The World's Strangest Beaches
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. Why? Papakolea’s sand isn’t golden or white—or even black. It’s 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.
To say that Americans love beaches is an understatement. Approximately 85 percent of us visit a beach on vacation, according to Stephen P. Leatherman, Ph.D., a.k.a Dr. Beach, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research. “There’s nothing like them,” says Leatherman. “You’ve got sand, water, and waves, plus cool, fresh air. Plus there’s the nostalgia factor: everyone loved sand as a kid.”
Quirky beaches just add another layer to the enjoyment. And the fact that only 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.
Our 50th state is rife with such occurrences. “We have black, black and green, black and red, green, and gray sand beaches in Hawaii,” says Ken Hon, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. “The colored beaches are almost all related to recent volcanic activity, except the white beaches, which are tied to coral reef erosion.”
Halfway around the world, years of erosion unearthed immense rounded stones along Cape Town’s coast. Today, Boulders Beach is a beloved spot to swim, sunbathe, and spot African penguins in the shadows of the giant rocks.
In his ranking of the 2015 Top Ten Beaches, Dr. Leatherman ranked Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, in Oahu, HI, as number one. It’s not visibly that different from other pristine shores, but the over-five-mile stretch of white sand is ideal for beach combing and long walks, and the constant presence of Trade Winds allows for safe sailing.
Intrigued yet? Read on for even more strange beaches you’ve got 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
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
Thousands of years of erosion weathered away sandstone on this stretch of South African coast in Cape Town, 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 2,000 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.
Zlatni Rat Beach, Brac Island, Croatia
Its name means “Golden Horn” in Croatian, and an aerial view of this renowned Brac Island beach is the only explanation necessary. The narrow spit of pine and pebbled land off coastal Croatia extends more than a quarter mile into the sea and changes size and shape depending on the current—to beautiful effect.
Siesta Beach, Florida
At first glance, Siesta Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, looks like the standard picture-perfect shore. It has clear blue water, exceptionally white sand, and is so pristine that Dr. Leatherman rated it the number one beach in America in 2012. But once you kick off your flip-flops, your feet will experience what makes this beach so unique. The powdery sand is 99.9 percent quartz crystal and so fine and uniform in size that it squeaks when you walk on it. Plus, its composition allows it to stay cool even with the hot summer sun blazing down.
Hot Water Beach, Coromandel, New Zealand
Craving a spa-like experience? Get one, gratis, here. Mineral water that heats to nearly 150 degrees flows beneath the sand. For two hours at the beginning and end of low tide, visitors can dig holes in the ground and settle into their own natural hot tubs. Ahhh...
Xi Beach, Greece
On the Ionian island of Kefalonia, Xi Beach is an interesting study in color contrast: stark white clay cliffs, red sandy shore, and jaunty umbrellas. This is a popular retreat for summer sun-worshippers, especially in the wake of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which was filmed on the island.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA
In correcting mankind’s mistakes, Mother Nature created one fascinating beach. Until the late 1960s, Californians used the Fort Bragg shore as a dumping ground. After the government banned the practice, decades of wave erosion weathered down the glass refuse. The smooth, glistening particles washed ashore and covered what is now Glass Beach. While the sea gems may be gorgeous to look at, visitors are forbidden to take them home.
Ramla Bay, Gozo
The tiny Maltese island of Gozo has one of the Mediterranean’s most unusual beaches: a wide swath of deep orange sand flanked by lush hills. Locals dubbed it Ramla il-Hamra, or “The Red, Sandy Beach.” But that sand isn’t its only claim to fame. Gozo is believed to be Ogygia, Calypso’s island, from Homer’s Odyssey. The cave that’s said to be the inspiration for where the nymph held Odysseus captive overlooks the west side of Ramla Bay.
Hoshizuna no Hama, Iriomote Island, Japan
Hoshizuna no Hama means “Star Sand Beach,” and it’s an apt name for this remote Okinawa seashore. Each particle of sand looks like a minuscule star or sunburst, yet they’re actually shells from single-cell organisms. The shallow water is well-suited to snorkeling.
Vik Beach, Iceland
Near Iceland’s rainy, southernmost point, Vik Beach lacks sunbathing opportunities, but its ruggedly gorgeous landscape more than makes up for it. Foamy white waves crash against the black sand, and strange rock formations add to its otherworldly beauty.
Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, Australia
Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino, CA
One look at the boulders along the shore explains how Bowling Ball Beach got its name. The round, smooth rocks are similar in size and shape and lined up like bowling balls at an alley. These “concretions” formed in layers of sedimentary rock, and years of weathering have uncovered them.