Ten inhospitable landscapes we still love to visit

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Shaped by ongoing volcanic activity, much of the Galapagos archipelago resembles a moonscape, its calderas and jagged lava fields peppered with stunted, prickly vegetation. Only four of the islands are inhabited but it's the non-human residents that make this isolated location straddling the equator so fascinating. Marine iguanas, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies are among the many endemic species with no fear of humans – and we can't get enough of them. See chimuadventures.com

See also: The islands that are hell on Earth for some, paradise for others

Sub-arctic tundra, Churchill, Canada

Frigid in winter ("once it hits minus 30, everything hurts!") and swarming with bugs in summer, the extremes of the bleak tundra flanking Hudson Bay present a constant challenge to the brave 800 who call Churchill home. Still, the humble town attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually, with polar bears and northern lights brightening the long, dark winter, and wildflowers and belugas a common sight during the perpetual light of summer. Peak season is October-November, when polar bears congregate waiting for the sea ice to form. See churchillscience.ca

Death stare from a polar bear

Digital travel editor Craig Platt comes face to face with the world's largest land predator on foot. The reporter travelled as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

See also: Face to face with a polar bear, on foot

Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Every August, up to 60,000 free spirits gather on a desert alkali flat in Nevada to create an ephemeral town called Black Rock City, home to the annual Burning Man festival. Dust storms and searing temperatures lend themselves to minimal clothing and a whole lot of partying, with the emphasis on community, self-sufficiency, art installations and radical self-expression. At the end of the week, what hasn't been burned is disassembled, with the ultimate aim to leave no trace. See burningman.org

White Island, New Zealand

This bubbling, gaseous drop in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty is the most active volcano in the country, an example of creation in action. Walking tours of this geothermal wonderland take you past steaming fumaroles, boiling pits of mud and fluorescent acid lakes, with hard hats and gas masks all part of the surreal experience. See whiteisland.co.nz

Bryce Canyon, Utah

This spectacular, red rock amphitheatre in southern Utah is characterised by wonderfully named "hoodoos", tall, spindly columns topped with hard, phallic protrusions that protect them from the elements. Admire the bizarre Norse myth-named formations from the canyon rim, or hike to the floor for incredible photo opportunities of pillars, towering walls and cool slot canyons. See visitutah.com

Chernobyl, Ukraine

Three decades after the world's most devastating nuclear accident, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the abandoned town of Pripyat are open for guided tours, allowing curious (and brave) visitors access to a post-apocalyptic city frozen in time. A haunting experience, and perhaps the most extreme example of "dark tourism", with visitors subjected to scanning for traces of radioactivity before leaving. See chernobylwel.com

See also: Inside Europe's abandoned nuclear wasteland


Diamond Beach, Iceland

As global warming wreaks its devastation on the polar caps, so a lagoon on the south-east coastline of the Land of Fire and Ice has become an ironic beneficiary. Before 1935, Jokulsalon Lagoon didn't exist; today it's the deepest natural lake in Iceland, dotted with icebergs that have broken away from a retreating glacier. Some chunks of ice settle on the black sand volcanic beach, sparkling blue-tinged diamonds that are a photographer's dream come true. See inspiredbyiceland.com

Mungo National Park, NSW

There's been a human connection with the starkly beautiful lunarscape of World Heritage-listed Mungo National Park for 40,000 years, with two ancient human skeletons – Mungo Man and Mungo Lady – found at the world's oldest recorded cremation site. The dried-up lake beds, sand dunes and jaw-dropping Walls of China are best experienced at sunset when the light is simply mesmerising. See visitnsw.com

Amazon rainforest, Ecuador

It's a jungle out there, with tarantulas the size of your hand, lurking caimans and flesh-devouring piranhas all a part of the richest biome on the planet. A visit to Sacha Lodge on the Napo River offers creature comforts in a private ecological reserve, with silent paddles through black-water ponds, jungle hikes to spot a kaleidoscope of birdlife, and sunrise from the canopy of a kapok tree all part of the intrepid adventure. See sachalodge.com, chimuadventures.com


More than 51,000 strong-stomached travellers braved the dreaded Drake Passage crossing to visit Antarctica in 2017-18, but while this may be less than your average footy crowd, that's a surge of 17 percent on the previous season. Despite temperatures as unthinkable as -73 degrees Celsius, the frozen continent is the ultimate bucket list destination, the final, uninhabited frontier that lures photographers, wildlife buffs and adventurers alike. See antarctica.gov.au

Take a look at these harsh but beautiful landscapes in the photo gallery above.

See also: The world's nine most incredible places where humans live

See also: 20 ways to cope with visiting the world's harshest continent