Africa isn’t the most visited continent and people who do venture out here are often attracted by the big hitters: The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Serengeti National Park…and Mosi-oa-Tunga. You may not know the latter by its local title but you will have definitely heard of its other moniker.
Acting as the most spectacular part of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Africa’s most iconic water drop is a simply incredible thing to witness. Sometimes you get enveloped in the surprisingly warm mist, unable to see feet in front of you. Then the fog will suddenly disperse, leaving you with an awesome sight.
Not just incredible to see, either. Mosi-oa-Tunga translates as ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ and it is a very apt description of the volume of the waterfalls.
The other volume is also staggering at this time of year. At its peak, which is just about now, a simply ludicrous 500 million litres of water splashes and sloshes over the edge every minute. To put that into perspective, that’s equivalent to South Africa’s water usage in an entire day. Some of that gets you very wet as you cross a small bridge to get a better view, such is the velocity of the water and the swirl of the wind.
They are an awe-inspiring sight. It’s little wonder that David Livingstone, often associated with being the first European to see them, described the world’s longest continuous curtain of water as ‘the most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa’. The rainbows, appearing from the mist, were magical.
Livingstone embarked on a journey up the Zambezi river, which includes the falls, in 1858. It is a beautiful, wide river, shimmering blue under an often cloudless sky. The clouds that rise from it is the 'smoke' - the magical mist produced from the sheer and sudden drop.
The sun sets in the opposite direction to the falls. We had a spectacular sunset on our first night; unfortunately, the 'sunset cruise' we took on the final night quickly turned into a thunder and lightning cruise.
Some nods to Livingstone’s era are prevalent in the area, such as the main town on the Zambian side being named in his honour. Britishness is certainly the order of the day at the eponymous hotel, situated with a view of the smoke from their pristine green lawn. Afternoon tea here was a pleasant though exorbitant affair. Personally, I hope they invest some of my $35 into making more efficient fans to keep you cool on a sunny Zambian afternoon. I guess you pay for the location – and the free-roaming zebras – as much as the cake.
Of course, times have changed since then. Nowadays the thunder of the falls is occasionally drowned out by the buzzing of microlights and the whirring of helicopters, offering fantastic views of the waterfall and the Zambezi above and below. On ground level, my first impression was that there was a fire in the distance. This is actually the ‘smoke’ – the mist emanating from Victoria Falls many kilometres away.
You can also get some spectacular views without your feet leaving the ground. The boiling pot, a strange occurrence at river level where the currents clash and merge to form a series of whizzing whirlpools, gives you a better idea of the river’s speed. It’s lovely when the mist from the falls moves through the rift, creating vivid rainbows. A beautiful sight.
The main border crossing between Zim-Zam is also here: the Victoria Falls Bridge. Built in 1905 and standing 128 metres above the rushing water of the Zambezi, it also gives you a great view of the murky mist generated by the power of the waterfall.
The bridge also serves as a focal point for thrill-seekers. You can zipline…
…take a rope swing…
…and, most breathtakingly, bungee jump head-first towards the rapid river below…
Channelling my inner YOLO (Google it if you don’t know), I decided to try all three in that order. I’d actually decided to do the bungee months in advance. Remarkably, I didn’t feel any nerves until right before the final fling. There weren’t any thoughts of backing out, but the combination of your legs being tied together and the bridge crew pushing you off makes any fear pointless.
As you can see from the video, I was tossed around like a rag doll after the end of the initial leap. The first second-and-a-half was exhilarating, mainly because I found it difficult to process the fact that I was hurtling vertically 111m towards impending doom. After that it was a combination of disorientating, painful and generally unenjoyable until I was the right way up again.
I much preferred the rope swing, which essentially is the same concept but being the right way up. Swinging like Tarzan (minus the arms), dropping 70 metres towards the Zambezi was a simply amazing, white-knuckle adventure.
The zipline, being gentler than the other two heart-stoppers, allowed me to take in a gorgeous view of the river, bridge and falls.
Victoria Falls is on many people's bucket list as a place to visit. Having visited, I can tell you that you should bump it up towards the top. The waterfalls have a stunning impact on all of your senses: Mosi-oa-Tunga is certainly an apt description. In high water season, they are breathtaking. If they don't, there are other ways for Victoria Falls to take your breath away...
Love you all