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Top travel trivia we're getting wrong

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Sophie Cullen 06 June 2018

Even if you are a geography whiz or avid traveller, it is time to face the facts – and realise you’re getting many of them wrong. It seems that kangaroo-riding, drop bear-avoiding Australians believe many of the myths and misconceptions perpetuated about rivers, peaks, cities and place names around the globe. For the sake of our high school geography teachers and pub trivia teams, we did our research to bust open these top 18 surprising mistakes:

Antarctica has no time zones - False

The widely held belief that Antarctica does not use time zones has been debunked by the stations operating on the icy continent. In actual fact, nine different time zones are in use in the South Pole.

Antarctic DOES have time zones. Picture: Shutterstock

Russia and Turkey are the only countries on two continents - False

A quick look at the map might make it appear that Russia and Turkey are the only countries lying across two continents, but the experts beg to differ. Geologists insist that the boundary between Asia and Europe is in fact the Caucasus watershed, which would mean Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan also qualify.

The Nile River is the longest in the world - False

This one comes down to semantics. If you take tributaries, river bends and multiple channels into consideration, the Amazon River is marginally longer than its North African cousin at 6992 kilometres to the Nile’s 6852.

The longest river in the world? Maybe not! The Nile © Rod Waddington

The South Pole is the same as Antarctica - False

It isn’t actually wrong to identify Antarctica as the South Pole, although technicality would have it that the term can refer to four possible South Poles on the frozen continent. The Geographic South Pole, Inaccessible South Pole, Geomagnetic South Pole and Magnetic South Pole (which constantly moves with magnetic drift!) are all different locations in Antarctica.

The capital of Switzerland is Geneva - False

Despite its prominence in international politics, the European UN’s headquarters is not in fact the nation’s capital. Neither is Zurich, another famous global cultural centre. The title actually goes to humble Bern, the fourth largest city in Switzerland, situated on the Aare River.

Diplomatic world capital, Geneva CC0

Holland is the same as the Netherlands - False

Many mistaken globetrotters would just as easily call the tulip-covered, windmill-dotted Netherlands by the name of one of its internal provinces. Although Amsterdam and The Hague both fall in North-Holland and South-Holland, these provinces are actually just two of the twelve that make up the Dutch homeland, and are not in fact an alternative moniker.

Great Britain is the same as the United Kingdom - False

Anglophiles are sure to know their Englands from their Britains, but the rest of us might struggle with the particulars of this land mass west of Europe. The United Kingdom refers to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whereas Great Britain refers only to England, Scotland and Wales.

The UK's Buckingham Palace By Rept0n1x [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Puerto Rico is a country - False

The Spanish-speaking, beachy archipelago of Puerto Rico can be found sun-baking in the Great Antilles of the Caribbean, but is officially a territory of the United States. Watch this space – there are movements both pushing for complete Puerto Rican independence and for the US to absorb the territory as its 51st state.

Sydney Opera House forms a sphere - False

Legend has it that when you open out and piece together the white sails of this iconic building, they will form a perfect sphere. Architect Jorn Utzon also dismissed the notion that he was inspired by the sails of ships on the harbour and claims instead that the unusual geometry came to him when he was peeling and segmenting an orange.

Front-on Opera House from the water, with an iconic Sydney ferry passing by! © Bound Round

Lagos is the capital of Nigeria - False

Once true, in 1991 the capital of this African nation famous for its wildlife and national parks moved inland from Lagos to Abuja.

Iceland is covered in ice - False

Hopefully this myth has been given enough coverage to be satisfactorily debunked. Iceland’s misnomer conjures up images of blistery peaks, snowy deserts and harsh blizzards. While it is true that the Nordic island is famous for glaciers and about 10% is covered in a permanent ice cap, warm North Atlantic currents keep Iceland fairly green, especially in summer. Greenland, on the other hand, is nearly 80% covered in ice. Go figure!

The Great Wall of China is visible from space - False

NASA has confirmed that, impressive as it is, you cannot see this ancient fortification with the naked eye from space, even at a low orbit. You can, however, see the Great Barrier Reef and the Himalayas, and the man-made structures of Dubai’s artificial islands.

The famous sight of the Great Wall CC0

Australia is home to the longest stretch of straight road in the world - False

Rumour has it that the Eyre Highway, crossing the Nullarbor Plain between South Australia and Western Australia, is the straightest road in the world. But when it comes to the longest unbending stretch, the ’90 Mile Straight’ as it is affectionately called, is rivalled by Saudi Arabia’s Highway 85 and several American routes.

Dead straight on the Nullarbor Plain Image: Bahnfrend CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mount Kosciuszko is Australia’s tallest mountain - False

The story that accompanies this lofty peak’s claim to fame is a complicated one. The Mt Kosciuszko originally labelled as Australia’s tallest mountain was found to be shorter than its neighbour, Mt Townsend, so the two summits switched names in 1892. Standing at 7310 feet above sea level, the newly christened Kosciuszko is indeed mainland Australia’s tallest mountain, but is trumped by Mawson Peak and Dome Argus on Australia’s offshore and Antarctic territories.

There is a huge system of American bunkers under Melbourne’s CBD - False

Despite the best efforts of conspiracy theorists and historians, there is no evidence that the US built an underground network beneath the Victorian capital in the 1940s. A dedicated team even searched and excavated tunnels on Merri Creek in search of weaponry, but their lack of success led local councils to hole up the tunnels in 2011.

There are 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road - False

Erosion has made a liar of us – there are only eight of these limestone formations left near Port Campbell, on the Great Ocean Road. What’s more, they used to be called the Sow and her Piglets (the sow was Mutton Bird Island) and nobody knows exactly when and why their name changed.

Great scenery on the Great Ocean Road! © Visit Victoria: Robert Blackburn

Krakatoa is East of Java - False

Perpetuated by an action film about the volcano’s 1883 eruption, this myth couldn’t be more opposite from reality. Krakatoa is actually found to the west of the Indonesian island.

And everyone gets the name of Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand wrong

There is many a mountain, river or island on New Zealand’s map that officially has a dual name to formally recognise European names and traditional pre-settlement Maori history. Franz Josef Glacier/Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere is a spectacular natural attraction on the South Island which is usually and mistakenly known by half of its name only.

Based on the Reader's Digest '30 Geography Mistakes Everyone Keeps Getting Wrong'