wind, erosion, the occasional earthquake, and many millennia – all well and good. But how can you rely on such theories for this masterpiece sculpture? No. Can’t be. Clearly this is the work of aliens, or possibly a clever ancient civilization from around the time of the dinosaurs, which decided to bury something big and round, and billions of year later – we get this delicate fossilized construction:
Oh my glacier. The ‘big ice’ theme appears in various places around the world today, from Alaska, via Greenland, to New Zealand. Alas, glaciers are fast melting, but there’s still a long way to go before they do so completely. Meanwhile ,the Antarctic ice sheet continues to feel nice and cozy underneath the polar vortex, and is thus the most significant ice zone on the planet. But none of these big icynesses can compare to a not-too-well-known glacier in Kyrgyzstan (who knew?!). I’m referring to Engilchek (aka Enilchek, or Inylchek). And it’s landed on the No. 4 spot in my Top-12 (after Nos. 1 and 2&3).
It too is melting at speed, but today you can still walk atop it for a full 50-60 kilometers, taking in the grooved-out streams that run across it in the most unusual of directions. This ‘water’, too – like fire and folks working – can be looked at forever:
An old nugget of wisdom states that ‘one can look forever at three things: fire, water, and other people working’. We had ~fire yesterday, with volcanoes that occasionally breathe fire. So logically, today, it’s water’s turn…
Aka Mosi-oa-Tunya, these are the most wonderful waterfalls in the world; also the largest by area of falling water. Length – 1.8km; height – over 100m. A spectacle you can stare at forever, just like in the wise old saying ).
The falls are even better when there are rainbows:
You can stroll up and down the full length of the falls; in some places you can walk up right to the edge of the cliffs.
Viewing the falls from both sides of the border is highly recommended, which takes up a full day as crossing the Zambia–Zimbabwe border takes some time. The day after, if one’s purse permits it – getting an aerial view from up in a helicopter can’t be beat:
Insider tip! If you do go for a helicopter flight, make sure to arrange it in Zambia. In Zimbabwe the choppers fly real high, with no acrobatics. In Zambia – just the opposite: super low and in Star Wars mode!
Apparently you can swim in the river up top real close to the edge of the cliff the water falls from! You’re attached to a safety rope, just in case, but still. Or if that doesn’t float your boat you can… float in a boat on same river up top near the edge. Alas, though I’ve visited the falls twice already, we never got round to this clearly mandatory undertaking. As I often say: next time.
Another important thing: choosing the right season to visit. The best time of all is in the dry season, when the water level isn’t so high – this is around fall and winter. In spring and summer – rain season – the Zambezi is too high and fast-moving, meaning you might not be able to see much at all of the waterfalls for all the spray/mist in the air:
In wet season you need to walk off to the sides to catch a proper glimpse:
So what about runner-up waterfalls? There are two worthy of mention – the Niagara Falls and the Iguazu Falls: both similarly fabulous falls, but not quite as large and magnificent as Victoria. Remarkably, I’ve never been up close to the former. As to the latter – I’ve been a full three times, and viewed them from probably every single angle possible, and at different times of the year:
I have seen the Niagara Falls from a plane. I’ve even been near them (on the ground) before, but for some completely unacceptable reason we didn’t drive over to this completely must-see natural phenomenon. The photos I’ve found on the internet though do testify to their being significantly smaller in scale and grandiosity than Victoria Falls.
If you do ever make it to Iguazu, don’t miss its unique attraction: going on a motor boat behind the waterfalls. No, really! The world’s most invigorating shower you could ever wish to take :) ->
Continuing the water theme, here’s water of an altogether different kind: not wild and white, but calm and… turquoise…
If ever there were an instruction manual on ‘How to Create Paradise’ for the gods or whatever else creates life in the universe, photos of this place would run the whole way through it. Anomalously beautiful atolls with volcanic cliffs in the center, surrounded by ’50 Shades of Blue’:
Pristine ocean, exotic marine life, perhaps the most ideal climate possible (tropical but temperate), friendly locals. Like I say: paradise.
Come on, corona, hurry up, darn it, and be off with you – for good. Then we can have the world open up again and get back to places such as Bora Bora. Ooh. Can’t wait…
Turquoise water runner-up? Exuma in the Bahamas. I’ll let the photos do the talking. But be careful – you might be blinded by their brightness! Another 50 Shades of Blue, but not of a volcanic kind – it’s a long archipelago surrounded by sandbanks:
Another runner-up: the limestone terraces of Huanglong in China. A bit like Turkey’s Pamukkale, but painted bright turquoise, and much larger in scale:
And not far from Huanglong is the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve and national park. Cascades of lakes and waterfalls, crystal clear – yet somehow turquoise! – water in lakes, and a freakish forest of horizontally growing trees under that same crazy-colored water, and all that set in the most picturesque of mountainous landscapes:
And that completes this H2O-themed portion of my Top-12 Ultimate Natural Beauties of the World. Next theme – also H2O, but of a very different kind: ice!…