If you like beaches, you’ll love spits – if only because they’re basically two-sided shores. Low-lying, storm sculpted and constantly evolving, these seven spectacular scenic sand spits put you as close to the ocean as possible without getting wet.
Arabat Spit – Russia and Ukraine
The Arabat Spit, located in the western portion of the Sea of Azov in Russia’s Crimea region, is the longest spit in the world. Easily visible from orbit, the spit is 69.5 miles (112 km) long and varies in width from 885 feet (270m) to just under 5 miles (8 km). It may be large but the Arabat Spit is extremely young – geologists estimate it formed less than 1,000 years ago due to the combination of accumulated sediments and falling sea levels.
Fans of the Flashman series of historical fiction novels by the late George MacDonald Fraser will recall Flash Harry’s dramatic (though temporary) escape from Russian custody over the “Arrow of Arabat” in Flashman At The Charge. Pursued by his captors and pack of hungry wolves, Flashman along with his captor’s lovely daughter “fly” a stolen troika sleigh down the moonlit, snow-covered spit… but how to get more speed?
Dungeness Spit – USA
Dungeness Spit juts out 5.5-miles (8.9 km) into the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula in northeastern Clallam County, Washington, USA. Named for Dungeness headland in England by George Vancouver in 1792, Dungeness Spit was actually discovered by Europeans 2 years earlier, by a Spanish expedition led by Manuel Quimper.
(image via: Hugh Shipman)
Dungeness Spit, like most sand spits, is vulnerable to the effects of wind, water and weather. In December of 2001, a powerful winter storm washed water over the spit and caused it to break into three sections.
(image via: 1st Art Gallery)
The New Dungeness Lighthouse, located at the far end of Dungeness Spit, was effectively isolated and supplies were not able to be transported over the spit for approximately one month. Dungeness Spit was also breached by storms in 1971, 1975, 1993, 1996, and 1997.
La Manga del Mar Menor – Spain
La Manga del Mar Menor is a popular vacation destination located near Cartagena in the Spanish province of Murcia. The spit is composed mainly of fine sand and runs for 15 miles (24 km) from the village of La Punta del Mojón to Cabo de Palos). On one side of the spit lies Mar Menor, the largest sheltered saline lagoon in Europe; on the other side a complementary beach is washed by the Mediterranean Sea.
(image via: Best Invest Iberica)
In the Middle Ages, La Manga was a chain of small islands and Mar Menor was a bay of the Mediterranean. Since that time, sedimentation has caused the islands to solidify into a long sand spit. Unlike Arabat Spit and Dungeness Spit, La Manga del Mar Menor is highly developed and pretty much the only wildlife to be seen are pasty-skinned tourists from northern Europe. Even so, the United Nations has designated Mar Menor as a specially protected area for the Mediterranean.
Hel Peninsula – Poland
The 21.75 mile (35 km) long Hel Peninsula is located off the Baltic Sea coast of northern Poland, where it separates the Baltic from the Bay of Puck. The spit formed sometime in the 17th century as a result of sedimentation overtaking a chain of islands, and since then the spit has been separated from the mainland a number of times during severe storms.
(image via: Academic.ru)
Hel Peninsula varies from 33 feet (100 m) to 100 feet (300 m ) in width, with the far end widening to about 18.5 miles (3 km) where the tourist town of Hel is located.
The Hel Peninsula became an island via the hand of Man in 1939, during the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, when Polish defenders dynamited part of the spit to aid their defense. The Battle of Hel lasted from September 9th to October 2nd, as approximately 3,000 Polish Army soldiers held out against overwhelming odds. After World War II, Hel Peninsula remained a fortified area and military zone though since the fall of communism the spit has taken on a much more peaceful aspect.
Farewell Spit – New Zealand
New Zealand is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders and spectacular scenery – the Lord Of The Rings trilogy was filmed there for that exact reason – but there’s one scenic wonder filmgoers won’t see: Farewell Spit. Located at the northwestern tip of South Island, Farewell Spit extends eastward 18.6 miles (30 km) into the Tasman Sea. The northern side of the spit is mainly a broad, flat sand beach while to the south, a complex ecosystem of wetlands and tidal flats is gently washed by waves from Golden Bay.
Farewell Spit’s tidal flats are a prime location for various eco-tours. Visitors are often astonished by the wide variety of marine life stranded on the sands and mud flats, such as the unlucky Oarfish above.
Long Point – Canada
(image via: Canada Topo Maps)
Long Point is a 25 mile (40 km) long sand spit that juts into Lake Erie from northwest to southeast from the lake’s northern shore. The spit is only about 6/10ths of a mile (1 km) wide and storm-driven waves have cut through the spit a number of times, most recently in the mid-19th century.
Much of the spit is included in the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, a protected Great Lakes ecosystem that encompasses long uninterrupted beaches abutting the shallow Inner Bay, undisturbed sand dunes, grassy ridges, lush meadows, and undisturbed woodlands, marshes, ponds and streams.
(images via: Monarch Butterfly)
Long Point is a beacon for over 300 species of migrating birds and Monarch Butterflies, who take advantage of the spit’s 25 mile head start before making the trip south across Lake Erie. It’s sort of like a “Last Chance” gas station drivers don’t want to bypass before heading out across a desert highway.
Curonian Spit – Russia and Lithuania
History buffs looking over maps of northern Germany and the Baltic states may have noticed an odd land formation stretching in a delicate curve from the former East Prussia up to the Lithuanian coast. This is the Curonian Spit, a 60 mile (98 km) long sand spit formed when sediments driven inshore from the Baltic Sea collected on a residual glacial moraine. The spit assumed much of its current appearance and structure by around 3000 BCE.
The Curonian Spit is the scene of an age-old battle for supremacy between windswept sand dunes and thick forests. When much of the forests were chopped down to provide lumber for ships in the 18th century, runaway dunes threatened to subsume entire towns.
This led to one of the first large-scale reforestation schemes, conducted by the government of Prussia in the mid 1820s. Today trees and dunes peacefully coexist along with tourists who flock to the Curonian Spit’s fine sandy beaches and coastal villas.
(image via: A Girl From Foreign)
Sand spits demand careful management lest the human presence destroy the essential qualities that make them so appealing. Take the scene above, showing a typical summer’s day on the Curonian Spit. One wonders where the manager might be… those into playing a little “Where’s Waldo?” had better get out their magnifying glasses.