The smoke that thunders
Nothing can prepare you for the moment you see ‘the falls’ with your own eyes. Mosi-oa-Tunya in the local tongue, The Smoke that thunders. The rest of the world knows it as Victoria Falls and it is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena on earth. And that with beautiful game parks in the hinterland and a variety of spectacular activities. Off to Zimbabwe…and Zambia, and Botswana…
By Tijn Kramer
One waterfall is not the other. I knew Niagara Falls and it is well worth a visit. But it’s a different order. Victoria Falls overwhelms, is much wider, taller, more intensely, wetter too. You can visit the phenomenon from two sides: Zimbabwe and Zambia. We do both. If you have to choose, choose Zimbabwe, but if you can, look on both sides, because the views are not copies. Each side offers a wonderfully unique experience. If you’re successful, you get a rainbow and it looks like you’re in some kind of science fiction movie, the new Avatar, or a distant Star Wars planet.
Back to the beginning. Victoria Falls Airport is easy to fly from Johannesburg and Cape Town also has a daily flight. We take the latter. In three hours by small Embraer 135 we land comfortably at the small airport where our agent is waiting (see box). ‘Vic Falls’ is of course a Unesco tourist attraction pur sang and there is therefore a wide choice of hotels and lodges, for every budget. However, we choose one of the most legendary hotels in the world: The Victoria Falls Hotel, a relic from Victorian times, with a wonderful view of the gorge leading to the falls. It’s all with a hint of retro romance in a way. Hotels like this hardly exist anymore. Its history is grand, with many famous names, including the British Queen, many presidents and other celebrities. It may not be at its peak anymore, but that shouldn’t take away from the fun. You want to sleep here, if the budget allows. It is also the starting point of a very special train journey, about which more later. First look at warthogs that walk on the grass of the hotel. Darlings.
Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is a waterfall on the Zambezi River and one of the world’s largest waterfalls, with a width of 1,708 meters. The falls are drenched in history. ‘David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, is the first European recorded to have viewed the falls on 16 November 1855, from what is now known as Livingstone Island, one of two land masses in the middle of the river. Livingstone named his sighting in honor of Queen Victoria, but the Sotho language name, Mosi-oa-Tunya—”The Smoke That Thunders”—continues in common usage.
The falls are formed where the full width of the river plummets in a single vertical drop into a transverse chasm 1,708 meters (5,604 ft) wide, carved by its waters along a fracture zone in the basalt plateau. The depth of the chasm, called the First Gorge, varies from 80 meters (260 ft) at its western end to 108 meters (354 ft) in the center. The only outlet to the First Gorge is a 110-meter-wide (360 ft) gap about two-thirds of the way across the width of the falls from the western end. The whole volume of the river pours into the Victoria Falls gorges from this narrow cleft.
There are two islands on the crest of the falls that are large enough to divide the curtain of water even at full flood: Boaruka Island (or Cataract Island) near the western bank, and Livingstone Island near the middle — the point from which Livingstone first viewed the falls. At less than full flood, additional islets divide the curtain of water into separate parallel streams. The main streams are named, in order from Zimbabwe (west) to Zambia (east): the Devil’s Cataract (called Leaping Water by some), the Main Falls, the Rainbow Falls (the highest) and the Eastern Cataract.’ As you may well know, in the proper season you can take a careful dip in the Cataract! The photo opportunity of a lifetime. (source Wikipedia)
And then there is the Zambezi, the river but also the local beer brand. It combines very well on an evening river cruise. We enter a lovely boat that seats us at a lovely two people table with river view, hosted by Pure Africa, as in 3 hours we will sail through the waters of the two countries: Zimbabwe and Zambia. We see a lot of wildlife, rhinoceroses and a small crocodile, plus a beautiful light show when it started to storm. That can also be part of it, but the crew was well prepared and keeps everyone dry. Dinner is also welcome, not haute cuisine but just pleasantly tasty: pre-dinner snacks, a tomato soup, a choice between fish and a very good steak and dessert. That supplemented with an endless amount of wine and drinks … you have a great time as a group, as we also saw on the boat. An ideal group activity!
It is also worth having someone tell you about the history. Davind Livingstone is in fact an explorer who was way ahead of his time, starting with being vehemently anti-slavery back in his day. In 2022 it is a bit strange to pretend that he had discovered the waterfalls himself for the world, because the local Africans have known it for a long time. You cannot discover something that was already there in some sense. Still, he opened it up to the rest of the world. ‘In November 1855, David Livingstone was the first European who saw the falls, when he traveled from the upper Zambezi to the mouth of the river between 1852 and 1856. The falls were well known to local tribes, and Voortrekker hunters may have known of them, as may the Arabs under a name equivalent to “the end of the world”. Livingstone had been told about the falls before he reached them from upriver and was paddled across to a small island that now bears the name Livingstone Island in Zambia. Livingstone had previously been impressed by the Ngonye Falls further upstream, but found the new falls much more impressive, and gave them their English name in honor of Queen Victoria. He wrote of the falls, “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Livingstone’s story becomes much more captivating and exciting, making for ideal reading material on the go!
But wait! There is more. The great thing about the Falls is of course that we are also close to several National Parks. We even cross the border for a day trip to the Chobe National Park in neighboring Botswana, a good hour’s drive from our hotel.
The national parks contain abundant wildlife including sizeable populations of all the classics, from elephant to buffalo, zebra and giraffe. And yes, also those beautiful antelopes.The river above the falls contains large populations of hippopotamus and crocodile. Whether or not you have been on many a game drive, the magic remains.
But time for action! The added bonus of Victoria Falls is the adventures it offers! Chopper rides above the falls, or even better: microlight flights! awesome. A real daredevil? Gorge swinging, bungee jumping and white water rafting! wow. We connect to the Victoria Falls DMC offers a specialized full service Destination Management incentive travel solution into Victoria Falls, as well as safari extensions into Botswana and Zambia.’Southern Africa offers a number of superb conference and meetings locations. Victoria Falls in particular has some very unique and exciting options including top international hotels. Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an acclaimed Adventure Capital of Africa and very readily accessible at the very heart of southern Africa.
Tingle your senses by combining your conference or meeting with some awesome adventures, whether conferencing in the African bush just a stones throw from the mighty Victoria Falls, or enjoying a post meeting Sundowner Cruise / networking event drifting down the Zambezi. Our talented and creative team stands ready to conjure up a creative and memorable itinerary to turn your next conference or meeting into an exceptional experience. Conference differently!’ says Kumbi Chiweshe of the DMC, that is a member of SITE and ICCA.
After two nights we are in awe. Of this wonderful place, of the friendliness of the local people. From the amazing viewpoints, and the mighty animals of this mighty continent. It is such an unforgettable treat to be here and an incentive to consider if you aim for that ‘once in a lifetime never forget’ effect. Especially in combination with the wildlife Victoria Falls in really unique. We have to go, another adventure awaits, four night on Rovos Rail, one of the most luxurious trains in the world. But that’s for next issue. For now, let’s dream about the smoke that thunders.
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