5. Skookumchuck Narrows, Canada
This series of rapids has an entire National Park around it and it’s a great place for outdoor pursuits, like walking, scuba diving and camping. However, the whirlpools themselves are not for the amateur canoeist – the website advises to check the tides before you go and only cross the rapids at high tide or low slack tides. At other times, the whirlpools and whitewater can be hugely dangerous. It’s safer all round to see the rapids from the specially built viewing platforms at the water’s edge and to combine it with a hike around the wild beauty of the park. Just a note for anyone of a delicate constitution – the park only has pit toilets, not flush ones. You really will get a sense of what life is like in the wild!
4. Te Aumiti, New Zealand
This next whirlpool is spectacularly beautiful, but also spectacularly dangerous. Official advice says that you should only sail through at slack tide, which lasts around 20 minutes, because of the difficulty in steering and the risk of meeting other ships coming in the other direction. Te Aumiti lies between Admiralty Bay and Tasman Bay and the tides from each flow into a basin, known as Current Basin, causing the whirlpools in what is also known as French Pass (this name was given to the stream by French explorer Dumont D’Urville, who successfully navigated the pass in 1827). On one side of the stream is the island of Rangitoto ki te Tonga, which is also known as D’Urville Island after the explorer. It’s largely undeveloped, so good for hiking and see the native forest, which is home to tui, bellbirds, weka and kaka. You can get there by water taxi from the mainland, and it’s a good vantage point to see the rushing waters of Te Aumiti for yourself.
3. Dviete, Latvia
Now, this is one whirlpool that might just justify the reputation that whirlpools have. The vortex in Latvia hit headlines earlier this year, with claims that the “Monstrous whirlpool…swallows everything in its path” and there is, in fact video evidence that the whirlpool is capable of taking down chunks of ice and bits of floatsam and jetsam that was drifting along the Daugava River. Still, it has so far failed to swallow any humans whole, or even a cow so it’s not quite as exciting as everyone made it out to be. Apparently anything that goes into the whirlpool ends up under the road next to the river, where the video was filmed from. So if you happen to visit, and you hear something mooing beneath your feet, you’ll know that the monstrous whirlpool has finally taken a bovine victim.
2. Niagara Falls
You’d expect the mecca for all things water-y to have its own whirlpool, wouldn’t you? And you wouldn’t be disappointed, with the rushing waters of the falls providing the perfect conditions for a whirlpool. You can see them it a special Aero Car, which glides over the Great Gorge, giving you a perfect, if terrifying, view. The Aero Car was built in 1916 by renowned Spanish engineer Leonardo Torres Quevedo and has been upgraded three times since, but it’s still an authentically vintage experience. The ride lasts for around 10 minutes and covers a distance of 1km and is definitely the safest way of getting close to the roaring whirlpool of Niagara!
1. Saltstraumen, Norway
And now for the world’s most powerful whirlpool – Saltstraumen in Norway. Known as a maelstrom (a Nordic word for whirlpool), the pool is 10metres wide and 5metres deep and caused by the 400million cubic metres rushing through a narrow channel every 6 hours. It’s obviously dangerous for sailors, and it is essential to check tide timetables before setting out as it’s very easy to get into trouble. Even when all seems calm on the surface, there are currents underneath that can pull boats down. The maelstrom can be found near the town of Bodø, which is just north of the Arctic Circle and so has a short period each year where you can see the midnight sun. It’s also pretty cold, so if you even attempt to sail near Saltstraumen make sure you’re wearing thermals! But it might just be worth it to see the world’s strongest maelstrom in action. An awesome sight, and one to be treated with respect.