Nov 29, 2018
Livingstone and The Victoria Falls: “The Most Wonderful Sight”
One of the most spectacular natural sites on the planet, "the smoke that thunders" is a destination for adventure sport, wildlife and luxury.
Before you read, remember this: Independent editorial isn't free. If you enjoy this article, please consider creating an account to support our journalism so we can keep going.
“Creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambezi, and saw that a stream of a thousand yards broad leaped down a hundred feet and then became suddenly compressed into a space of fifteen to twenty yards….the most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa.”
Although David Livingstone wrote these words in 1855, with a description like that, it is not hard to see why the Victoria Falls is one of the most spectacular natural sites on the planet, and still continues to delight and capture the imagination of travellers.
“the smoke that thunders”
The Victoria Falls is the result of thousands of years of erosion. The Zambezi River, flowing across a basalt plateau, in ancient times found cracks in the basalt that were filled with sandstone, and started wearing away the softer rock, eventually creating a series of magnificent and dramatic gorges. In fact the falls have been gradually receding for over 100,000 years! This process of erosion has been repeated over and over again, and the zigzagging gorges downstream of the current falls represent the formation and abandonment of seven previous waterfalls. Today the river crashes over a wide cliff, plunging down 108 metres into a powerful whirlpool, forming the greatest curtain of falling water on the planet, and transforming the placid river into a ferocious torrent. In the height of the rainy season more than five hundred million cubic metres of water a minute surge over the edge of the almost 2km wide falls and plummet into the gorge below… columns of spray can be seen from miles away, hence its Zambian local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”.
The Zambian and Zimbabwean sides offer very different views of the falls, so if you have time it’s worth visiting both sides to fully appreciate the whole waterfall. Aside from the lure of the Victoria Falls themselves, there are numerous activities to keep even the most ardent adventure seeker busy…
THE ZAMBIAN SIDE OF THE FALLS…
The minute you arrive at Thorntree Lodge you know you are in for a treat. Livingstone’s newest luxury river lodge has perfectly appointed rooms, right on the banks of the Zambezi. Sundowners beside your private swimming pool and wake up in the morning to drink tea in bed, with the vast expanse of river stretching out before you… these are all parts of the Thorntree experience. The lodge is located in the 66sq km Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, home to buffalo, zebra, giraffe, elephant, various antelope, warthog and much more. The park is also home to 12 endangered white rhino. For those times you feel you should be working off all the good food and wine that the lodge offers, but don’t want to miss out on any of the ‘wildlife action’, Thorntree even has a gym with a view, where you can visit the treadmill every morning and see birds, monkeys, baboons, giraffes and even elephants all while ‘running to nowhere’.
The Stanley Safari Lodge has a very different viewpoint and outlook to many of the other lodges in the area, most of which are built right on the river banks. At the Stanley you are perched on a hill overlooking unspoilt bush, with snaking stretches of the Zambezi River and the spray of the Victoria Falls visible in the distance. Friendly staff and great views make this a lovely lodge to visit.
Royal Chundu is located 60km from Livingstone, upstream of the falls. From the minute you arrive at the lodge you know you are in paradise! All your cares will melt away as you take the first sip of your welcome cocktail. The main lodge is located on the banks of the Zambezi and there is an even more exclusive island lodge, a short boat ride away. Luxurious rooms, complete with a bathtub on your verandah make for complete relaxation. During your stay you will be treated to the lodge’s special ‘tasting menu’… an inspired use of traditional Zambian ingredients, which can include the chef’s ingenious take on chibwantu (a traditional beer) served in a giant snail shell, and goes on to include the imaginative use of such ingredients as wild spinach and vinkubala (caterpillars). A really novel way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Islands of Siankaba, is built on two private islands in the middle of the Zambezi River. Wooden, thatched rooms, built on stilts, perched on the river’s edge, with verandahs jutting out over the water all interlinked by a series of raised wooden walkways. The walkways and suspension bridges that link the two islands together, give a definite air of adventure to the lodge. Sunset boat trips on the Zambezi River are highly recommended when staying at here and give a whole new perspective to the river, its islands, sandbanks and channels.
