Before invading just about every jungle block in Costa Rica, zip lines were a practical necessity in mountainous regions as a means of transporting both goods and people. With a boom in eco-tourism, enterprising operators realized tourists will pay good money for the opportunity to slide faster than monkeys through the canopy, learning about the environment as they do so. I’ve zip-lined on four continents, and here’s what I’ve come to realize:
- Anyone (and I mean everyone!) can zipline.
- Zip lining is only as good as the environment in which you do it.
Usually, the environment consists of trees, which is why this neat little operation in Grand Falls zipzags its way onto the Bucket List. The town is named after the namesake waterfalls it cradles, where the St John River drops 23 metres over a rock ledge, creating the largest Canadian falls east of Niagara. Eric Ouellette, a local civil engineer with some big industrial projects under his belt, saw the potential and opened Zip Zag for business. It took his team two years to build dual racing ziplines across the gorge, spanning 150 metres above the raging whitewater. He rightly believed that the only thing sweeter than a huge waterfall is ziplining through its spray on a bright sunny day.
I collect my harness at the Malabeam Information Centre, where visitors learn about the area’s history, the hydroelectric project, and how Eric and his team used 2500 ice blocks to create the world’s largest domed igloo, as certified by Guinness World Records. Clearly, here is an impressive man committed to random achievements. The only requirement for zipzaggers is they weigh between 25kg and 125kgs, and are capable of walking up stairs. Eric’s wife Christine slips me into a harness, gives a brief demonstration, and we walk to the launch zipline. Zip lining is perhaps the easiest of all “adrenaline” activities, requiring hardly any physical effort, with the knowledge that you’re safely connected to a steel rope over engineered to take the weight of an elephant. Once I kick off, it takes seconds to get across the canyon where the real fun begins: the dual lines 23 metres above the waterfalls.
Grand Falls, also known as Grand Sault, is one of only two municipalities in Canada with a bilingual name. Over 80% of its population are completely bilingual, including all the Zip Zag guides. This is useful for American (the town is right on the Maine border), and Quebecois customers driving in from 80 kilometres away. Regardless whether you whoop in French or English, once your feet leave the wooden platform, you’ll find yourself gliding along at 30 – 40 km/hr, and with an awfully big smile on your face. A sheet of fine mist gently sprays me as I make the crossing, which is over too soon, as ziplines usually are. While the overall experience might take around an hour, the actual flying time can be counted in seconds. But believe me, those seconds count infinitely more when you’re flying over a raging waterfall, as opposed to a jungle canopy. There’s no practical reason why anyone needs to zip-line in this day and age, which is exactly why it’s so much fun to do so. Zipline over Grand Falls – chalk that one up on the Great Canadian Bucket List.