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Travel

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.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

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…

ACCOMMODATION:

THORNTREE RIVER LODGE:

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’.

STANLEY SAFARI LODGE

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

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

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.

ROYAL LIVINGSTONE HOTEL

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

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:

WHITE WATER RAFTING

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.

Canoe down the mighty Zambezi spotting abundant birdlife as you gently drift downstream

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.

The flight back to the airstrip from the Victoria Falls follows the impressive landscape of the Zambezi River, the islands and the National Park

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.

Batoka Sky operates three helicopters doing scenic flights over the Victoria Falls, Batoka Gorge and the Zambezi River

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.

Enjoy delicious snacks and sundowners while listening for the cry of the fish eagle in the fading sunlight hours

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.

ROYAL LIVINGSTONE EXPRESS

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…

ACCOMMODATION:

CHUNDU ISLAND

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

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:

ZAMBEZI HOUSE

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.

VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL

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!

RA-IKANE

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.

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Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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