Falling For Victoria Falls

C. Fraser Claire

A Centuries-Old Visitors' Guide To Victoria Falls

Falling For Victoria Falls: A Centuries-Old Visitor’s Guide

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Victoria Falls by The Safari Store

Reading Livingstone's build-up to and account of his first sighting of Victoria Falls is a reminder that the wonders of Africa have their bedrock in geology. This is a continent that has shifted and stretched over aeons, creating an interconnected series of natural marvels across human-made boundaries. These are the hallmarks of paradise – great waterfalls and extraordinary ancient inland seas. Viewed in isolation, they are amazing. Considered together, they elevate awe to almost supernatural strata.

The Zambezi's waters shape rock along the water's course. With up to 500 million litres of water falling 1708 metres every minute, the river is a competent sculptor. Geology shapes a changing story of the falls. Erosion is gradually altering the landscape and, with it, the 2500 kilometre course of one of the world’s most iconic rivers. Without knowing it, to visit the falls is to witness the magnificent ageing of the Earth and how she’s changed by the elements.

I grew up seeing photographs of Victoria Falls – huge, iridescent rainbow spray over sheets of cascading water. The facts and figures took on the rote of trivia: World Heritage Site, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the largest body of falling water in the world.

My younger self couldn’t possibly have understood how the Zambezi River would grow in allure to take the place of legends in my mind. I couldn’t have predicted that it is a river I would explore on one of The Safari Store’s expeditions – hippos and crocodiles on a boat by day and camping on islands by night. I didn’t know the degree to which these photographs diminish the scope of the sight and the gravity of the feeling as one looks upon the falls. →

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Batoka Gorge at Victoria Falls - by The Safari Store

Elementary: Water Beats Rock
Time and enormous volumes of falling water makes water the sculptor of African river courses and landscapes. Huge waterfalls are multi-sensory lessons in the power of water in all its different guises - and the Zambezi and Victoria Falls are booming African storytellers.

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Victoria Falls Zimbabwe Waterfall - by The Safari Store

My first visit to Victoria Falls was on the Zambian side – a dry season visit. The pathway walk felt like it added colour and a third dimension to the vintage picture I had in my mind of the riverine bush. I rounded a bend to see a statue of Livingstone, doffing his cap like a benevolent terracotta warrior. “Dr Livingstone, I presume,” Stanley said on stumbling upon the explorer after a 40-year disappearance into wild, largely unexplored Africa (by westerners, of course). I could take a page out of Livingstone’s book when it comes to travel.

'The smoke that thunders, the end of the world, a view so lovely it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.' I can almost hear Livingstone's voice quiver as he writes the words – moved to romance in his often categorical recollections.

From our era of scrolling website views, shiny brochures, bridge dives, and Devil’s Cataract swims on Instagram, I encourage you to step back. For Livingstone, Victoria Falls was a fabled piece of the puzzle that connects huge, dried up inland lakes in Botswana, marshes full of game, and people who were welcoming and warlike as this Scotsman went from place to place. →

Victoria Falls Bridge as seen from Victoria Falls Hotel - by The Safari Store

Linking Nations: Victoria Falls Bridge
Cecil John Rhodes had a vision of a railroad bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia, with the spray of the falls landing on the carriages. He died before construction on the bridge had finished. More than a hundred years after the bridge was completed, you can enjoy a scenic steam train ride and dinner. For the more adventurous at heart, bungee jumping is also on offer from the bridge.

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That said, even as centuries go by, Livingstone’s discovery and documentation of the falls is certainly within the realms of modern history. Long before western man arrived on Africa’s shores, some of the world’s earliest inhabitants hunted, gathered, settled, and fought with the falls in the near distance. Mosi-oa-Tunya – the smoke that thunders.

In a hard land of mosquitoes, wild beasts, and sometimes impenetrable bush and high heat, it’s perhaps no surprise that the falls and their monumental spray became a sacred place, a realm of water spirits showing their displeasure in boiling, angry water.

To Arab traders, they must have been an important landmark in the earliest treacherous trade routes. They were viewed as the end of the Earth. What would be the purpose of exploration beyond this point? We have found the Earth’s boundary with infinity.

As I stood in Zambia, looking at the falls for the first time, I couldn’t help but add a few falling tears to the flow of water that day. For millions of years, people have come across these falls, stood rooted to the earth and watched them in wonder. Livingstone said it was one of the most wonderful things he had seen in Africa and there was nothing to equal it in Europe. Everyone who visits them adds their whispered awe in those first moments – like a prayer of thanks for the beauty of Africa.

