A Bird’s Eye View From Skylon Tower
Awake at 7 am, I get ready for my SeeSight USA/Canada Niagara Falls Combo Tour. There was no fridge listed in the room specification on booking but finding one there was a huge bonus last night. No messing around with ice buckets and everything nice and chilled this morning. Down into the lobby by 8.30 am, I had thought I might need my passport. But the tour company had made no mention of this, so I left it in the room safe. When the tour guide turns up in the minibus I ask him if I need it. He says yes. So I say, “Well no-one told me. So I need to go and get it.” So he goes off to pick someone else up whilst I trudge back to the room for my passport. Good job I asked, I mutter to myself.
The minibus is full with 7 folks including me and Hassan, our guide. First stop is the Skylon Tower, an observation tower. The weather is chilly and overcast so the views at the top are not in the best conditions but you do get a birds-eye view of Niagara Falls. It’s also very windy. You can go outside at the top and walk all the way round, which I do, but there’s not much of interest apart from the Falls and the Niagara River.
The Falls are a relative pin-prick size-wise relative to the wider landscape – you can see for miles – but boy oh boy, do the Falls make up for that in terms of ‘what’ they are. Even from quite a way away, they look absolutely amazing. And from what comes to pass later in the day, doing Skylon first is good because you get the high-level view of all three Falls. You can also figure out their positional relation to each other plus a top-level understanding of the bridge, boats and other elements we’ll see and experience later.
We spend about 30 minutes there, from where the minibus takes us to see the International Control Dam, a weir just upstream from the Horseshoe Falls that controls the Niagara River’s flow rate. We learn that between 50% and 75% of the Niagara River’s flow is diverted via four huge tunnels. It’s then routed into hydroelectric turbines to generate electricity. Diverting this amount of water has also slowed the rate of erosion of the Falls to about a third of what it used to be. But nature will win in the end. In about 50,000 years Niagara Falls will have eroded the remaining 20 miles or so of riverbed all the way to Lake Erie – and the Falls will cease to exist.
From the Dam we move on to a car park by the top of the Canadian side of the Horseshoe Falls. Getting out of the minibus, you can hear the roar of the water. At the Falls edge, the only word I can use to describe the sight and sound is “awesome”. As the day goes on, that word will become much repeated, but seemingly so inadequate.
The sheer power of the water flowing over the edge is almost indescribable. It’s relentless, never ending, so powerful. And to get this close is incredible. But we ain’t seen nothing yet…
Right by the car park is the entrance to Journey Behind The Falls. Many years ago some enterprising folks dug tunnels and an observation platform out of the bedrock on the riverside just above the water level. We descend about 125 feet in elevators and exit right by the river and almost underneath the right side of Horseshoe Falls. It’s astonishing to see and feel and hear the water cascading down at such close quarters, literally feet away. In a tunnel are two open portals in the rock face that if they weren’t fenced off you could stick your arm outside and touch the river cascading down. But of course they don’t let you get that close, and there’s not a lot to see to be honest, just a wall of white. Watch some videos below – you might need to click on the video to display the controls.
Journey Behind The Falls
Horseshoe Falls – Canadian Side
Horseshoe Falls – On The Water
Hornblower Niagara Cruises
From Journey… we drive downriver a short distance to Hornblower Niagara Cruises. Then it’s a boat trip back up the river, past the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, the other two Falls that make up ‘Niagara Falls’, right into the cauldron of mist and noise in the Horseshoe Falls basin. The boat gets as close as it safely can to the Falls and yet again, it’s amazing! The churning water, the constant roar, the mist and spray as the water hits the river as it falls over the edge. Absolutely incredible experience to get so close.
Back on dry land and into the minibus for a trip following the river downstream. We see various sights like the Hydro-Electric Plants and a whirlpool by a river bend with a cable car ride across (which we didn’t do). There’s not masses to see but the guide also uses this time to fill us all in with more back story and anecdotes about the River and Falls. All very interesting, helping to flesh out the day’s experience.
