Natural Wonders

See, Swim With Penguins
(Not in Antarctica)

Every day around dusk the world’s smallest penguins waddle up on a stretch of coast near Oamaru, New Zealand

Is it possible to dislike penguins? There’s something universally adorable about them. Maybe it’s their waddling. Or their tuxedo outfits. Or how they are portrayed in popular culture, as in the wonderful March of the Penguins documentary.

Most penguin stories, including March, take place in Antarctica. However there are several other places on the planet to see wild penguins. At a few of those you can hop in the water and swim along side these friendly, feathered creatures. Here’s a look at our favorite:

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The World’s Most Amazing Swimming Holes

Technically, a “swimming hole” is any deep place for swimming in a stream, lake or river. But for this post — where are share our picks for the world’s best, coolest and most picturesque swimming holes — Spot Cool Stuff’s travel editors decided on a more ridged set of criteria:

First, we considered only swimming spots that were inside some sort of hole in the earth. That is, our swimming holes had to be substantially surrounded by rock. So somewhere like Idaho’s Redfish Lake, which a popular travel magazine named as one of their best swimming holes, wouldn’t count for us because, really, it’s just a regular lake.

Second, we decided to count only naturally occurring swimming holes. Sadly, this eliminated a very cool hidden swimming spot in Mexico that was created by a giant bomb — check back for our post on that later.

Finally, we only considered swimming holes that offered temperate waters. Because, well, we are cold water wimps. Spain’s wonderful, meadow-surrounded Playa del Gulpiyuri is unfortunately ruled out of contention on this count.

So what swimming holes made the cut? Read on . . . .

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A Visit to the Chocolate Hills

Kids (and those possessing a sweet tooth) might be disappointed when they arrive at the Chocolate Hills and discover they are not literally so. For everyone else, though, these curious conical mounds in the middle of the Philippine island of Bohol are bound to delight.

Imagine being on a white sand beach on a tropical island and then heading inland through green jungle. The way is mostly flat and lush. And then, suddenly, you see a large earthen mound 30 meters (100 feet) high covered in grass but otherwise devoid of foliage. You wonder why anyone would bother building such an enormous, symmetrical mound of dirt and then overlay it with astroturf.

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Pink Lakes of the World

Spot Cool Stuff loves visiting color-bending locales. Like the black, green and red colored beaches of Hawaii. And the pastel-colored mountains of China. And lakes — of pink water?!

A select few lakes in the world — we’re featuring four below but there some two dozen others — have a hue of Pepto Bismol. That’s (usually) because their waters contain a large number of algae that excrete carotenoids. Algae are not the only life forms produce carotenoids. If, on trivia night, you are asked why salmon is pink or why lobster turns red when cooked, “carotenoids” would be your answer. But no animal can make carotenoids in the quality or at a level of pink-ness that the dunaliella salina algae can.

In case you are wondering, these pink lakes are all safe for swimming. (Indeed, both local folklore and some scientific studies have found that carotenoid-rich water is good for you). However, these lakes are also very salty — salt being a byproduct of all that carotenoids production.

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China’s Pastel-Painted Mountains

There’s a UNESCO heritage site near the Chinese village of Nantaizi that, to some, looks like a real life scene from a Dr. Seuss illustration. Others imagine the giant hand of a deity painting the rocky mountains in pastel colors with long sweeping brush strokes. To Spot Cool Stuff’s eye, the area looks like giant pieces of bacon.

Whatever it reminds you of, unless you happen to have visited one specific section of Gansu province, you’ve never seen anything like the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park.

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The Beach in the Middle of the Meadow

Though not on the sea, water at the beach falls and rises with the tides.

In Spain, it isn’t surprising to find a crystal-clear waters lapping up against a golden sand beach. Yet it is completely surprising when you come across Spain’s Playa del Gulpiyuri. That’s because this unusual beach isn’t on the Atlantic Ocean. And it isn’t on the Mediterranean sea. It isn’t even on a lake or next to a river. Instead, Gulpiyuri beach is in the middle of a meadow!

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Tuscany and Moravia Through a Telephoto Lens

Spot Cool Stuff is sometimes asked for advice on what camera lenses to bring on a trip. The short answer is: It depends. Different camera types, different travel styles and different destinations require different lenses.

If you are going on a nature trek to somewhere with rolling hills and sweeping vistas, for example, a medium telephoto might make an outstanding choice. Want proof? Look no further than the photography of Marcin Sobas. In particular, we love his shots of the countryside in Tuscany and the Moravia region of the Czech Republic.

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The Glowworm Cave

When it is time for vacation and you go online to research ideas, it often happens that small things can make a big difference in choosing your destination.

Take, for instance, the tiny glowworm. The unusual creature is only about the size of a small mosquito. But when gathered in a large group, the glimmering effect the glowworms create can be worth traversing the globe for.

And you likely will have to traverse a large portion of the globe to experience the glow of the glowworm, unless you happen to live Down Under. That’s where the majority of glowworm habitats are located.

The very best place to go glowworm gazing? That’s inside the appropriately-named Glowworm Cave in Waitomo, New Zealand.

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