Papakolea Beach
Next time you’re in Hawaii, check out the olive-colored sand at Papakolea Beach. Photo: iStockphoto

Who among us doesn’t love a soft, sun-drenched beach? But while iconic aspects—lapping waves, powdery sand, warming rays—are undeniable draws, certain locales have off-kilter attributes that drive the appeal home.

Although it’s a challenge to access—its location is three miles off the beaten path –visitors to southern Hawaii’s cliff-side Papakolea Beach reap the rewards of olive green olivine-rich sand courtesy of the Puu Mahana volcanic cone. Bring your hiking boots and check it out next time you’re near Ka Lae.

At Vik Beach in Iceland, situated a reasonable drive from Reykjavik, an expanse of black basalt sand and unusual rock “stacks” (steep rock formations) give way to crashing sea. One of the country’s wettest locales, it sits beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, with a population of resident puffins.

When in Cape Town, a stop at aptly named Boulders Beach is requisite. Situated along South Africa’s rugged cost in Table Mountain National Park, it’s a haven for thousands of African penguins (look, but don’t touch—they bite). Soak up the sunshine, take a dip in the cove or just take in the scenery, courtesy of massive, eroded granite orbs.

Big Sur is stunning in its own right. At Pfeiffer Beach, however, the drama takes an unexpected turn, thanks to a half-mile of purple manganese garnet sand. Find it less than half a mile from Big Sur Station off of Highway 1.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Hot Water Beach in Coromandel doesn’t dissapoint. It’s a geothermal attraction that draws both residents and curious travelers, who dig hot water pools from hot springs in the sand two hours before and after low tide. Just be on the lookout for large breaking waves.

Not to be outdone is a secret-feeling spot on Japan’s Iriomote Island, the second largest of the Okinawa Islands. Access the island by ferry and find a locale covered in dense jungle and mangrove swamps. To the point, though, you’ll also find Hoshizuna no Hama, or Sand Star Beach, where “sand” particles are made from small, star-shaped shells.

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