For those who bungee off bridges or white-water raft on the Zambezi, whispered appreciation turns to screams of joy. No matter the traveller – whether seeking thrills or stillness - the simple pleasures of clinky drinks soothe the heat and the vibrancy of the people in Victoria Falls town colour memories. →

Victoria Falls, Zambia - by The Safari Store

For millions of years, people have come across these falls, stood rooted to the earth and watched them in wonder.
Spray over Victoria Falls - by The Safari Store

Pot Of Gold
With rainbows dancing on the spray, chameleon sunlight makes a trip to Victoria Falls a technicoloured experience. Along the length of the waterfall's rainbows, you're rewarded with the spectacle of this incredible natural marvel.

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Baobab at Zambezi National Park by The Safari Store

I’ve since had the good fortune to return to Victoria Falls when the water was high – a chance to see this monument to Africa’s magnificence in its full splendour. I should have packed a raincoat. I stalked birds through the thickets as we walked from viewpoint to viewpoint – drenched, happy, and amazed by the roar and plunge, with punctuations of peace within the recesses. African sunlight danced on the spray in prisms of rainbow light and golden dew. I was thankfully sodden enough to hide the fact that I shed a few more tears at my second viewing of this magical place.

The terrace at Victoria Falls Hotel is yet another time machine. I sipped a cool gin and tonic and watched the incredible cloud of the falls from afar – a plume of mist that’s visible from an extraordinary 50 kilometres away. The train passing by and the bridge adds a manmade marvel to this natural wonder.

Some time exploring the area revealed land beyond the falls that is wild and wonderful. We met elephants on the road at night, looked at jungled islands through our binos, and saw crocodiles take dragon steps to the water’s edge, watching us through reptilian eyes from the hunting ground of the Zambezi waters. We saw Zambezi river cruises and helicopter flips and small planes chartering guests to their next stop on their Southern African odyssey. →

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Victoria Falls and Zambezi River by The Safari Store

Might It Be The Zambezi?
The Zambezi River is well-travelled. It flows through six countries on its way to the Indian Ocean, has stretches marked by interactions with humanity and, more importantly for nature-lovers, has great swathes that remain wild.

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On a trip to Hwange, we went through the Zimbabwean border with busloads of people headed to Victoria Falls. I managed to catch the chatter of big names of Southern Africa in foreign language sentences. Every year, around a million people visit Victoria Falls. For so many African travellers, there is a mercury pull to the place – a pinnacle component in the trip of a lifetime that draws people to this amazingly diverse continent.

As someone born in Africa, my compass needle is rooted on the continent that I call home. However, curiosity means it has also pointed north and taken me to Europe – to the marvellous cathedrals and cities that have forged civilisation on the opposite side of the equator.

As I sat in the Sacre Couer, twinkle of candlelight and the echo of visitors as they moved through the building, I was moved by the thought of the pull of the place. For more than a hundred years (a baby in Mosi-oa-Tunya terms), people have entered through its magnificent doors, become part of the hush. And, like me, they have sat in the pews with hearts full of hopes uttered in silence in this holy place.

For about a million people a year, there are powerful internal words uttered as they round the bend to the falls for the first time. This is something that has happened for people across the ages, in different skins, in different languages. Just as the fall of water has changed the earth and rock around it, I like to think there is something of the world that is changed for the better in these words that are felt and not spoken every day on a bend in the bush in Africa. And, perhaps, in the thundering smoke of the falls, we hear Africa’s tone of voice in response. →

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Victoria Falls Zimbabwe - by The Safari Store

Victoria Falls from the terrace at Victoria Falls Hotel - by The Safari Store

A Quintessential African Landmark
Africa is full of outstanding natural and manmade wonders. From Cape to Cairo, a lifetime of loving Africa would be incomplete without gazing upon the views of angels in their flight.

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What to wear to Victoria Falls - by The Safari Store

Look the Part in African Adventure Wear
Wondering what to wear to Victoria Falls? Wearing quick-drying, feather-light, sun protective clothing - with a compact, packable waterproof layer - are among our top packing tips for Vic Falls. Be sure to read our full packing advice page for practical and stylish clothing that's perfect for safari and African travel.

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The Zambezi at Victoria Falls - by The Safari Store

On Edge
From under the forest canopy, the viewpoints are a crescendo of sound, sight, and movement - a window to this extraordinary waterworld.

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Livingstone statue at Victoria Falls - by The Safari Store

Living Stone
There are statues of Livingstone on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of Victoria Falls. On a visit to this incredible destination, it's easy to imagine yourself a pioneer, joining a multitude of generations that are discovering the majesty of the Falls for the first time.

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Falling For Victoria Falls | What To Pack For Victoria Falls | Quick Travel Tips for Victoria Falls | Hide and Seek in Hwange National Park | What To Pack For a Safari To Hwange National Park | Hwange National Park Quick Travel Tips | Zambezi Expedition Zambia Safari Links:
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