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Getting to Hawaii’s Papakolea Beach isn’t easy—travelers must endure a hot, rugged, nearly three-mile hike along sea cliffs to reach it. Yet people make the trek every day to see this strange stretch of sand, which is a deep olive green.
Most of us would relish a day at any old beach. But there’s a certain thrill in sinking your toes into sand at a different kind of shore—one, like Papakolea, that looks so fantastical it could be straight out of a movie. These quirky beaches add another layer to the enjoyment we get from visiting the beach. And the fact that Mother Nature created these strange beaches is perhaps what’s most astounding. No human hands were involved—just the perfect geologic storms of air, water, temperature, and pressure.
Read on for even more strange beaches you have to see to believe.
Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Harbour Island is just 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, but this tiny slice of the Bahamas has one of the Caribbean’s prettiest beaches: three miles of pink sand that stretches along the island’s east coast. The red shells of foraminifera—single-celled marine animals—mix with the island’s white sand, thus creating the soft rosy hue.
Papakolea Beach, Hawaii
It takes effort to reach Papakolea. The beach is located near Ka Lae, the southernmost point in Hawaii—and the entire United States. To reach it, visitors endure a hot and rugged hike for nearly three miles along sea cliffs. The reward: ending up on a green-sand beach. The grains are almost pure olivine, a green mineral, and come from Puu Mahana, a volcanic cone that sits above the beach.
Genipabu Beach, Natal, Brazil
Standing amid giant sand dunes could make travelers believe they’re in the middle of a desert—until they realize the Atlantic Ocean is just minutes away. Thrill seekers can explore the dunes several ways: hop aboard a buggy for a roller coaster–esque ride, climb onto a camel for a Lawrence of Arabia–meets South America lope, or go sandboarding (like snowboarding, only over the dunes).
Thunder Cove, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Prince Edward Island has more than 500 miles of beaches, and about half have red sand due to high iron oxide content. The southern coast, where many such beaches are located, is known as Red Sands Shore. However, a local favorite is Thunder Cove, on the northern Green Gables Shore, beloved for its rust-colored sand and dunes.
75 Mile Beach, Fraser Island, Australia
Stretching as long as its name says, on most of Fraser Island’s eastern shore, 75 Mile Beach looks like a coastal highway—and it’s exactly that. And a runway too. The hard-packed white sand below the high tide mark allows four-wheel-drive cars to ride and planes to land on it smoothly. Despite the activity, travelers can still have a beach day without getting run over. A prime spot for splashing and sunbathing is the Champagne Pools on the north end. The shallow, sandy rock pools make perfect swimming holes, unlike other areas of the island where dangerous currents lurk. Crashing waves that create foamy water give the pools their apt name.
Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Thousands of years of erosion weathered away sandstone on this stretch of South African coast, uncovering massive granite boulders. At aptly named Boulders Beach (part of Table Mountain National Park), visitors can splash and sunbathe in the sheltered cove—and revel in looking like extras in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. If that’s not amusing enough, add penguins to the equation. More than 3,000 African penguins live, swim, and mate in the area. Just don’t touch them; they may look cute, but those beaks are razor sharp, and they bite.
Chandipur Beach, Odisha, India
Now you see it, now you don’t—that’s the best way to describe Chandipur Beach on the Bay of Bengal. Twice a day, the water recedes more than three miles from the shoreline. During this very low tide, beachgoers can stroll—or ride a jeep—along the seabed and check out a trove of seashells, driftwood, and little red crabs before the water rolls back in.
Pfeiffer Beach, California
Big Sur lays claim to some of California’s most beautiful natural scenery: dramatic cliffs, forests, grassy meadows, and Pfeiffer Beach, a half-mile strip of purple sand, believed to get its color from the manganese garnet fragments of rocks on cliffs near the ocean. While popular with locals, Pfeiffer Beach isn’t so easy for first-time visitors to find. Head south on Highway 1 and turn right a quarter of a mile south of Big Sur Station after the yellow Pfeiffer Beach sign; it’s the second exit on the right.
Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain
Only 160 feet long, Gulpiyuri probably wouldn’t be worth a visit if it didn’t have the distinction of being a completely inland beach. Formed by a sinkhole and surrounded by green grass and limestone cliffs, this novel beach is so small that the sand nearly disappears at high tide and there’s almost no water at low tide.
Punalu'u Beach, Hawaii
Jet-black sand gives this southern Big Island beach a rather postapocalyptic look. Luckily, the frequent appearance of green sea turtles brightens the mood. Year-round, visitors will find the giant reptiles basking on the shore—nearly camouflaged by rocks on the beach—or swimming right off the coast. Signs on the beach warn against petting or riding the turtles, and it’s no joke. The turtles are endangered, and touching them is against the law.
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