The proverbial fire burns brightly in Victoria Falls, and this established world wonder is now a world-class destination.
A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Victoria Falls is one of Africa’s greatest geographical features. You’ll realise its sheer enormity before you even properly set eyes on it. The moment you arrive in the town that bears its name, you’ll hear hear its roar and see its high plume of white mist rising into the African sky. Little wonder the locals called the waterfalls “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (the smoke that thunders).
It won’t be long before you are lured to the entrance of the Victoria Falls National Park. There you’ll be surprised by something you haven’t seen anywhere else in Zimbabwe – an incredibly lush rainforest of fig, mahogany and date palm trees, with a large profusion of scarlet lilies and wold yellow gladioli thrown in for good measure. Living off the perpetual spray, this rainforest surrounds the waterfalls and forms picturesque canopies over many of the park’s walking paths. While variegated butterflies flutter through the shadows and rainbows, countless birds fill the forest and ride on the winds created by the plummeting waters.
The network of trails takes you right up to Victoria Fall’s thunderous face. Poised at suitable intervals are some incredible viewpoints: Devils Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe Falls. At the end of the walk is the dramatic Danger Point. Jutting out on the cliff edge and looking straight down the abyss to the Boiling Pot, a legendary eddy deep in Batoka Gorge, this vista is delightfully dizzying.
Look up and across the chasm and you’ll see the serene, smooth-flowing Zambezi rapidly changing its character into a furious, frothing force of falling whitewater. The waterfall seem to spread out endlessly on either side of you – it is the longest mile you’ll have ever seen. The average height of the cataract – 100m – is no less impressive. At its maximum flow, which peaks in April, some 550 million liters of water cascade into the chasm every minute.
Besides viewing the spectacular curtain of water itself, there are numerous activities on and around the Zambezi. Above the falls, on the Upper Zambezi, canoeing is a great way to explore. It is also a tranquil way to observe wildlife, which ranches from elephants to tiny birds. Full-day, 18 km trips are done in inflatable two-person canoes, with a lovely stop on an island for a picnic lunch. Shorter, three-hour breakfast or sunset trips are done in three-person fiberglass canoes, which means there’s a helpful guide on board to paddle while you enjoy snacks and drinks. While there is less effort involved on sun-downer river cruises, which are done in larger pontoon-style powerboats., there is certainly no less enjoyment to be had.
These cruises tend to explore the shorelines of the islands slowly, offering you opportunities to see wildlife as they come down to drink in the early evening. Elephants are often observed in this manner – some people even get the change to see them swimming across the river between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The Zambezi River Driver, which starts from the Victoria Falls National Park, is a scenic walk, and there are plenty of picnic and fishing sites along the river’s edge. After a kilometer you’ll reach the Big Tree, an ancients baobab with gnarly, spiky branches (and some vintage graffiti from early 1900s). With a vehicle, you can head a further 45 km upstream to Zambezi National Park, which is home to no less than the Big Five and a variety of other large mammals.
For those of you with an extra swing in your step, views of the Upper Zambezi can also be enjoyed from the renowned Gary Player-designed Elephant Hills golf course. Sightings of impala and sable on the fairways – all with a doe-eyed look appraising your swing – are commonplace.
If you’d rather someone else did the walking, trails for horse riding operate at the top of the gorge, as do some for those of you who feel like climbing atop an elephant. The two-hour elephant-back ride travel along the top of the gorge to the site overlooking Rapid 9.
If you’d rather rely on gravity to get you moving there are four notable heart-stopping options: an 111m-high bungee jump, a 425m-long zip-line, a g-force inducing gorge swing and vertical abseiling.
The bungee takes off from the middle of Victoria Falls Bridge, which connects Zimbabwe with Zambia. While challenging terrifying and crazy, the jump has managed a 100% per cent safety record (impressive, considering more than 50, 000 visitors have taken the plunge). While the Bloukrans River bridge is the highest bungee in Africa, this jump’s backdrop of Victoria Falls and the Zambezi’s swirling rapids makes it a unique experience. The zip-line, which is thought to be the world’s longest, speeds you up to 105km/h (another world record). The gorge swing, which drops you 70m vertically before speeding you across the gorge, is unbelievable. Take an abseil and you can choose to di it backwards (as normal) or forwards. The latter involves you doing a “rap jump” which is running or walking straight down the vertical rock face!
The best way for you to experience the river itself can get a bit wet – well, soaked actually. Running the Zambezi Grade 5 rapids, which sport names such as Devil’s Toilet and the Stairway to Heaven, in an inflatable raft is said to be the wildest one-day whitewater rafting experience in the world. River conditions are determined by seasonal fluctuations in water levels: during low-water season (when the water is the roughest!) rapid numbers 1-18 are run for approximately 24 km; and during high-water season, rapids 11-23 are run over approximately 28km. You can also combine river-boarding with rafting while you surf the rapids with a body-board. This option allows you to stop at play spots to tide whirlpools.
Kayaking is a go with duo kayaks being used with a guide. During your paddle you may see the occasional baboon, vervet monkey, klipspinger or crocodile (ah YES, really). The crocs are small though, due to the unsuitability of the rushing river here as a habitat, plus crocs don’t live in fast flowing rapids, exactly the spot where you are most likely to be chucked off in a raft! 🙂 More impressive are the birds, especially raptors: taita falcon, black eagle and augur buzzard can be seen on the cliffs.
The best way to appreciate the full scope of the immense size of Victoria Falls is from the sky. Not only will a helicopter give you a bird’s eye view from above, but it will also sink you right down between the cliffs to the Zambezi, where you can see it twisting and turning through the steep-sided gorge!
Finally, after exploring the Zambezi and Victoria Falls, finish off with high tea at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel. Think three-tiered silver platters of cucumber sandwiches and fancy cakes. This is most definitely a Vic Falls MUST-DO. From the hotel’s glorious terrace, you can still feel the Fall’s moist spray as it kisses the lush lawns. Dr. David Livingston’s words still rings true today as they did in 1855 when the first European lay eyes on “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (the smoke that thunders).
” It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon angels in their flight”
Dr. David Livingston
For more on the Vic Falls and how to experience it for yourself contact Mango today while we do the planing and you do the packing.