21 mind-boggling natural phenomena around the world

A trip to see some of the world’s natural phenomena is a uniquely magical experience.

From the beautiful to the bizarre, Vacations & Travel takes a look at some of the most insane natural phenomena and the science behind them.

Glowing Beach, the Maldives and Jervis Bay

Bioluminescence on beach © Unsplash/Ahmed Nishaath
© Unsplash/Ahmed Nishaath

Shores along Maldivian beaches glow in the dark at night. This is thanks to a natural phenomenon known as bioluminescence.

Bioluminescent organisms emit light when they are stressed or when the water is unsettled. The result is a glow-in-the-dark sprinkling of what looks like radioactive fairy dust.

A little closer to home, you can witness the phenomenon of bioluminescence in Jervis Bay. It’s always best to catch the sea sparkles in total darkness.

Blood Falls, Antarctica

© @physics_is_nature

You’ll be glad to know this waterfall isn’t bleeding because it’s the scene of a crime.

Instead, the rare natural phenomenon is a result of a complex chemical reaction that has occurred over 1.5 million years.

When the iron-bearing saltwater comes into contact with oxygen, the iron takes on a deep red colour.

Caño Cristales ‘Liquid Rainbow’, Colombia

© Canva/Claudio Sieber

You’d be forgiven for thinking this image is the work of a Photoshop wizard.

The Caño Cristales river in La Macarena, Colombia has been dubbed ‘Liquid Rainbow’ and ‘the River of Five Colours’. Rich reds, yellows, greens and purples flow down the river depending on the light and water conditions. 

An aquatic plant, the macarenia clavigera, causes the natural phenomenon. The colours are at peak vibrancy between July and November.

‘Rainbow Mountains’ Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, China

‘Rainbow Mountains’ Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, China © Canva/Kamchatka
© Canva/Kamchatka

The mountainside of Zhangye National Geopark looks like the paint swatch wall at your local Bunnings. Splashes of rainbow appear in thick straight lines.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010, the Rainbow Mountains have maintained their vibrancy thanks to viewing platforms and trails. These deter tourists from stepping directly onto them.

Plus there’s a benefit in viewing the mountains from afar, so you can see their beauty in its entirety.

Frozen methane bubbles, Canada

Frozen Methane Bubbles © Canva/Matthew Skubis
© Canva/Matthew Skubis

These ethereal blue bubbles are an alluring sight, but the story of how they form is anything but pretty.

Microbes that feed on decomposing matter at the bottom of the lake release methane which floats to the surface in bubbles.

During winter, when the water freezes the bubbles become trapped producing magical orbs.

When the bubbles thaw and pop in spring, they release methane into the atmosphere. This is potentially detrimental to our climate. But at least they’re pretty right?

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Island

Giants Causeway Landmark© Canva/MNstudio
© Canva/MNstudio

Nature has very neatly laid out its own pavements, almost 40,000 of them. These ‘pavements’ are actually huge black basalt columns.

Legend says an Irish giant Finn McCool paved the route over the sea to fight Scottish giant, Benandonner. The myth is that he created the path by tearing chunks of the coastline and hurling them across the Irish sea.

Nature has a different explanation. Volcanic activity some 50 to 60 million years ago produced the striking landscape that lies along the coast on the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Island.

‘Blue Fire Volcano’ Kawah Ijen, Indonesia

Blue fire at the Ijen volcano© Canva/Tomo819
© Canva/Tomo819

By day Kawah Ijen is a pretty ordinary volcano. Okay, it’s still a massive active crater that could erupt at any minute, but still ordinary by volcanic standards.

As night falls the lava river transforms into an exceptional sci-fi blue hue. The blue glow isn’t actually lava, it’s a flame produced when sulfuric gases from the volcano come into contact with the oxygen-rich atmosphere.

If you want to visit Kawah Ijen volcano you’ll need a gas mask to protect you from the toxic sulfur fumes.

Kjeragbolten Boulder, Norway

natural phenomena
© @cinder132 © @kjeragtouristinfo

Caught in between a rock and a hard place is the Kjeragbolten boulder.

The natural phenomenon got stuck during the alternating melting of Norwegian glaciers and the flooding of the valleys.

It’s become a popular hike for thrill-seekers. Kjeragbolten boulder will take you more than 1000 metres high. Check out this man, who proposed to his partner with one rock as he stood on another.

Lake Natron, Tanzania

natural phenomena
© @zenjitatours

The spookiest thing about Lake Natron isn’t its blood-red waters. It also has the ability to mummify animals.

Lake Natron is so alkaline that animals that die and fall into the lake don’t decompose.

Photosynthesising pigment in cyanobacteria in the water produces the lake’s deep red colour.

Lenticular clouds, Mount Fuji, Japan

Lenticular cloud on the top of Fuji-san© Canva/Yarema Fedkovych
© Canva/Yarema Fedkovych

We never drew clouds shaped like this. Did you?

These UFO-shaped formations are lenticular clouds. They form when strong wet winds blow over rough terrain and often form over mountain peaks.

Mt Fuji isn’t the only place lenticular clouds can occur, it’s just one of the more well-known places. They’ve also been spotted at Mt Rainier, Washington State and Mt Errigal, Ireland.

