By Joan Larsen
Over a lifetime of travel, I have always looked for those hidden wonders of nature – mostly so far off the beaten track that they are not known by most travelers. Some of the most spectacular hidden treasures have been waterfalls that had to be flown into or hiked into in quite remote locations in the world’s far reaches — waterfalls that proved so beautiful that they touched my heart and took my breath away. Never to be forgotten.
Victoria Falls, just a plane ride from Johannesburg, is one of the most magnificent sights in the world. Here, at Zimbabwe’s western end, the mighty Zambezi River widens to 5,500 feet and plunges into a 350-foot chasm. The force of all this falling water sends clouds of spray into the air – sometimes as high as 1500 feet! Misted by the spray, the riverbank is clothed in dense, luxuriant rain forest with ferns, orchids and blood lilies. It is no wonder that the falls are named Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders.”
Few travelers are hardy enough to find their way to perhaps the most beautiful part of Australia, Western Australia in the northwest corner. You often find yourself alone.
One glimpse of these photos and you may understand why I have been drawn back more than once to what is called The Kimberley.
Even today I find myself in awe of such beauty.
I lead from my heart. And so I will go so far as to say that the glories of Iceland and the people who live there make this island country my favorite place in the northern hemisphere. If one can fall in love with a place, I think it is going to be Iceland. Its largest waterfalls are in the world’s top 10 for good reason. But I have chosen instead two beauties that walkers can get up close and personal to in a short time.
First, the wondrous Seljalendsfoss (foss means waterfall). It offers a memorable vantage point: You can walk behind the falls to “ooh” and “ahh” at the loveliness of the Icelandic countryside as you peer through the glittering mist. A single sheet of water pours about 200 feet from a cliff and splashes into a deep pool with you in an overhang behind it. Totally awesome!!!
And Svartifoss is not exceptionally high, but it drops to a small pool over an impressive amphitheatre of dark, underhanging hexagonal basalt columns that seem to look somewhat like a church organ. I love the walk to its base.
Heading now for South America, you probably have seen photos of Iguazu Falls – considered one of the wonders of the world – and bordering on both Brazil and Argentina. Of all the world’s waterfalls, I do believe we have found the best viewing spot right over the Falls, standing there forever, soaking in the scenes in every direction.
Again, the next two are very difficult to get to – but the effort it takes makes you realize that you are much like an explorer from an earlier century. It takes guts – so it is not for everyone – and I should tell you ahead of time. You have to be game and in great shape, but I wouldn’t have missed these for the world.
Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall at a staggering 3,212 feet, is not named for its proximity to heaven, but rather as a tribute to Jimmy Angel, a 1930s pilot who sought gold and instead found a waterfall. You’ll find the falls situated in the middle of a thick jungle in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park. Unless you settle for a flying tour, getting there is so strenuous and hot that only the most fit will find it a blast. But Angel Falls is in a class by itself!
Kaieteur Falls – located within its national park in South America – are as amazing to behold as difficult to reach. You must hire a pilot to fly you from the capital city of Georgetown, Guyana, to an allocated landing strip. But standing at the top of the falls and looking down at the striking sight of water crashing 7842 feet into the Potaro River basin will be worth your journey.
But a bird called a swift – so many of them there that they darken the sky – spend most of their waking time skimming the falls, looking for insects. But in late day, they gather together to sweep down at amazing speeds to settle into their roosts at 150 miles per hour on a steep dive. Their home? Behind the falls. It takes 20 minutes for 40,000 swifts packed wing-to-wing to fly like supersonic jets to their hidden home – and visitors should not go home without seeing this once-in-a-lifetime sight!
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take…
…but by the moments that take our breath away.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”