Brazil: A wild, wet ride into the mist

By Josie Dale

The Iguazu Falls in South America are one of the world's wonders, writes Josie Dale

"Again, again," we scream. Well, six of us do. The remaining two white-knuckled passengers anxiously grip the rope webbing.

Felipe, our driver, grins wickedly and guns the powerful twin outboard engines. The zodiac shoots forward, bouncing crazily, fishtailing over the rapids. Nearer the falls the mist is like dense fog. The boat slows momentarily before sashaying under the roaring torrent. We're drenched. It's the mother of bad hair days.

Iguazu Falls lie within 2100sq km of National Park bordering Brazil and Argentina. They stretch over 4km, plunging 82m into the Iguazu River. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986.

US First Lady of the early 20th century, Eleanor Roosevelt, reputedly said on her first visit: "Oh, poor Niagara."

Husband Alistair and I flew to Puerto Iguazu from Buenos Aires. We could see and hear the falls from our hotel room and found good walking tracks and boardwalks affording spectacular close-up views of the falls and surrounding subtropical rain forest.

Bright sunlight generated beautiful misty mini rainbows.

We hoped to see local wildlife. Jaguars, puma and tapir live in the forest but they are either nocturnal or avoid humans. We saw several colourful birds and butterflies, but no animals. No snakes either. What a relief.

More than a million visitors, mostly from Argentina and Brazil, visit the falls each year but you'd never guess. We meet fewer than a dozen tourists during our three-hour walk.

The view from a helicopter puts these magnificent falls into perspective. They are vast. The pilot flies down close to the largest, known as Devil's Throat, where the spray looks like clouds of dense smoke.

We walk the well-formed river track. Be prepared to get wet. Panoramic close-up views from Brazil illustrate the immensity and extent of the falls but the spray is inescapable.

A buffet restaurant overlooks the falls but the magnificent view is such a distraction, I can't recall eating lunch. Alistair assures me the beer is excellent.

The riverside is the domain of coatis. These raccoon-like creatures are about the size of a large family cat. Like other wild creatures, they've discovered the joys of rubbish containers. We see a couple, furry bottoms up, happily foraging in a bin.

The Macuco zodiac safari begins with a 3km trolley ride through the forest to the jetty. Exhilarating and fun. Don't miss it.

Which side of the falls is best? See both. Argentina's side is more pristine and quieter, partly because helicopter flights are banned to avoid disturbing wildlife.

Though Brazil is more commercialised, it provides a better overview of the falls.

Don't miss Iguazu.

Next time, I'll risk startling the locals and wear my swimsuit.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: LAN Chile flies from Auckland to Santiago, Chile, with ongoing connections throughout South America.
Online: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/303

- NZ Herald

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