‘Hidden Beach’ Playa del Amor, Mexico

Hidden beach in the Marietas Islands at the mexican Pacific © Canva/CassielMx
© Canva/CassielMx

Under a layer of rock and greenery, you will find Mexico’s ‘hidden beach’. It’s invisible from the outside unless you’re viewing it from above.

This natural phenomenon isn’t exactly natural. Military explosive testing in the 1900s created the peephole beach. Explosive testing left several holes, craters and caves across the Mexican Islands.

No boats can make their way into the ‘hidden beach’, it’s strictly for swimming and sunbathing. To get there visitors swim through the waters and under rock to surface at Playa del Amor.

Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand

Moeraki boulders© Canva/marco3t
© Canva/marco3t

The ‘bowling balls of giants’, ‘giant gobstoppers’ and ‘aliens brains’ are just a few of the comparisons made to the Moeraki Boulders.

Maori legend says the multi-tonne-heavy boulders are the remains of a shipwrecked canoe called the Araiteruru.

Science has a slightly different explanation for the natural phenomena. They are calcite concretions formed over 65 million years ago.

You will count over 50 boulders along Koekohe Beach, ranging from 0.5 to 2.2 metres.

Rainbow Eucalyptus, Papua New Guinea

Rainbow Eucalyptus© Canva/HPphoto
© Canva/HPphoto

Who painted the bark? No one actually.

The brightly coloured eucalyptus looks as if it’s been coloured by a four-pack of neon highlighters. But the purple, green, red and orange bark is one of many rainbow natural phenomena.

Rainbow Eucalyptus is native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines. The colours will change as the bark matures and sheds.

Sailing Stones, Death Valley, United States

Sailing Stones on the Racetrack Playa© Canva/paulbrady
© Canva/paulbrady

These are not quite the rolling stones you’re used to. But they are even cooler and more mysterious.

Rocks move across the flat desert of Death Valley National Park, on the border of California and Nevada,  seemingly by no force other than their own.

Of course, science explains that these stones are natural rather than supernatural. Slabs of ice form around the rocks and as the liquid levels change they glide with the help of a slight breeze.

Spotted Lake, Canada

Spotted Lake on a Sunny Day© Canva/Kamchatka
© Canva/Kamchatka

It seems nature wants to play games, Connect4 to be specific.

During wintertime, Spotted Lake in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a pretty plain lake.  It contains minerals such as calcium and sulfates.

Come summer, a lot of the water evaporates leaving massive circles of the minerals on the surface. The polka dots can appear blue, white, green or yellow depending on the kind of mineral.

Natives of Okanagan Valley believe Spotted Lake has sacred healing powers.

‘Forest of Knives’ Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park© Canva/hugy
© Canva/hugy

Tsingy is a Malagasy word that roughly translates to “where one cannot walk barefoot” or “walk on tiptoes”.

That all makes a lot of sense once you see the forest of giant limestone spikes. One misstep on the needle-like formations could see you in serious pain. Luckily the national park has a bridge you can walk across.

The reserve stretches more than 150,000 hectares and some of the rock pinnacles can reach almost 800 metres high.

Turquoise ice, Lake Baikal, Russia

Aqua Ice © Alex El Barto
© Alex El Barto

The ice formations in Russia’s Lake Baikal take the meaning of crystal clear to a new level.

Lake Baikal has some of the cleanest, healthiest water conditions on Earth. When the lake freezes during winter large shards of transparent ice form. When reflected by the sunlight the appear a gem-like turquoise colour.

The frozen lake isn’t all looks. It’s sturdy too. The ice sheet can measure up to two metres thick. You can even drive over it.

Sakurajima dirty thunderstorms, Japan

Sakurajima dirty thunderstorms, Japan © Unsplash/Marc Szeglat
© Unsplash/Marc Szeglat

Hell hath no fury like a dirty thunderstorm.

‘Dirty thunderstorms’ are known as volcanic lightning. They occur when material ejected from a volcano has a positive charge. The result is a spectacular display of volcanic lightning and lava.

Generally, they’re a rare occurrence but they happen regularly at Sakurajima volcano, Japan.

Natural phenomena in Australia

Pink Lakes, South Australia and Western Australia

Lake Hillier© True North
© True North

It looks like a very extravagant gender reveal, but the blue-pink Lake Hillier in Western Australia is a natural phenomenon.

High salt concentrations cause the waters to turn into an intense bubblegum hue.

Other Instagrammable pink lakes around Australia include Lake MacDonell, South Australia and Hut Lagoon, Western Australia.

Aurora Australis, Tasmania

Aurora Australis© Canva/shells1
© Canva/shells1

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) has been dubbed a “celestial ballet of light dancing”.

But few people know you can actually see its southern counterpart (Aurora Australis) from Tasmania. 

An equally beautiful natural light illuminates the sky with flickers of green and purple.

You can see the Southern Lights all year round but for your best chance head to Cockle Creek, Tasmania between May and August.

Morning Glory, Queensland

Morning Glory (clouds )© Canva/Zeppelie
© Canva/Zeppelie

This is the kind of morning glory that will shock you in a good way.

The rare meteorological phenomenon is a result of the collision between a humid easterly front from the Coral Sea and a warm westerly front from the Gulf of Carpentaria.

You can find the pipeline of clouds in other parts of the world, but they appear frequently in Burketown, Queensland.

See a full list of incredible natural phenomena found in Australia here.

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