CANADA’S WORLD WONDER | Sharon Henry
If ever there was a time for spectacle screen wipers this would be it, I can barely see and spray assaults my eyes like mini missiles when I take the glasses off. But it’s exhilarating and we can’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it all. I can’t believe we’re at frickin’ Niagara Falls, a natural wonder of the world. Two ‘Saints’ who’ve travelled thousands of miles from home, now stand here feeling like we’re being pummelled by the mighty waterfall. It’s one of those moments where I shake my head in amazement.
We entered the Park half an hour ago, made a beeline for the ticket booth and chose this ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ tour costing $16.75 (Canadian) each. It gave immediate admittance (no waiting around), a yellow plastic poncho (telltale sign) and an elevator ride 38 metres down inside the rock face.
Hear Me Roar
Niagara Falls is collectively three waterfalls and is split between the Canada and USA border. The Canadians have Horseshoe Falls which in my opinion is the most impressive; the Americans have American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. We’re on the Canadian side at the Table Rock complex.
Horseshoe Falls, precisely named for its curved shape, is 54 metres high (we thought it was taller) with a rim of 675 metres. The tunnels we walked through after the elevator ride were dug in 1889. The roar of the powerful falls could be heard as soon as the elevator door pinged open. We headed toward the light and noise and spilled out onto this observation deck just metres away from the thick fluffy curtain of the side of the falls. A breathtaking sight in the true sense of the word and it feels strangely dangerous to be so close, heightening the thrill.
My poncho is losing the battle against the constant wind and whipping mist, I can feel water running down the inside. Everything is wet; hair, shoes, glasses and shirt cuffs. It’s a good thing we have a waterproof camera, but even that’s proving difficult to keep the lens clear of water droplets. It’s near impossible to see, even breathe. We’ve been taking selfies blindly because the mixture of harsh sunlight and mist makes it hard to view the results on the small screen.
Be An Early Bird
The tunnel ‘behind the falls’ run 200 metres in length and at two viewing points tourists can watch what looks like a giant tap turned on full force just five metres directly behind the actual falls.
Unfortunately the crowds have picked up and we have to queue for our turn to look out the dug outs. It doesn’t allow much time to take photos and fully appreciate the crazy location because we’re conscious of others behind.
We underestimated the morning traffic and arrived later than intended, but it’s definitely worth aiming for an early start to beat the crowds.
During summer months 154 million litres (34 million gallons) of water flow over the falls per minute. That’s enough to fill 1 million bathtubs. This natural energy is harnessed to power one of the largest hydro-electric power plants in the world.
Niagara Falls annually welcomes 12 million visitors including some notable famous ones over the years; Marilyn Monroe, John F Kennedy (at separate times), Princess Diana and boys and Superman.
If there’s one thing we are ever so slightly disappointed about with the falls is the height. Back in the late 70’s the Man of Steel rescued a boy from certain death when he fell over the Horseshoe Falls. In ‘reality’ the boy would have died before Lois Lane could even utter ‘help.’ In the movie Clark Kent had time to change, ascertain were the accident was and swoop in to save the day. All the time the boy is freefalling down a seemingly high fall. The movie falsely portrayed the falls to be higher and instilled this lifelong belief upon us. Damn you Hollywood!
The Table Rock promenade is the perfect place to watch the falls, the view is so mesmerising I could stay here all day. There are telescopes and hot dog stands, gift shops and restaurants.
Sunshine illuminates the water a stunning turquoise green. The colour apparently comes from dissolved salts and ‘rock flour,’ very finely ground rock, picked up from the limestone bed. We watch enthralled as torrents of water plummet over the rim causing an ever present misty cloud that reaches high up into the sky.
Cue The Red Slickers
We wander along watching boat loads of people disappear momentarily in the mists, riding daringly close to the falls. Across the valley on the American side, blue poncho-ed bodies trek a wooden staircase down the sides of the American and Bridal Veil Falls.
Two boat tours are available at the falls; the famous ‘Maid of the Mist’ operating since 1846 on the US side and the new (2014) ‘Hornblower’ on the Canadian.
Because it looks fun and hey, it’s not every day you see one of nature’s greatest wonders we join the hour long queue in the glaring sun for tickets, at $19.95 each. The queue is shortened periodically as a few tech-savvy people buy tickets online via mobile phones. We’re not one of them. (No Canadian SIM card)
Finally we’re handed red waterproof ponchos, board the launch and dash to the upper deck with hundreds of other excited travellers. The ‘Hornblower’ boat is BIG; it has two decks and a 700 passenger capacity. We wave to some of blue ponchos on the US side as we cruise by American and Bridal Veil Falls chugging closer and closer to the 54m cascade of Horseshoe. I look up and watch someone jump the rails on the US border of Horseshoe, walk out on the ledge, take some quick photos and hop back. Adrenalin junkie.
Seriously? The Things People Do!
Niagara Falls daredevils are legendary, people gambling their lives for fame and fortune. The most notorious is Annie Edson Taylor, a 63 year old teacher who in 1903 became the first person (along with her cat) to go over the falls inside a barrel and survive.
This boat cruise is as daring as I’m willing to get to the ferocious downpour. The thunderous sound is so loud we have to shout to be heard. The drenching begins as we enter the mist cloud. The many children onboard are squealing with delight and cameras go on overdrive. All too quickly we’re heading back to the docking station, soaked and gleefully happy. The voyage took about 20 minutes.
It gets harder to impress or affect people in this day and age, thankfully Mother Nature is always on hand to remind us how awe-inspiring and dazzling she really is. In these situations you can’t help but stop and stare.
There is free admission into Niagara Falls State Park; parking for the day is $20. The Falls suddenly become visible as you drive along main road toward the Visitor Centre; be careful not to get distracted, there’s a lot of foot traffic around.
A basic Adventure Pass ticket package costs $54.95 and includes Behind the Falls, Hornblower cruise with extras of the White Water Walk and the Niagara Fury simulated film.
Within the Park vicinity, Rainbow Bridge crosses the Niagara River and connects to America. Those with passports can do a border crossing by foot or car to experience both sides of the Falls.