Strange places do not merely exist in the pages of novels. Our planet is dotted with surreal, eerie, and downright bizarre places that make reality seem stranger than fiction. While some of these unusual places are natural wonders, the others are manmade oddities. However, they all possess some unique qualities that make them stand out. Though some of these qualities can be explained away by science and logic, the others are shrouded in mystery and folklore. If you are bored at home with nothing to stimulate your mind, immerse yourself in this list of ten such unusual places from around the world.
1. Vanuatu, an island country in the South Pacific Ocean, is rife with natural disasters, which affect over a third of the population every year. In 2015, it was dubbed as the riskiest country to live in.
Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Vanuatu is an island country also known as the Republic of Vanuatu. In 2015, the United Nations University published the annual WorldRiskReport, which described this country as the riskiest place in the world to live.
For four years, Vanuatu had ranked number one as the most disaster-prone country in the world. According to estimates, more than one-third of the country’s population gets affected by various natural disasters every year.
Several factors make life in Vanuatu so dangerous. A number of natural hazards pose a threat to human life here.
On average, over 30% of the country’s population is at risk every year due to earthquakes. If you are wondering what “yearly risk” means when it comes to (infrequent) earthquakes or rising sea levels, you should first understand what an average exposure figure looks like.
For example, an earthquake that affects a million people once every decade puts 100,000 people “at-risk” per year. The same formula can be applied to storms. If sea levels rise by one meter, it puts around 30,000 people at risk.
That means around 64% of Vanuatu’s citizens face the risk of natural hazards each year. The island country is also at risk because of its size. When a storm hits, it affects the entire country including the capital. In 2020, Vanuatu was hit by tropical cyclone Harold, and wind speeds reached up to 155 miles per hour. Needless to say, this is not the ideal location for a breezy vacation. (1, 2)
2. Coober Pedy, a small mining town in South Australia, is called the “opal capital of the world.” It is also so hot that half of the town’s residents are forced to live underground.
The Australian town of Coober Pedy is not for the faint of heart. For starters, it is excruciatingly hot. During the summer months, temperatures can soar up to 113 °F in the shade, provided you can find a tree that is large enough for you to stand under.
Up until the government passed a tree-planting initiative urging locals to plant seeds around town, Coober Pedy’s tallest tree was a metal sculpture! Even grass is deemed as a “hot commodity” here, and the local dirt golf course offers golfers with little squares of grass carpet for their trees.
Interestingly, instead of running away from this hellish environment, the town’s residents found a way to adapt. When the surface got too hot to live on, they used their mining tools to dig holes into the hillside and made underground dwellings called “dugouts.” Today, around half of the town’s population lives underground where the temperature stays steadily at 75 °F throughout the year.
To escape the scorching summer heat and the chilly winter nights, the townspeople continued building underground, which led to the creation of a thriving subterranean community. Today, some of the town’s main attractions including museums, churches, watering holes, and hotels are located underground. Guests who come here can experience the strangely peaceful life that exists here right beneath the surface.
However, there is more to Coober Pedy than its extreme climate. The town was founded some 106 years ago after a 14-year-old boy discovered opal gemstones in the area. Since then, it has been ground zero for opal mining. Around 70% of the world’s total opal production can be traced back to this little town in the Australian Outback.
That is why Cooper Pedy is nicknamed the “opal capital of the world.” The majority of the town’s residents work in the opal industry. Some years ago, the miners discovered opalized pearls that dated back over 65 million years! (1, 2)
3. The Ploutonion at Hierapolis, also known as “Pluto’s Gate,” is a religious site built on top of a cave that emits toxic gases. Once used for performing ritualistic animal sacrifices, the site has long been deemed as a “gate to hell.”
Located in the ancient Greek city of Hierapolis in modern-day Turkey, The Ploutonion at Hierapolis, more commonly known as “Pluto’s Gate,” is a religious site that is dedicated to Pluto, the god, and ruler of the underworld. We do not yet know the exact age of the site, but the neighboring city of Hierapolis was established sometime around the year 190 BCE.
Discovered in 1965, Pluto’s Gate is built on top of a cave that emits toxic gases. This area was once used for performing ritualistic animal sacrifices. Animals, tied to ropes, would be thrown into the cave and then pulled back out. The ancient Greeks used this site as a passage to the underworld, which also gave it the reputation for being the “gateway to hell.”
Archeologists have found that the fumes that emit from the cavern have maintained their toxic properties and can be deadly. Birds that get attracted by the warm air and get too close end up suffocating to death once they breathe in the toxic fumes. A more sadistic fact is that tourists who visit this portal to the underworld can buy small birds or any other animal to test out how toxic the gases are. (1, 2)
4. Morgan Island in South Carolina is home to around 4,000 monkeys that were brought there for medical testing. This well-protected island, which also goes by the nickname “Monkey Island,” is off-limits to civilians and can only be viewed from afar.
Morgan Island is a 4,489-acre marshland island in South Carolina. Managed and owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the island is home to around 4,000 rhesus monkeys that live here freely and in their own family groups.
Interestingly, the monkeys are the main animal population of the island, which has historically been uninhabited due to its distance from the mainland. So, how did the monkeys get there?
In 1979, when the monkey population at the Caribbean Primate Research Center in Puerto Rico was suffering from a wave of herpes B virus, a few hundred rhesus monkeys were sent off to Morgan Island. Over the years, the monkeys have thrived in their new home, producing around 750 newborns every year.
For over three decades, the monkeys have lived on the federally protected island. The only people who are allowed to set foot on this island are researchers who are responsible for tagging the monkeys and taking around 500 of them every year for medical testing.
The monkeys of Morgan Island have been involved in various studies including those related to AIDS, polio, vaccines, and even bioterrorism. Due to the controversy surrounding animal testing, the island needs to be highly protected and restricted to the public. Even those who want to take the risk of breaking the law and entering the island should know that the monkeys are territorial and may react aggressively towards strangers. (1, 2)
5. Canada’s Nahanni National Park Reserve, also known as “The Valley of the Headless Men,” is steeped in legend and lore. Locals say that the Naha Tribe that used to live in the region and raid settlements in the lowlands mysteriously disappeared. Some even say that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also haunted.
This is a place so breathtakingly beautiful that it can make your head spin. There is no better way to describe the spectacular scenery that you get to witness when you visit the Nahanni National Park Reserve in Canada.
The park is one of the first four natural heritage locations in the world that have the status of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, those who know about the local legends and lore of this place may not come here just for the scenic beauty.
The local Dene peoples have existed on the lands around the park for thousands of years. In fact, the first human occupation of the region goes back 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. Experts have found evidence of prehistoric humans at various locations within the park.
According to the local oral history, a mountain-dwelling tribe called the Naha used to occupy the lands and raid the neighboring settlements. The Naha people allegedly disappeared quickly and mysteriously.
During the Klondike Gold Rush, the lore of the Naha and the dangerous landscape they inhabited grew in stature. Many explorers tried to reach the famous Yukon goldfields through the treacherous landscape of the Nahanni.
Though there were no significant gold finds, legends have haunted the valley ever since the headless corpses of two Métis prospectors were found here around 1908.
Also read: 10 Most Uninhabitable Places on Earth