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.
Even postcard-perfect white-sand beaches have their quirks. In his ratings of 650 United States beaches, Dr. Leatherman ranked Siesta Beach, in Sarasota, FL, as number one. It's not visibly that different from other pristine shores, but its sand is made up of 99.9 percent quartz crystals. It never heats up and is so pure that it squeaks like powdered sugar when you walk on it.
Intrigued yet? Read on for even more strange beaches you've got to see to believe.