The world's most beautiful beaches are also the most dangerous

Some people get out the Frisbee. Others prefer to lie comfortably on a lounger. When most Australians hit the beach, however, they have just one thing in mind: plunging into the water.

Unfortunately, that's not always a good idea. No matter how lovely a beach looks, danger may be lurking. These 12 beaches may appear pretty as a picture, but each one harbours invisible perils. In many cases, the dangers lurk in the water, from fearsome predators to barely-visible rips that can carry the unwary out to sea. In other cases, the beach itself is a no-go zone. Either way, these beaches are definitely best enjoyed from the comfort of your favourite armchair.

75 Mile Beach, Fraser Island

Plunging into the surf on the world's largest sand island, off the Queensland coast, can be dangerous. But then again, so can staying on the sand. Threats in the water include dangerous currents and a large shark population. Back on the beach, however, you run the risk of being run down by one of the many four wheel drives that use the beach as a highway. It pays to keep an eye on the sky, too: the beach also doubles as a landing strip for light aircraft.  

Boa Viagem Beach, Brazil

Life's a beach in Brazil – literally. In the country's coastal cities, from Rio to the northern city of Recife, an afternoon watching the waves come in is a favourite pastime. In Recife, however, that's as far as it goes. Recife has one of the highest rates of shark attacks in the world: a total of 56 in the 20 years to 2012, of which 21 were fatal. And it's all down to careless human behaviour. The construction of a new port in the 1980s interrupted the natural patterns of local bull sharks, moving them closer to the beach, while the garbage thrown overboard by passing ships attracted tiger sharks to the area. The result? Only the bravest dive in.

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Everyone agrees: the Lofoten Islands' beaches are beautiful. One British newspaper named Utakleiv Beach as Europe's most romantic beach, while nearby Hauklandsstranden was named Norway's best beach by a Norwegian newspaper. Charming as the beaches look under summer's midnight sun, they look even lovelier in winter, when they are sprinkled with snow. And that's the thing about swimming in the Lofoton Islands: the climate. The Lofoten Islands lie north of the Arctic Circle, which means the weather is distinctly chilly. Locals will tell you that the temperate waters of the Gulf Stream warm things up, but with water temperatures hovering between eight and 14 degrees throughout the year, we're not convinced.

Lamu Island, Kenya

Thanks to its soft white sands, this island off Kenya's north-eastern coast was once one of the country's most upmarket beach retreats. Travellers alternated between enjoining the sun-drenched beaches and exploring Lamu Town, a picturesque, maze-like collection of stone houses. These days, however, tourism has all but disappeared, thanks to the threat posed by the al-Shabab terrorist group based in neighbouring Somalia, who have in the past kidnapped western tourists from local resorts. The Australian and UK government travel advisories discourage all but essential travel to the area.  

Hanakāpīʻai Beach, Hawaii

Whether you are a swimmer or a surfer, Hawaii is all about the water. Choose pretty much any beach, and you will find people heading straight for the waves. One exception, however, is Hanakāpīʻai Beach. Located on Kauai, Hawaii's most northerly island. Hanakāpīʻai is notorious for the powerful waves and high tides that pound the beach. In the winter months, the waters get so wild that the beach itself disappears. The pounding surf and dangerous currents claimed 30 lives between 1970 and 2010; 15 of those bodies were never recovered.

Arnhem Land beaches, Northern Territory

In this remote corner of Australia's deep north, most of the white sand beaches don't even have a name. What they do have, however, is a reputation for serious danger. If the crocs don't get you, visitors are warned, the stonefish or the Irukandji jellyfish may. Or perhaps it will be the box jellyfish, trailing its two-metre long tentacles, which can inject millions of small doses of venom into any flesh they brush against.  

Bikini Atoll, US Marshall Islands

Add this one up to the list of the world's weirdest tourist destinations. Less than 60 years ago, the US was still testing nuclear weapons in the Bikini Atoll. These days, the islands are welcoming visitors, although we can think of other tropical paradises we would rather visit. Scientists have declared local radiation levels offer no health hazard as long as you don't eat local foods, such as those tempting coconuts. Still, we don't see mass tourism taking off here.

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Gansbaai, South Africa

Look at that clear blue water, those white sand beaches. Is there are any reason why you wouldn't plunge straight into the water at Gansbaai's beautiful beaches? Well, yes, actually, and it can be summed up in three words. Great. White. Sharks. Gansbaai is known as the Great White Shark capital of the world, and the sea channel known as Shark Alley is a popular venue for cage diving with the sharks. Given the number of top-of-the-food-chain predators hanging around in these waters, we'll skip the dip, thanks.

Snake Island, Brazil

It sounds like the setting of a James Bond movie: an island swarming with snakes that will melt the flesh from your hand. So dangerous is Snake Island – Ilha da Queimada Grande to the locals – that it was declared off-limits to visitors almost a century ago. There are an estimated 4000 golden lancehead snakes on the island, off the coast of Sao Paulo state, which are believed to have been trapped when rising sea levels cut off the island from the mainland. A snake bite can lead to kidney failure, intestinal bleeding and brain haemorrhages. We're staying well away.

The Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Here's another one where the name says it all. If the wonderfully macabre moniker doesn't scare you away, you should know that Portuguese navigators used to refer to this 500km stretch of coast, with its long sandy beaches, as the Gates of Hell. For centuries, the powerful Benguela Current drove passing ships onto these beaches, where many of the wrecks can still be seen alongside whale and seal skeletons. Few of the crew members who made it ashore survived long; from here, uninhabited sand dunes stretch for tens of thousands of hectares.

Couminole Strand, Ireland

Even in a country as scenic as Ireland, the sandy coves of southwestern Ireland's Dingle Peninsula are something special. Among the most picture-perfect is the Couminole Strand, nestled beneath sheltering cliffs. It featured in the Irish film, Ryan's Daughter, and is the perfect place for a spot of romantic strolling. Swimming? Not so much. It's not just that the Atlantic waters are cold, although at between eight and 15 degrees, it's seriously chilly. The beach also has a nasty undertow that can spell trouble for swimmers, so keep your feet on dry ground.

Tamarama Beach, Sydney

Long known as Glamarama by the toned Sydneysiders who spread their towels on the sand, this popular Sydney beach – one headland along from Bondi Beach – is the most dangerous patrolled beach in NSW. The strong rips frequently pull even strong swimmers out past the headland; around 150 people are rescued each year. Sadly, not all of them are saved; a surfer died here just two years ago.  


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