Everyone knows the classic seven wonders of the world. Stories of these extraordinary structures have enraptured humankind for centuries, with thoughts of the Great Pyramids of Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon conjuring up romanticised images of ancient civilisations – and their vast and impressive monuments – long lost to the sands of time.
While most people are aware of these classic seven man-made wonders, some may not realise that in recent years a worldwide initiative went underway to identify and define the new seven wonders of the natural world. The new seven wonders of nature were selected through a global voting process that saw several hundred million votes being cast. As such, these new wonders, chosen from a wider selection of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural phenomena, are a credible representation of global sentiment on which natural wonders of the world are indeed the most wonderful.
1. Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
Providing the iconic backdrop to the city of Cape Town, Table Mountain and the adjacent peaks on either side of it, creates possibly one of the most instantly recognizable cityscapes in the world. The flat-topped mountain that resembles a tabletop (hence the name) is by far one of the most popular tourist attractions, not only in Cape Town, but on the entire African continent.
Providing epic panoramic views of the beautiful Mother City below, and of the famous Table Bay, it’s easy to see why this dramatic landscape was voted into this prestigious list. Visitors can reach the top of the peak – which sits at some 1,086 metres above sea level – either by ascending along one of its numerous hiking trails, or by taking the newly refurbished rotating cableway, which provides its passengers with an ever-changing 360° view of the surrounding city and landscape.
The cableway alone has welcomed over 25 million people since its inception back in the first half of the 20th century. Considering that the mountain is so wildly popular, it’s recommended to purchase tickets for the cableway beforehand to ensure you get your chance to snap a selfie from the top of glorious Table Mountain. Once at the top, on a clear day you can even see all the way to Cape Point on the tip of the Cape Peninsula which is, in fact, the most southwesterly point on the African continent.
2. The Amazon, Brazil
Spanning across nine South American nations, the Amazon Rainforest, along with the eponymous river that flows through it, is a hardly surprising member of this amazing list. Simply looking at the Amazon Basin’s statistics makes it at once apparent why this region of the planet was voted as one of the world’s true wonders.
It covers some 5.5 million sq km, making it the world’s largest stretch of forest. The rainforest has been likened to the planet’s lungs for its production of more than 20 per cent of the earth’s oxygen stores. The basin is the largest drainage basin in the world, with an average of 209,000 cubic metres of water being released into the ocean every second. This easily makes the Amazon River the largest river in the world when gauged by discharge of water. Furthermore, and perhaps most significantly, the Amazon Rainforest is home to the largest populations of plants and animal species on the planet, with one in 10 known species living in the Amazon.
The Amazon is, therefore, the most biodiverse region of the world and as such, this part of the earth is immediately recognisable as one of the most culturally, historically, environmentally and ecologically important areas of the planet.
3. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
One of the world’s mightiest waterfalls, Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, is one of the greatest and easily most impressive natural formations on the planet. Comprising several hundred different waterfalls and cataracts, the larger Iguazu complex is, in fact, the largest waterfall system in the world.
Considering that some 1,756 cubic metres of water flows through the Iguazu Falls complex every second, it’s no wonder that thousands upon thousands of visitors flock to this waterfall every year.
Having the privilege of standing before this powerful rush of water is akin to a spiritual experience, providing the adventurous traveller with a deeply rooted sense of awe and wonder for the natural world.
4. Jeju Island, South Korea
Located in the Korea Strait, Jejudo (or Jeju Island) is the largest island off the coast of mainland South Korea, which is also home to over half a million residents. Formed entirely as a result of volcanic activity several million years ago, Jeju Island boasts Hallasan, the dominating, though dormant, volcano that sits just under 2,000 metres above sea level, which makes it the highest mountain in South Korea.
Surrounded by several smaller volcanoes, this distinct volcanic structure is a truly epic sight to behold. It is also part of the greater Hallasan National Park, which is an area that provides visitors unrivalled opportunities to see some of Jeju’s most wondrous landscapes and natural formations, including Seongsan Ilchulbong or Sunrise Peak, Gotjawal Forest and the Manjanggul Lava Tube, a 23m-wide and 30m-long lava tube, which makes the island’s natural phenomena of significant scientific and cultural value.
5. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
A trip to Vietnam would simply not be complete without a visit to the supremely photogenic Ha Long Bay, which in the local vernacular translates to “descending dragon bay”, presumably for the area’s likeness to the scaly back of a dragon.
Ha Long Bay is characterised by thousands of small isles of countless incredible shapes and sizes that seem to rise magically out of the sea. Anyone who’s ever witnessed this magnificent bay with their own eyes would certainly attest to this UNESCO World Heritage Site being deemed a natural wonder of the world.
Home to some 1,600 monolithic limestone islands, as well as a few thousand people living in four fishing villages, Ha Long Bay additionally features an abundance of plant and animal life as well as several impressive structures such as the Thien Cung Cave, considered the most beautiful of all caves in the bay.
6. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, Palawan, Philippines
Perhaps one of the lesser-known wonders of the list, the Puerto Princesa underground river in Palawan, Philippines, is a remarkable formation along which any adventurer would be excited to journey. The river is part of a larger park that is protected by the Philippine government and features an astonishing array of impressive caves and rock formations.
Boasting a few hundred avian, mammalian and reptilian species, visitors to the underground river will enjoy manifold opportunities for wildlife viewing. The best way to experience the breathtaking beauty of the underground river and cave system is by boat travelling along the Puerto Princesa waterway.
Some of the things that are bound to impress on any trip through Puerto Princesa are the incredible stalactites jutting from the cave ceiling, large bat species and, of course, the winding systems of caves and river channels.
7. Komodo Island, Indonesia
One might ponder why one tiny Indonesian island, out of more than 17,000 islands that comprise the Indonesian archipelago, would be considered among such incredible natural wonders like the Amazon, Iguazu Falls and Table Mountain.
Though a relatively small island and with a human population of some 2,000 individuals only, Komodo has made the cut due to its being home to the world’s largest living lizard species, the scarily named Komodo Dragon. These ferocious reptiles can grow to some 3 metres in length and weigh up to 70 kilograms, making them a real wonder of the natural world.
Although predominantly carrion-eating carnivores, Komodo dragons have been known to ambush live prey, using a keen sense of smell. Though catching a glimpse of these mighty reptiles in their natural habitat may be the primary driver for tourism to the Indonesian island, visitors can also enjoy great diving, stunning volcanic structures and a gorgeous selection of picturesque sandy beaches on Komodo Island, the last of the world’s seven natural wonders.
– TEXT BY SAUL LIPCHIK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.