Returning to Niagara Falls, Canada, the morning session ends. Here we bid farewell to two folks who are just doing the Canadian side. The rest of us ‘full dayers’ are dropped off at the Sheraton Hotel for a buffet lunch, which was very good. We are picked up again at 2.30 pm and we’re off to America to see the rest of “Niagara Falls”. Across the Rainbow International Bridge and there’s a short delay at the border, but only a few minutes today. The guide says when it’s busy it can take up to 45 minutes each way. We’ll obviously return to Canada after visiting the other two Falls.
Cave Of The Winds
We start the USA side at the Cave Of The Winds. When I was on the boat, I could see people walking almost at river level at the bottom of the cliffs. I guess they must be doing the Cave… but other than seeing them walking along, none of us have any idea what we are in for.
The first inkling this ‘attraction’ might be different is when we are all given open-toed sandals to wear in place of your own footwear. And very large warning signs: “You Will Get Wet”. For some people later on, that is somewhat of an understatement. We take an elevator down to river level and on exit we are given a poncho. But whereas the poncho at Journey… just caught a bit of water spray from the Falls, my Cave… poncho will earn its stripes shortly.
To say the route we take gets us close to the Bridal Veil Falls – as they roar their way into the Niagara River – is not the half of it. They’ve built a wooden structure of steps and platforms right at the bottom of these Falls, alongside the American Falls. You are not only inches away from the American Falls’ torrent of water as it screams past, but the spray and splashes from the Bridal Veil Falls creates a heavy ‘rain’ shower all around. At times it’s like a monsoon.
The Hurricane Deck is well named. I decided I was wet enough by then without going right up to the Deck’s edge but some people just went stood right in it, getting soaked. You might think it sounds awful. It’s not. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Ever. It’s brilliant. I thought Journey… got you close to the Falls but Cave… is something else. To be so close to the powerful and mighty river, cascading just inches away from you is incredible. At times I just stood there mesmerised, in awe of the power and beauty of this natural wonder and spectacle. I came away literally buzzing. F****** absolutely brilliant it was. Plus I didn’t get that wet, the ponchos are quite good. Make sure you do the Cave… experience before you die. You will not regret it.
Back up on top of the gorge, our group walks to Luna Island.This is the small bit of land between Bridal Veil and American Falls. Then its across onto the left side of American, as the river flows, to get different perspectives of each Falls. To conclude the trip in America we head over to the Horseshoe Falls, to see them from the USA side and look across the basin to where we were this morning.
Some more videos…
Cave of the Winds #1
Cave of the Winds #2
Horseshoe Falls – USA side
Back To Canada
The tour concluded, we get back in the minibus and drive back to Canada where we are all dropped off back at our hotels. I walk up the street to a mini-mart and buy some juice and yoghurt for breakfast tomorrow. I thought I might have a hotel breakfast in the morning until I found out it costs C$22! No thanks.
I’d eaten more than usual for lunch at the Sheraton so that I’d just have a snack tonight. Back at the hotel I go down to the bar at 6 pm for a beer and diary catch-up. Perusing the menu again there isn’t really anything small. There is however a sports bar across the street so I decide to try that. When I get to Shoeless Joe’s Sports Grill later I have 5 wings for my ‘snack’, which is all I need.
It’s quiet in the bar but I intended to go back to the Spyce Lounge again anyway for the live music. Tonight it’s the Ray Robert Band, who like last night play a wide range of songs: Stuck In The Middle With You, Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall, The Doobies’ Listen To The Music. They are good but when take a break and come back, they’ve changed music style. They open with a heavy rock tune I don’t recognise, with loads of showy guitar solos, and it just goes on and on – and people start to leave in droves. By the time the song ends, half the crowd – the place was full – has left. As do I. It’s getting late but I’ve had enough of the band as well. So I decide to do a bit more diary in my room before lights out.
I have done and seen many things in my life. But today was one of the most amazing days ever. Goodnight!