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Published: July 31st 2014
I'm going to start this blog with a confession... I wasn't particularly bothered about visiting the Falls when Gemma first mentioned it to me. During our initial planning for our trip many places were mentioned such as Montreal and Quebec and I wouldn't have been too concerned had Niagara Falls been overlooked as the aforementioned had. My mental image of the falls prior to visiting was one of a slightly impressive waterfall surrounded by Mickey Mouse-esque mascots selling crap and trying to pry your money from your wallet, in some grotesque horror show of capitalism based eco-tourism. Now lets not be under any illusion, there is still the fanfare and such but not on half the scale I imagined.
In hindsight, I'm quite ashamed of how I initially felt about visiting but in my defence as the time drew nearer I became increasingly excited about seeing the falls. The Adventure begins
We both awoke at about 4am Toronto time, suffering from the lag. our coach departed several hours later and we arrived at the falls mid morning. The journey was interesting enough, we had taken the megabus opting to not go on one of the public
Along the White Water Walk
Stock holiday photograph pose from me...
tours and therefore stay longer and see the falls illuminated at night. Pulling through one suburb this massive black monster flew up out of a tree from someone's garden over our bus. Turned out to be a Turkey Vulture. I ticked my little mental wildlife checklist adding to my repertoire of Birds of Prey seen... Still no Bald Eagle though...
From the bus we had to queue for our passes and then we were straight down onto the boardwalk for the White Water Walk. The rapids are graded a level 6 and are among the fiercest, fastest and most dangerous you can come across leading down to a whirlpool that is roughly 125 feet deep. The noise made by so much water roaring past is incredible and you learn random little facts which enhance the experience, such as the water has a green tint to it from the minerals of rocks pulverised further upstream, and if there is foam on the water it is again because vegetation has been minced further up at the falls and that is all that is left.
Some of the standing waves and bowls in the rapids reach about 8 foot in places.
The Whirlpool Aerocar
the whirlpool is reportedly 125 feet deep, it is illegal to swim here, but we saw people dipping a toe... nutters
It is awe-inspiring in itself and reminds one of the need for respect around water. It is easy to forget that it is both the crux of all life on Earth and one of the most dangerous elements to all life on Earth.
There's a neat little hop on hop off bus system at Niagara Falls park which meant that after the White Water Walk we could travel the couple of kilometres up to the Whirlpool Aerocar that takes you right out over the Niagara River, briefly passing into American airspace. The aerocar is nearly a hundred years old, but luckily the cables have been replaced in that period. First glimpse of the cateract
From there we headed toward the actual Falls, which as yet we had not seen. The wego bus took us all the way up and we got out at one of the fast food joints nearby and enjoyed a typically North American cheeseburger lunch while being serenaded by a girl covering Manchester's finest, Oasis. (Gemma is from Manchester and hates Oasis).
From where we were sat we were directly opposite the American falls and could see one part of the Horseshoe falls.
Photographs of the falls are all well and good but really don't do the majesty of Niagara Falls justice. You just simply cannot fathom that amount of free flowing water roaring past with the all urgency and fury of nature. It's something on an entirely different level of awesome! Going deeper underground
Following lunch we headed up to Horseshoe falls as we had a specific time slot for our journey behind the falls. We queued for ages and like with CN tower got the green screen treatment (actually this happened a few times and each time the price increased... DAMN YOU MICKEY!). We caught the lift down and disgorged into a sort of mineshaft that split off one way led out onto a viewing platform right next to the falls the other led to the portals. I'll leave videos here rather than pictures just to kind of give off an idea of noise, scale etc. (ignore mine and Gemma's stupid faces).
The first video is out on the viewing platform and does nothing to demonstrate how wet it was with spray being blown for hundreds of feet from the bottom of the falls. At one point
The American Falls
I've eaten at worse locations...
a lairy Cormorant flew right up into the mist, disappeared, then a short while later emerged from the mist as if that was a reasonable way to search out a meal!
In the second video we are behind the falls and are standing at one of the portals, either Cataract or Great Falls I cannot remember. The water spraying back into the portal is pretty awesome!
After this we went to the 4D cinema to watch the part-animated film about the forming and history of the Falls. It was actually really well made to be fair, and the bit where you're being 'snowed' on then sprayed with water is cool. We're going to need a bigger boat... (Jaws quotes FTW)
We then caught our Ferry, the Hornblower from the Canadian side. Everyone has since asked "did you catch the Maid of the Mist". No, we did not. In order to have caught the Maid of the Mist that would have meant entering America via the Rainbow Bridge and when we looked into access to the American side of Niagara Falls Park it just seemed way too much hassle to say we had
been on the more famous of the two ferries.
