|Image Credit: Tourism Australia|
Central Australia’s Uluru appears to rise out of nowhere, and is 450 kilometres from the closest town, Alice Springs. The large sandstone formation is 348 metres high with a circumference of 9.4 kilometres, and was sacred to the indigenous Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples. Travellers linger here to see the changing colours as the sun strikes the rock at different times of the day; at sunset it glows deep crimson and is at its most photogenic and romantic. The area also features waterholes, springs and rock caves – ancient paintings found in the latter give the site special historical value.
Victoria Falls, Zambia/ Zimbabwe, Africa
This infamous waterfall, located in southern Africa on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is fed by the Zambezi River. Not the highest or widest falls in the world, their claim to fame is as the largest wall, or surface area, of falling water in the world. The falls are 1.7 kilometres wide and 108 metres high. They were named Victoria Falls by the Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone, but are also called Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘smoke that thunders’. Note: avoid visiting during the rainy season between November and April, when the additional water makes it impossible to see the base of the falls.
Milford Sound, New Zealand
This fjord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island – within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site – is named after Milford Haven in Wales. It runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea, surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres on either side. Among the most photogenic peaks are the Elephant, and Lion Mountain, both vaguely resembling those species. Rainforests cling to the cliffs, while seals, penguins and dolphins bob around in the waters below.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Northern Brazil
This vast area of large sand dunes is reminiscent of a desert, but receives regular rainfall that causes freshwater to collect between the dunes; the translucent pools are home to a variety of fish (their eggs are brought from the sea by birds). The park was created in 1981 and is in the state of Maranhão, south of the mouth of the Amazon River. It encompasses around 1,000 square kilometres, and, despite abundant rain, supports almost no vegetation. The water in the lagoons rises between July and September. Amazingly, this patch of desert dates from the period of the Gondwana supercontinent of 550-500 million years ago, when Brazil was connected to Africa.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Borneo
This UNESCO World Heritage Site near Miri, Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, features incredible caves and karst formations in a mountainous rainforest setting. It’s also home to the largest-known underground chamber in the world, the Sarawak Chamber: 700 metres long and 400 metres wide, it’s big enough to accommodate St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
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Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s largest coral reef encompasses over 2,900 separate reefs, and supports one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It spreads over almost 350,000 square kilometres, and includes more than 900 islands. Some two million visitors travel to the reef every year, but a large part of the reef is protected from this human impact and by factors such as overfishing. However, threats from pollution and climate change remain real.
Paricutin Volcano, Michoacán, Mexico
Paricutin, 424 metres high and 3,170 metres above sea level, is an active cinder cone volcano in Michoacán, Mexico, often named one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world’ because mankind witnessed its birth during the 1940s. It’s been dormant since the last eruption in 1952.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
Impressive for its scale, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, carved by the Colorado River, is also set in beautiful landscape. The gorge is a massive 277 miles long and 18 miles wide, with a depth of over 1.14 miles. The best times to see it are early morning (before the coaches arrive) and at sunset.
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), Alaska
Aurora Borealis are naturally occurring lights that create spectacular displays in the sky; the phenomenon is caused by the interaction between the earth’s magnetic field and solar wind. The lights appear as a diffused glow, folded pages or waves of light above the horizon. Also known as polar auroras, the lights occur over northern Scandinavia too, as well as the southern tip of Greenland, Northern Canada and the northern coast of Siberia; Antarctica has Southern Lights. The greatest chances of seeing them are from March to April and September to October; a late summer visit to Alaska (particularly the area around the city of Fairbanks) or Northern Canada presents a fair chance of experiencing this amazing phenomenon.
Mount Everest, Himalayas
The highest peak on earth is located in the Himalayan mountain range, on the border between Nepal (where it’s called Sagamartha) and Tibet, China (where it’s called Chomolungma or Qomolangma). The summit lies at 8,948 metres above sea level. Everest is not technically the tallest mountain in the world, however: that honour goes to Mauna Kea in Hawaii – but most of it is under water.