A stay at The Royal Livingstone Hotel is not complete without sampling their extravagant high tea, where you will be presented with a three tiered cake stand loaded with goodies, accompanied by your choice of any number of tea varieties and, of course, some sparkling wine. Another highly recommended addition to your stay is luxurious massage or beauty treatment in a gazeebo on the banks of the river. Breakfast at The Royal Livingstone is a delicious champagne breakfast, with all the trimmings, on the banks of the Zambezi while watching the spray of the falls, which are only a short walk from the hotel.
Maramba River Lodge is well located close to Livingstone town, and is a peaceful oasis amongst all the adrenalin that is the town itself. Whilst close enough to all the action that you can see microlights passing overhead, you still felt part of nature as you breakfast on a terrace overlooking a resident pod of hippos or the vervet monkeys who seem to find it safer to drink from the lodge swimming pool than brave crocodiles in the river. Close to all the activity and hustle and bustle of Livingstone Maramba maintains an air of tranquillity.
THINGS TO DO:
Spend a day rafting with Bundu Adventures, down what is quite probably the wildest commercial white-water in the world. A rafting adventure on the Zambezi River is definitely an adrenaline rush not to be missed. Downstream of the Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River is a kilometres long stretch of deep, zigzagging, torturous channels gouged out of the surrounding basalt, and the incredible volume of water guarantees an exhilarating day of white-water. When, at the pre departure briefing, you hear that the rapids have names like ‘The Terminator’, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Gnashing Jaws of Death’, you have an inkling of what lies ahead! Your day starts with a hike down to the ‘Boiling Pot,’ a massive whirlpool at the base of the Victoria Falls where you clamber aboard your raft and set off. Although stretches of the route are classed a high-octane Grade 5, there are several areas of scenic, calm water where you get the chance to swim alongside the raft for stretches of the river.
THE AFRICAN QUEEN, MOCROLIGHTING, HELICOPTER & CANOEING
Livingstone’s Adventure is a one stop shop for many of the adventurous options when visiting the falls. If you would prefer to ease yourself gracefully into the ‘adrenaline business’ sign up for an afternoon’s privately guided canoeing safari on the Zambezi, upstream of the Falls. Paddling between the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side and the Zambezi Game Park on the Zimbabwean side, you glide past elephants, pods of hippos and a great selection of birdlife.
If flying over the Falls in a contraption that resembles a couple of garden chairs, attached to a beach umbrella, with a lawnmower engine for propulsion is your cup of tea, then microlighting is definitely for you! Seriously though, whilst a microlight may look as fragile as a dragonfly, it is obviously far stronger than it appears, and in the hands of the passionate and experienced pilots it is without doubt one of the most breath-taking ways to see the one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
If the microlight sounds a little too adventurous, then you can always opt for a spectacular helicopter flight over the falls. Known as the ‘Flight of Angels’, this thrilling flight over the waterfall is a definite bucket-list activity. The views are breath-taking and give an entirely new perspective to the landscape below. You have a bird’s eye view of elephants crossing the river, pods of hippos congregating and flying over the Mosi oa Tunya National Park you look directly down on its wildlife.
A visit to Livingstone would not be complete without a river cruise, preferably at sunset, on The African Queen is a highly recommend choice. You travel at a stately speed up the Zambezi River above the falls, catching glimpses of hippos and crocs, and plied with gin & tonics and tasty snacks that are brought regularly by your ever attentive waitress.
The Royal Livingstone Express is a unique and different experience; a trip back in time to the luxury and grandeur of the bygone era of steam trains. An actual red carpet welcomes awaits as you mount the stairs to the train, with a glass of wine in hand. Wandering through the fabulously restored and renovated carriages you start the trip in the elegant lounge car. As the train sets off you nibble on smoked salmon canapés and enjoy a fascinating, humorous and informative talk about the history of the train, the bridge, Livingstone and Zambia in general. The train meanwhile makes its way to the Victoria Falls Bridge, where you alight to view the falls, and those who were interested can visit the driver in his compartment to learn a little more about the inner workings of the engine itself. Boarding the train again, you move into the dining car and are treated to a delicious five course dinner, as the train gathers speed and heads off into the night.
