Guide: Victoria Falls

Guide: Victoria Falls

By ABTA Magazine staff

It’s difficult to imagine the sheer power and force of Victoria Falls. The spray rising from the sheet of falling water – said to be the longest in the world – is visible from afar and when I step out of the plane at the airport the noise is deafening: later I’m told that the roar of water tumbling from the two kilometre-wide Zambezi River into a series of basalt gorges more than 100m below can be heard from Chundukwa River Lodge 30km away.

The indigenous Kalolo-Lozi people, in whom the immense waterfall inspired a sacred fear, nicknamed it Mosi-oa-Tunya or ‘the smoke that thunders’. David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer who discovered the falls in 1855 while preaching Christianity in Africa, renamed them in honour of Queen Victoria. Livingstone, who was paddling down the Zambezi in a dugout canoe at the time, wrote in his diary of “scenes so lovely that they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”. 

Stretched between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the immense cataract has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1989 and encompasses three national parks: Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park and Zambezi National Park. The parks are home to large populations of elephants, giraffes, Katanga lions and African panthers, while the stream over the falls is inhabited by hippos and crocodiles.

Another nickname for the cataract is Chongwe – ‘the place of the rainbow’ – because of the spray that rises from the thundering water. Stalls at the entrance  to the falls rent all-enveloping oilskins: a warning of the soaking that you can expect, especially when you visit during the wet season from December to April when views from a series of slippery steps and narrow bridges are breathtaking, but it’s difficult to take photos through the drenching spray. 

In the dry season, however, from May to November, the water level in the Zambezi River drops sharply and it becomes possible to visit hitherto hidden areas, including Boaruka or Cataract Island near the western bank, and Livingstone Island, so named because this is from where the Scots explorer first spotted the falls. During the dry season adventurous travellers can also swim in the Devil’s Pool, a natural basin teetering on the edge of the cataract, which can only be accessed from the Zambian side of the Zambezi River.

It’s also possible to take a guided walking tour to enjoy dizzy views over the Zambezi River from the Victoria Falls Bridge, the bridge that was commissioned in the early 1900s by politician and entrepreneur Cecil John Rhodes as part of his scheme to build a railway network stretching from Cape Town to Cairo. Rhodes famously told engineers to “build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls”. 

These days adrenaline activity lovers can catch some of that spray on the Shearwater, a terrifying 111m bungee jump from the bridge, which is said to be one of the best in the world.

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