This week we are taking a closer look at one of Africa’s most iconic sights- the Victoria Falls, also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Cloud that Thunders.
One of the most famous waterfalls in the world, the Victoria Falls are created where the River Zambezi drops from the flat plains into a narrow rocky chasm carved out by the river. This chasm or gorge is so narrow that the river is truly squeezed into a tiny space as it pours in, creating the famous river rapids so beloved of white-water rafters. The mighty river cascades over the rocky edge of the plain and falls 355 feet in depth at its mid point and over 5,604 feet in width. It is regarded as the largest waterfall in the world despite it being neither the tallest or widest but a combination of the two. The Victoria Falls are so special they have UNESCO World Heritage Status. The two main flows of water over the Falls are split by two islands; Cataract Island and Livingstone Island. During the dry season when the water level falls more, islands appear and divide the river into parallel streams all of which have their own names: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract.
The highest water levels are between February and May with the peak usually in April when the Falls are at their most powerful. The spray from the Falls rises up to 1,300 feet in the air which can then be seen from up to 30 miles away. In fact the mist cloud is so overwhelming it isn’t possible to see the foot of the waterfall or the gorge! It is best to visit Victoria Falls when the water levels have dropped slightly. Even in the dry months of September to January there is still water pouring through and also various walks along the river and falls are available that are not possible during the wetter months.
David Livingstone the famous Victorian explorer was the first European to see the Falls although there have been many Stone Age discoveries in the area indicating it was a popular spot even 50,000 years ago. It was Livingstone who renamed them Victoria Falls after the reining monarch. He was so enamoured of their beauty he wrote, “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.”
The Victoria Falls share the border between both Zambia and Zimbabwe so can be visited from both countries. There is a huge range of accommodation available in both, from small eco-camps to large luxury 5 star hotel resorts. The town of Victoria Falls is in Zimbabwe and the town of Livingstone in Zambia and these both form the main bases for tourism in the area. Other activities around the Falls include bungee jumping, white water rafting, canoeing on the Zambezi and going on safari in the nearby national parks of Zambia or Botswana. Elephant, buffalo, giraffe, crocodiles and hippo are commonly seen on safari, and if you are extremely lucky you might catch a glimpse of a lion or leopard.
By Ruth Hardy