You get a little poncho (Red in Canada, Blue in America) that lets be truthful, is as much use as a chocolate fireguard! What's most amazing is the wind turbulence created by the falls, up on the paths up near Table Rock there was little or no wind but down on the Niagara River it is blowing a right gale. Both nations are already harnessing hydroelectric power from the area they may as well have a punt at wind derived energy it's that strong. Anyroad, we boarded the boat and luckily got to stand right at the front... in boat speak that's bow right?! I know that Head means the khazi. The boat pushed off and we drifted over to the American falls and let the spray from the battered rocks below wash over us then we headed right up into the mists of the Horseshoe Falls, the noise reaching a deafening crescendo as we were treated to the most incredible power-shower ever. I took some video footage of the falls as we made our way up to it, the torrent of water coming down only really appears in the
footage toward the end but it was present for most of the video.
The boat slowly listed back around with a little help from the current and we made our way back to the pontoon and got off the boat. What I couldn't understand was that there were passengers aboard who stayed in the sheltered bit of the boat... from which viewing the falls would be extremely difficult as the wheel house sits smack bang in front of it. I'd understand if it was children in there but it was full of adults. Bit odd if you ask me, but then if you ask others... I'm a bit odd so ho-hum. The Illuminations
We enjoyed a traditional North American buffet dinner and this is where I committed my most heinous crime in Ontario... I pilfered a handful of cookies and shoved them into one of our bags, they were so good at breakfast the following day!
As I've said we opted to not join a public tour, because they don't really give you a long time at the falls and you're whisked off to such unmissable attractions as a butterfly farm, floral clock and
The Horseshoe falls once illuminated
Breathtaking, seems a bit of a flimsy phrase to be honest...
a vineyard. Now I don't know about other people but that really didn't speak to me. Again I digress, we opted to do our own tour and activities at Niagara because we wanted to stay late to watch the falls become illuminated at 9PM. We hung around after dinner, then finally after a spot of gift-shop tourism we went out to table rock and staked out a decent place for a photo op. Here is a timeline of what happened
20:56 - Ask member of parks staff what time illuminations are, she confirms 21:00
20:57 - spot staked out, camera ready
21:00 - about 60 photos taken of the falls... no illumination
21:07 - still no illumination, Gemma is getting crabby
21:09 - Gemma quite annoyed. Thinks lights are broken. Well this was a waste of an entire day, what a crock!
21:09:27 - First light comes on, gushing "ahhhhh" from assembled crowd
21:15 - another light comes on, followed by another, then the other side of the horseshoe illuminates. Gemma placated.
21:25 - Joe still taking long exposure photos of the falls, old Granny keeps photo-bombing me.... DOWN IN FRONT! Gemma getting crabby again, bus due in four minutes
21:27 - Joe just taking that one perfect shot, shouted at by Gemma, listens this time and follows her to the bus stop
21:29 - wego bus arrives to take us to the Niagara bus station, a run down shack just off the main parkway
We had to wait until about 22:15 I think for our coach which was late, both of us are very tired at this point and Gemma is now angry about a late coach. Coach finally arrives and we board. Bus arrives back in Toronto an hour later than scheduled thus we had woken up 4 hours earlier than we planned and got back to the hotel an hour and fifteen minutes later than planned. Weary, aching, sweaty, cramped and shattered we got back to the hotel and fell asleep within short order. Brief note concerning my opening paragraph
As I stated initially I wasn't fussed about visiting the falls. I have come to realise how wrong I was, of our entire trip to Canada for me the visit to Niagara falls was the second best day of the holiday (the first will feature in a blog yet to be written).
Yes there is the fanfare and theme park BS, it's there, but it is not so pervasive that it ruins the majesty, the raw power and the beauty of the Falls. I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone that they visit Niagara Falls if in America or Canada, just get to the Canadian side. I will not forget the sight of watching a Peregrine Falcon dive bomb a Cormorant from the cliffs while we stood on the viewing deck next to the falls or the sound the crashing deluge makes as it falls into the frothy white abyss below. It is the natural world at it's wildest and most untamed that can be safely viewed at a distance of a few feet. Not many places can boast that kind of access without an element of risk.
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