There is something about the Victoria Falls which captured my imagination early on in my career. It’s not just the size of the falls, although this is impressive, it being twice the height of the Niagara Falls – and several times wider. I think it was the stories of early explorers who navigated the Zambezi river and forged their way deeper into Africa. I always wondered what it must have been like in those days, to join an expedition must have taken an immense sense of adventure. The allure of the falls is today no less fascinating to the world and the destination is often utilised very successfully as an add on to a safari in either Botswana, Zambia or Zimbabwe. It is incredible to stand in awe of the vast amount of water plunging over into a deep chasm. The surrounding forests and nature are also pleasant, and the guided tours offer a wealth of information about the geographical and historical aspects of this wonder.
The last time I was there it was in full flow, being at a high–water level, and although it was offered to me, I refused the raincoat. I wanted to feel the full spray of the falls, the mist and the rain it creates as it thunders over the side is all part of an already impressive visual and auditory experience. Note, however, I got sopping wet (protect your camera with rainproof gear before attempting this), but in the heat of the day, by the time I had walked back from the tour to enjoy an ice–cold beer at the Victoria Falls hotel, I was dry. The falls, of course, flows at different rates through the year, so depending what time of year you go, the spray will be less intense. It’s important to note that climate change is also having an effect on the falls and as with many things in the world we need to do all we can to preserve this natural institution of southern Africa.
While the falls is the primary reason that most travellers will go here, a lot of the time it is assumed that this is a one–stop wonder worthy of only a night or two at best. Not at all and those that shorten their stay are missing out. Both the Zambian and Zimbabwean side have a variety of experiences on offer. While I spoke about the adventures of the early explorers, it remains a place of adventure. With some of the greatest rapids in Africa, a visit to the falls is complemented well by an adrenalin–filled white–water rafting experience, or perhaps, if that isn’t enough, then you can bungee jump off the Victoria Balls bridge and truly get to plunge into the depth of the great ravine, the immense body of water just in front of you. Another option and one which I would say was a highlight for me, was to take the Flight of Angels helicopter excursion over the falls. It was only by flying over it that I truly appreciated the immensity of not only the falls but also the Zambezi river.
Remember you can visit the falls on both sides of the river and it is definitely worth seeing it from both sides. The view from Zimbabwe gives you a frontal visual assault as the water rushes towards you over the edge. On the Zambian side you watch the Zambezi River head over the edge and into the abyss. To amplify this experience, I would recommend heading to Livingstone Island, where you can stand on the literal edge and if brave enough take a swim in the devils pool and small rock pool on the edge of the falls that provides a small safe haven and stops you from being swept over the side. Of course, this isn’t done when the water is in full flow as you need to walk across to get to the pool. Add this to the list I have already described and I think it’s about as much adrenalin-filled adventure one can take.
Beyond the falls
Those that prefer to keep their adrenalin at a normal level can head off to the market and shop for African made souvenirs; or to one of the hotels for lunch. Speaking of food, there is an option to experience various cultural evenings and sample some uniquely African food and even enjoy with some post–dinner drumming. The safari doesn’t need to end here either. There’s Mosi oa Tunya National Park on the Zambian side, which has a variety of large mammals to observe on wildlife drives and walks. On the Zimbabwe side, a stay at Matetsi means you are already in a superb wildlife reserve, home to elephant, lion and many more species. With some top guiding from the expert Matetsi lodge guides, this private safari area is by no means a lesser cousin to the larger reserves in the region.
It takes a village
There are many communities in the region and there are of course opportunities to visit local villages. Some of the lodges offer a fantastic bicycle ride and village tour which I think is a far more unique – and much less obtrusive – way to arrive at someone’s home. It is important to remember that Zimbabwe – as you are probably aware – has had its share of turmoil and is still in a recovery phase. It has never been more important than to visit this country now. Communities and wildlife rely almost solely on the tourism investment in Zimbabwe and simply just visiting and exploring beyond the one–day wonder of the Victoria Falls adds tremendous value not only for the traveller, but broadens the reach that a positive tourism model can have on the larger community.
River of life
The Zambezi River is a constant feature and is ever present in either the position of your hotel or your activity and many clients have commented that simply taking the time to enjoy the surroundings and river from the comfort of your room is something that warrants an extra afternoon or morning. A cruise on the river is something which I think also captures the magic and mystery of this place and again takes me back to the days of those who navigated these great rivers. Elephants walk along the banks while we glide past in our boat just as they would have for centuries and I believe the nostalgia is still here and hopefully always will be. A sense of adventure and wonder is all they needed then and it’s all you need now.