by Barbara Weibel at Hole In The Donut Travels
Beaches not only come in all shapes, sizes, and textures, they come in a virtual rainbow of colors. Most beach fans know that sand color can range from pale cream to golden to caramel, but few realize that in select places around the world, sands can be red, brown, pink, orange, gold, purple, green, and even black!
Just how does this happen? Beaches can form anywhere the ocean meets the shore. Over millennia, waves scour the coastline, creating flat areas. These new expanses begins to accumulate sediments washing down from surrounding uplands, as well as those eroded from the ocean floor and tossed up onto shore by wave action. Coastal winds and storms push sediments up beyond the reach of the waves and a beach is born.
The color of the sand on any particular beach usually reflects the surrounding landscape and the makeup of the adjoining ocean floor. However some beaches are covered in sand that has been washed down from mountains hundreds of miles away, as in the case of Siesta Key’s Crescent Beach in Florida, which won the 1987 Great International Sand Challenge for the whitest sand in the world. Siesta Beach is composed of 99% pure quartz that started in the Appalachians, flowed down rivers, eventually to be deposited on the shores of the key. This dazzling white sand is so fine in texture that it runs though fingers like powdered sugar, and because it is nearly pure quartz it stays cool no matter how hot the temperature gets.
In recent years, a competitor to Siesta Key has emerged: Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay, Australia is listed in the Guiness Book of Records as having the whitest sand of any beach in the world. It, too is comprised of fine particles of quartz.
But white sand, spectacular as it may be, can hardly compete with the likes of a blood red beach. Located on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Kaihalulu Beach is tucked into a tiny pocket cove near Hana Bay, on the eastern half of the island. One of a very few red beaches in the world, the sand gets its red-black color from the iron-rich crumbling cinder cone hill surrounding the bay.
Not to be outdone, Ramla il-Hamra beach on the Maltese island of Gozo has orange colored sand, as does Porto Ferro, a mile-plus long orange sand beach backed by large dunes on the island of Sardinia off the coast of mainland Italy. Both of these islands are volcanic in nature, jutting up from the floor of the Mediterranean off the southern tip of Italy. Their orange colored sands derive from volcanic deposits as well as unusual orange limestone found in the area.
An absolute gem of a beach is Pu’u Mahana Beach in Mahana Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of only a few known beaches in the world with olive-green sand (the others being in Guam and the Galapagos Islands). The land surrounding Pu’u Mahana consists of lava that contains large quantities of olivine, the mineral that forms of the semi-precious gem peridot. Strong waves constantly pound this coast, sweeping other particles out to sea while leaving the heavier olivine on the beach. Beach-goers have been rumored to find peridots on the beach large enough to sell to jewelers.
Pink beaches are also quite rare. They occur only in areas near a very large coral reef formations that contain a tiny organism that has a red skeleton. When they die, these skeletons fall to the ocean floor and are gradually eroded to small particles that are carried to shore by the current, where they mix in with the sand. The finest example of a “Pretty In Pink” beach may be the one at Harbor Island, Eleuthera in the Bahamas, although pink beaches are also found in Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Barbados, the Philipines, and in Scotland.
When the manganese garnet in the hills surrounding Pfeiffer Beach in California’s Big Sur gets washed down to the ocean it turn the sand a vivid purple color. The further north you go, the more purplish the sand becomes. Depending upon the day, the sands can sparkle in shades of violet, lavender, ruby red, pink, or royal purple. On the opposite side of the continent, mountains northwest of Long Island contain the mineral piedmontite, which also turns coastal sands purple.
Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, California, exhibits a most luscious shade of chocolate brown. This unusual color occurs when eroded bluish-grey limestone mixes with volcanic greenstone from the hillsides that ring the beach.
And then there’s Rainbow Beach on Fraser Island in Australia. Seemingly unable to make up its mind, Rainbow Beach displays more than 70 different colors whenever waves and winds shift and blow its sands around. Most of the colors can be clearly seen in the cliffs behind the beach, which formed during the last ice age and are so richly banded that they have been compared to layers of rainbow sherbet. But for a real treat, dig down into the beach sand to see layer upon layer of colored, banded sands that create a new work of art with each sweep of the hand.
Since this roundup of rainbow beaches began with white (technically, the blending of all colors), it seems appropriate to end with black, which is the absence of color. While that may be true in scientific terms, there is no absence of color at the world’s black sand beaches – they are simply stunning! The result of volcanic activity near a coastline, these beaches are created when particles weathered from cooled lava wash down to shore. The black sands are also a source of gemstones such as garnets, rubies, sapphires, topaz, and, of course, diamonds, which form within volcanoes and are spewed out during eruptions. Though black sand beaches can be found in Argentina, the South Pacific Islands, Tahiti, the Philipines, California, Greece, and in the Dominican Republic, the best known and perhaps most stunning black beaches are found in the Hawaiian Islands.
One could spend a lifetime searching out beaches with uniquely colored sand, but to see the greatest variety in a short period of time head for Hawaii, which is home to beaches representing almost every color of the rainbow.