SHEARWATER BUNGEE JUMPING, BRIDGE SWING & BRIDGE TOUR
Jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge is definitely and all time ultimate adrenaline activity. At 110m it is the highest commercial bridge jump in the world and in the most spectacular setting. Even if you are not brave enough to jump yourself it is still worth stopping to watch those who are, as they throw themselves into the abyss. Shearwater offers bungee, bridge swing and zip lining off the iconic bridge.
Shearwater also offer a really good ‘behind the scenes’ look at the famous Victoria Falls bridge. Even though he never visited the falls and actually died before the construction began, when Cecil Rhodes was presented with plans of the proposed Zambezi River crossing, he apparently drew a line across the Boiling Pot (the point directly below the falls where the water exists from the chasm of the Victoria Falls) and declared that this was where he wanted a bridge. Rhodes envisaged the spray from the falls landing on the trains as they crossed the bridge, and indeed for many years after the completion of the bridge, trains used to stop for a few minutes in its centre, so that his dream could be realised. On the bridge tour you are attached to the bridge by a series of cables and carabineers and walk beneath it with your guide, on the original catwalk, while learning a about its construction and history.
THE ZIMBABWEAN SIDE OF THE FALLS…
Accessible only by boat, the luxurious Chundu Island is a tear drop shaped island in the Zambezi River, 21kms upstream of The Victoria Falls, in the Zambezi National Park. At just over a kilometre long and about half a kilometre wide, the camp is spread out amongst huge Mahogany, Acacia and Water Berry trees. To reach the island you drive through the National Park, home to elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, many more animals and over 400 species of birds, before a short boat ride across to the island. The lodge has a great atmosphere, great food and a really special setting. Perfectly located for game viewing, boat trips, fishing and canoeing.
Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls, is just a stone’s throw from the falls themselves, so close in fact that in most rooms you can see the spray from the falls without even having to get out of bed! Aside from the rooms, there are two definite highlights of a stay at Ilala. The first is the wildlife that roams through the hotel grounds, including a family of banded mongoose, hippo, warthog, baboons and monkeys. The second is the hotel’s Palm Restaurant, where at dinner you are spoilt for choice, with such exotic items as warthog, crocodile, kudu and ostrich all on the menu.
VICTORIA FALLS SAFARI LODGE & SAFARI SUITES
The Victoria Falls Lodge and Safari Suites is an ideal place to feel away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation, yet still be close to the falls. The focus of the lodge is definitely on wildlife, with animals roaming through the grounds and visible from the rooms, there is even a ‘vulture restaurant’ where guests can see the daily feeding of these fascinating birds. The lodge’s own restaurant, the MaKuwa-Kuwa, overlooks the lodge’s waterhole, providing an ideal vantage point to watch wildlife while you eat.
THINGS TO DO:
Lunch at the seriously funky Zambezi House is highly recommended. Constructed from old shipping containers and located on the banks of the Zambezi River. The quirky retro décor, great vibe, riverside location and good food all combine to make this a ‘must visit’ place. The Zambezi House also offers evening entertainment with music and live comedy nights.
Built by the British in 1904 and one of the oldest hotels in Africa, the Victoria Falls Hotel was originally built as accommodation for workers on the Cape to Cairo railway. Now a luxury hotel, if you can’t stay there then High Tea on the verandah of the hotel, with its dramatic views down the gorges to The Falls and the famous bridge, is highly recommended. An elegant setting for the eating of scones, cucumber sandwiches, cakes, macaroons and more!
Named for one of the guides who led David Livingstone to the falls, a sunset cruise on the Ra-Ikane is a great experience. The small luxury cruise boat carries only 14 people on board and is outfitted with period décor, so you really get the feeling of a bygone era. Travelling upstream as the sun sets you see a great variety of wildlife in a really peaceful setting.