Sometimes we can be too caught up in our own busy lives to truly appreciate the natural world. There are so many beautiful and dramatic landscapes across the planet, and one of the best ways to discover them is by taking a cruise.
From far-flung lands to scenes closer to home, you will see the world’s most unusual landscapes which can be mistaken for locations from a sci-fi film.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, are one of the most spectacular sights in the natural world. The sheer number of elements required to make them possible makes the event incredibly rare.
To guarantee that you will see the lights you need a number of nights at your disposal, which makes a Northern Lights cruise the perfect avenue for seeing the event.
What are the Northern Lights
Aurora displays appear from the electrons and protons flying from the solar surface into the Earth’s magnetic field. The spirals and distinct patterns are the elements following the magnetic field lines.
Just like snowflakes, no two sightings of the Northern Lights are the same. The variety of colours, ranging from a luminous green to vivid pink and purple, depends on the amount of oxygen and nitrogen being omitted.
For the best chance to see the Northern Lights, you need to head somewhere with dark skies. We’re not talking dark as you know it, but dark that is free from any contaminating artificial lights. For that reason, a cruise holiday with Hurtigruten to Norway should be your port of call for checking out the lights.
Geysers in Iceland
Iceland has become a stand-out travel and cruise destination in the last few years, with millions heading there for its unusual landscapes and close affinity with the natural world.
"Picture yourself in a vast volcanic landscape that looks like it is straight out of a fantasy adventure story,” says Jonas Stenstrom from Untamed Science.
“Steam is coming out of the ground, and from a pond in front of you erupts a giant column of water into the air. All this without a picnic table or gift shop in sight. Observing geysers in Iceland is a complete natural experience.”
“If you need to remind yourself of why geology is interesting, all you have to do is visit Iceland."
Cruises to Iceland are regular and allow you to, as Jonas says, explore the wonder of the country’s geology. Don’t be fooled by its name, Iceland isn’t covered in ice and snow. Instead, you can expect an incredibly diverse and active landscape complied of magnificent waterfalls, fjords, volcanoes and Europe’s largest glacier. Suzanne Jones at The Travelbunny describes the geography of the area:
“Iceland is celebrated for its unique landscapes, glaciers and waterfalls but there’s also a whole lot more going on under the surface. Simmering springs, bubbling mud pools and plumes of steam waft freely from the earth’s crust.”
Listing Iceland’s top landscape hotspots is close to impossible. Everyone is interested and impressed by different things and the sheer volume of geographical highlights. But there are more popular attractions than others, like Haukadalur, as Suzanne says:
“A visit to the geyser field Haukadalur shows off the country’s geothermal landscape to full and impressive effect. Haukadalur geyser field can be visited as part of the Golden Circle Tour and this is where you’ll come face to face with the geyser Strokkur (Icelandic for churn). Strokkur is one of the island’s most active and flamboyant geysers. A hole in the Earth’s surface ripples and rolls with steaming water until it gradually comes to a rolling boil. This culminates in a jet of hot water and steam which Strokkur blasts violently skywards for up to 30 metres. Strokkur’s not shy; hang around for 5-8 minutes and she’ll give a repeat performance.”
Iceland’s geysers are as popular as the blue lagoon in terms of the country’s geology, with visitors flocking to the area for the money shot of one going off behind them. Simon from Simon’s JamJar, ‘Best Male’ winner at the lowcostholidays blogger awards, spoke to us about Strokkur:
"In a relatively flat part of Iceland, the Strokkur geyser erupts, shooting hot water high into the sky, creating an incredible, unique skyline. The whole area is a giant geothermal site, perched on top of a seemingly controlled boiling cauldron. Whilst tourists snap pictures and videos of the geysers belching sulphurous steam and water into the air, you're left wondering where the next big geyser might spring up around the country".
The earliest records of geysers erupting in Haukadalur date back to 1294, when a number of earthquakes caused significant changes to the landscape and geology of the area. This corner of southwest Iceland is home to more than 50 hot springs, multi-coloured mudpots and the two geysers, which as Jon from Stuck in Iceland says is a must-visit for any visitor to Iceland:
"The geysers of Iceland are a must-see for those who visit the country. I always enjoy seeing the eruptions of the highly active Strokkur in the Geyser field in Haukadal. You are sure to get some great pictures and these eruptions highlight the power of the geological forces that continue to shape my home country of Iceland."
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Whether you are intrigued by myth and legend or want to be wowed by a phenomenal geological site, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is certainly one of the world’s most unusual landscapes and is just a stone’s throw from home.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is certainly one of the most spectacular coastal settings in the world, with its jagged coastline facing the force of the Irish and Atlantic Sea.
As the legend goes, Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail (or Finn McCool) created the causeway as a path to Scotland where he would fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.
It is believed that Fionn fell asleep when walking to Scotland and his wife Oonagh laid a blanket on top of him which led Benandonner to believe that he was actually an infant child of Fionn’s. Believing that Fionn must be an extremely large giant to produce such big children, Benandonner ripped up the rest of the Causeway to prevent him from being followed.
Geologically however, it the Giant’s Causeway is an impressive expanse of approximately 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns poking out of the Irish Sea.
Rice Terraces, Yuanyang, Yunnan, China
Found across the hilly and mountainous slopes of China, rice terraces have been cultivated by the rural population for hundreds of years. They are among the finest places for hiking and walking and a great way to appreciate the geology of China.
Dug by the Hani people, the Yuanyang rice terraces can be found in the southern Ailao Mountains and are one of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Unlike other terraces across China, Yuanyang’s terraces are shallower and do not have as many layers.
From afar, these terraces look like contours on a map. The layers run up the hillsides and are home to multiple communities who stick to layers based around the altitude. Walking through the area, you will come across pretty yet modest dwellings that still resemble the Hani style and are often created in mushroom-like shapes.
The fields are officially recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site, and with good reason. They are a photographer’s dream location, especially when the sun rises from behind the imposing mountains and shimmers over the waters.
To best experience the fields, visit between January and March, when the terraces are irrigated and the sun's reflection from the water is most prominent.
Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska, USA
The Mendenhall ice caves, beneath the Mendenhall Glacier, is one of a small handful of places on Earth where you can witness every stage of the water cycle.
The tunnel of blue runs underneath a 12-mile glacier within its namesake valley, close to Juneau in Southeast Alaska. This isn’t an easily accessible sight, but it’s worth the effort. For those who are willing, you will need to kayak across the beautiful lake before tackling an ice climb to the glacier.
This is one of the world’s most unusual and surreal landscapes, but it is suffering from climate change. Juneau Icefield Research Program monitors the Mendenhall Glacier and has found that it has receded almost two miles since 1958. This is a stark figure, considering it had only receded 0.5 miles between 1500 and 1958.
Anyone on a cruise to Alaska who is fortunate enough to visit the caves will be completely captivated by the natural beauty of it. Water falls like rain as the ice melts from the blue-coloured ice ripples overhead, as you walk through a landscape like no other.
We are fortunate enough to have a world that spoils us with unusual, beautiful and awe-inspiring landscapes everywhere from the Far East to inland Europe, and the icy wildernesses of North America. Natural wonders like these deserve to be protected so that we are able to enjoy them for years to come.