How the mighty fall

Ni­a­gara re­veals the power and glory of na­ture

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada - IAIN SHED­DEN

Over, un­der, side­ways, down … no mat­ter which way you look at Ni­a­gara Falls it can’t help but im­press with its beauty, spec­ta­cle and, when you get close enough, its daunt­ing, re­lent­less brute force. To stand a few me­tres away, as you can do thanks to a se­ries of un­der­ground pas­sages and view­ing plat­forms on the Cana­dian side, is to feel in your gut the won­der and the dan­ger of an un­stop­pable nat­u­ral tor­rent.

Ni­a­gara Falls, the gorge of which di­vides On­tario in Canada and New York State in the US, can be viewed from ei­ther coun­try and you can see pretty much ev­ery­thing there is to see in a day or two. I have 24 hours, which seems to be am­ple. I travel south from Toronto, a 120km drive through unin­spir­ing land­scape un­til you get into the wine coun­try that sur­rounds the city of Ni­a­gara Falls on the Cana­dian side. This Ni­a­gara on the Lake re­gion is home to about 20 winer­ies, most of which of­fer tast­ings, din­ing and, of course, buy­ing in bulk . I visit Trius Win­ery at Hille­brand, which is set in wel­com­ing lush gar­dens. It of­fers a very en­joy­able red and a first-class lunch and din­ner menu.

A short drive from there un­veils the majesty of the Horse­shoe Falls, the big­gest of the three falls that cas­cade 24/7. As you drive along­side the prom­e­nade lead­ing to the tourism cen­tre, housed ad­ja­cent to the main falls, the scale of what you are wit­ness­ing widens in in­ten­sity. There are plenty of op­tions on how to en­joy the Ni­a­gara ex­pe­ri­ence, short of jump­ing into a bar­rel and throw­ing your­self off the top or hoist­ing up a tightrope to take an un­ortho­dox walk to the US.

The best way to get a panoramic view is by he­li­copter. I choose Ni­a­gara He­li­copter Tours, which op­er­ates from a small heliport on the out­skirts of the town, about 10 min­utes by car. It flies five six-seater Bell 407 he­li­copters from 9am un­til sunset. The flight takes only 12 min­utes, but that’s plenty to take photos or videos from a va­ri­ety of van­tage points, and to lis­ten on head­phones to com­men­tary on the land­scape, as well as sim­ply to marvel at the fact that you’re fly­ing over Ni­a­gara Falls in a he­li­copter. It’s pretty awe­some, but also ex­pen­sive at $C140 ($148) for an adult; $C87 for chil­dren.

A cheaper and al­most as thrilling way to do the trip is by boat. The Horn­blower Ni­a­gara tour de­parts from a jetty close to the falls and lasts 30 min­utes, tak­ing in all three wa­ter­falls and com­ing to a stop, breath­tak­ingly so, within throw­ing dis­tance of the main falls. Once again, the force of na­ture is as awe-in­spir­ing as the view. You’ll get wet, so re­turn­able wa­ter­proof jack­ets are pro­vided. Get­ting splashed by wa­ter­fall spray is part of the fun. Cost for adults is $C28.80; $C21.10 for chil­dren.

Just a few min­utes’ walk away from the prom­e­nade is the town it­self. The con­trast be­tween the spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter views and the streets of fast-food joints, amuse- ment ar­cades and sou­venir shops is ex­treme and a lit­tle sad, but such is the na­ture of hav­ing a world tourist at­trac­tion on your doorstep. Ac­com­mo­da­tion in the area varies from small B&B-style to grander ho­tels such as Dou­bletree Fallsview Re­sort & Spa by Hil­ton. I choose some­thing in be­tween, the Old Stone Inn, in the cen­tre of town. It’s a bou­tique ho­tel, in a rel­a­tively quiet side street and an easy walk to the falls. The 100-year-old build­ing was con­verted from a flour mill in the 1970s; gue­strooms are small but have a pleas­ing old-world am­bi­ence. There is also a small in­door pool and its Flour Mill res­tau­rant serves break­fast, lunch and din­ner.

An ex­cit­ing al­ter­na­tive for din­ner is the Sky­lon Tower. The re­volv­ing res­tau­rant at the top of this struc­ture has ex­cel­lent views, par­tic­u­larly daz­zling af­ter dark, with the falls il­lu­mi­nated at var­i­ous points. The din­ing area, which turns around at an in­cred­i­bly slow trot, is for­mal. The food, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, is av­er­age and a lit­tle over­priced, as if the view has been in­cor­po­rated in the ad­mis­sion. Next morn­ing is an op­por­tu­nity to take in the spec­ta­cle once more with a long walk along the prom­e­nade, which bus­tles with pedes­trian traf­fic, par­tic­u­larly in sum­mer.

A visit to the tourism cen­tre of­fers a few fi­nal per­spect- ives on this en­tranc­ing nat­u­ral won­der, al­beit with a lit­tle help from tech­nol­ogy. The Ni­a­gara Fury “ride” is a well­crafted history les­son, es­pe­cially for chil­dren. It doc­u­ments on a gi­ant 360-de­gree screen the history of the falls from the Ice Age on­wards; for pa­trons stand­ing in the dark in the mid­dle, “rain” and “snow” fall from the ceil­ing and the floor shakes to mimic a boat go­ing down the rapids, which is good fun.

And then, to say good­bye to it all, there’s the ex­pe­ri­ence un­der­neath the Horse­shoe Falls. Jour­ney Be­hind the Falls in­volves tak­ing an el­e­va­tor 45m down and step­ping out at the foot of the Horse­shoe. Sud­denly, there it is, right in front of you — 2800 cu­bic m of wa­ter tum­bling down ev­ery sec­ond at 65km/h. The noise, the spray, the sheer power of the wa­ter and of the view com­bine to cre­ate one of those great mo­ments that can only bring a smile to your face.

Iain Shed­den was a guest of Ni­a­gara Falls Tourism.

• ni­a­garafall­s­tourism.com • old­stoneinnho­tel.com • ni­a­gara­he­li­copters.com

Horse­shoe Falls, top; view from a he­li­copter, above left; the Old Stone Inn, above right; tourists at the falls, be­low

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