David Livingstone wrote after seeing the falls for the first time –
“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”
Sounds a bit melodramatic you may say, but having seen the falls myself again after 17 years, I can’t help thinking he was spot on.
It was back in 1998 that we first visited Victoria Falls during a driving tour of Zimbabwe and the intervening years had made my memories somewhat fuzzy, so it was like seeing the Falls for the first time and the experience was truly breath-taking.
This time around, I was part of a group of professionals that had come to visit the new Vic Falls airport under construction, accompanied by our client, and with the business side taken care of in the morning, we ventured into Victoria Falls National Park in the afternoon before returning to Kasane in Botswana.
The entrance to the National Park at Victoria Falls is quite unimposing and does not prepare you for the experience that lies ahead.
Once we had paid our $20 entrance fee, we took the pathway which initially winds its way to the David Livingstone statue – this famous Scottish missionary “discovered” the falls (they were always there and known to generations of African inhabitants, of course) on 17 November 1855, so the 160th anniversary is coming up next month.
After the statue you get to the first viewpoint with breath-taking views of the thundering waters, veiled in a thick spray which caused rainbows to form at the time of day we were there. The spray shoots up vertically in massive columns and you realize why the indigenous name is Mosi-oa Tunya or the “Smoke that Thunders”. Apparently the Zimbabwean government intends to rename the falls to Mosi-oa Tunya, hardly surprising I suppose.
A group of Asian nuns (Korean?) were enjoying the experience and I couldn’t resist asking them if I could take a photo, as they looked quite charming in their habits with floppy sun hats and petite stature – they did not object.
As you walk the designated pathways there are regular viewpoints where you can admire the different sections of the falls, which is the largest sheet of falling water in the world (although not the highest or widest) and twice the height of Niagara Falls at 108m. The mass of water, which averages over 1000 m3 per second, drops into a transverse chasm or gorge which is 1708m wide, then continues its way down the Batoka gorge (which my son Stephan and I rafted back in 1998 when I still had the desire for such things) through some spectacular rapids before becoming calmer and forming the mighty Zambesi River once more as it makes its way to Lake Kariba and beyond Kariba through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean.
The main streams of the falls have names –
- Devil’s Cataract
- Main Falls
- Rainbow Falls
- Eastern Cataract
We continued our meander along the path which follows the Zimbabwe side of the gorge for a Km or more, stopping at the regular viewpoints which allow views from strategically placed points.
Where the spray up flow is at its heaviest there is a constant “rainfall”, which wasn’t too heavy during our visit as the falls are at their lowest flow in October/November, but at other times requires a raincoat to prevent a drenching. It is along this stretch that a permanent rainforest has formed and it was a welcome relief from the sun’s heat while it also afforded the best views of the widest section of falling water.
Further along where the spray does not reach, the rainforest petered out and suddenly we were in grassy savannah with good views back along the length of the gorge and across at the strands of water cascading down the sheer face of the rocks.
Some brave tourists (or foolish perhaps?) out for adventure on the Zambian side, were bathing in a pool on the edge of the falls – this can only be attempted in the low-water season for obvious reasons. This activity has claimed a few lives over the years.
The pathway ends at the point where the gorge does a 90 degree turn and from there we made our way slowly back to the main entrance.
And the Birding?
This was not a birding outing but I had my binos and camera handy as usual and encountered a few worthwhile species
- Red-billed Firefinch
- Trumpeter Hornbill which played hide-and-seek with me in the rainforest
- Tropical Boubou busy catching and eating an insect of sorts – my first photo of this species
All that remained was to leave this wonderful spot and say “Bin there, Done that”