Stuart Forster reports on the thrilling experience of taking a jet boat ride on the Niagara River in the Niagara Falls region of Ontario, Canada.
The hull of our jet boat slaps down against the churning surface of the Niagara River. Jolting forward I glance up to see curled fingers of white water hanging in the air above me. The jet boat’s engine grinds and whirs, counteracting the prodigious power of the fast-flowing waterway. Then the airborne water unfurls, like a time-lapse video sequence of an opening fern, slapping me in the face.
A jet boat ride
Though it’s summer, the water feels surprisingly cold. Like all the passengers aboard the vessel, I’m wearing a yellow cape under a red life jacket and was expecting to get wet. Some of the water finds its way under the hood and trickles down my back.
A collective cheer from fellow passengers makes me look around. Some people burst into laughter. We’ve just completed a 360-degree spin that demonstrates both the power of the jet boat and the skill of our captain.
Expect to get wet
Prior to boarding, at Queenston Boat Ramp, the tour leader said we’d get soaked. Consequently, I was warned against bringing my camera and now understand why.
Do we want to do that again, asks our tour leader. Yeses roar back in unison. We accelerate, spin again then speed along the river.
We dip through rapids on our way upriver. A few kilometres upstream the Niagara River crashes down over the Horseshoe Falls on its way from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. I also got a good soaking yesterday while viewing the iconic waterfall from the deck of a ship operated by Hornblower Niagara Cruises. The Voyage to the Falls cruise provided spectacular views plus an opportunity to sense the power of the Horseshoe Falls.
Unsurprisingly, several hydroelectric power stations have been constructed along the Niagara River. We’ve already passed generating stations named in honour of Sir Adam Beck, to our right, on the Canadian side of the river. On the American side, to our left, we saw the concrete enormity of the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant.
Powering along the Niagara River
White water gushes to our right. Raging higher than the boat, the flow of the water reminds me of the wind-whipped North Sea during a storm. The captain navigates close to the centre of the river, skilfully picking a line around the Devil’s Hole Rapids. The rapids share their name with the state park on the US riverbank.
The boat’s engine sounds like its working hard. Between spurts of water, I catch glimpses of walkers in the woodland on the Canadian side of the river. They appear to be moving faster than us as we fight the flow of the water. Up and down we bob before bursting into clear water and zipping along the river.
Glancing up I spot a cage hanging above us from cables. People wave from within. It’s the Whirlpool Aero Car, a cable car that has been crossing Niagara Gorge since 1916.
Over on the Canadian side of the deep gorge, rocky outcrops on the stratified cliffs remind me of the ledges that Wile E. Coyote runs off, hanging momentarily in the air, after being outsmarted by Road Runner in cartoons. Fallen boulders and stones are piled at the foot of the stratified rockface.
The captain shows more of his skill then the tour leader announces it’s time to turn back. Let’s see what it’s like to ride the rapids heading down river. Holidays, after all, are all about going with the flow.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours operates tours from three locations, including Queenston Boat Ramp (the starting point for the experience I describe here) and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The GPS on my hire car defaulted to the company’s Niagara-on-the-Lake address. Make sure you head to the right location!
See the Niagara Falls Tourism website for information about things to do in and around Niagara Falls, Canada. Beyond viewing the waterfalls, there’s much to do in the region. I spent three days in the area and it could have — should have — been significantly longer. As a lover of good food and wine, I enjoyed touring and dining at the Two Sisters Vineyard plus the tasting menu with paired wines at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant. A real highlight was donning a helmet to zip around tracks and lanes on an electric scooter from eSkoot Niagara.
The Ontario and Destination Canada websites also have information about the region’s tourism attractions.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, which is based in North East England and available for travel commissions worldwide.
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