Victoria Falls, with its furious collage of sound and color and earth-shaking movement, is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
In 1855, David Livingstone, a famous Scottish explorer, first saw the falls while trying to maneuver a dugout canoe through swirling rapids. Upon seeing it, he is said to have exclaimed, “Seems so lovely, it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” No one knows for sure, though, because, at the time, he was preoccupied with keeping his craft ;upright.
Today, though, the trip’s a bit easier. Guests embark from the luxurious Tongabezi Lodge and arrive at the little island named for Livingston, on the lip of the falls, in a twin engine speedboat. And they’re treated to lunch or afternoon tea amidst the thunderous roar and cascading waters and thick mists of this geologic giant.
Dr. Livingstone named the falls after Queen Victoria. To the locals on both sides of the Zambia/Zimbabwe border, through which the falls cuts, it’s called Mosi-oa-Tunya – “Smoke That Thunders.” It’s the largest waterfall in the world based on height (360 feet) and width (more than a mile).
When Zambia gained independence in 1964, officials changed street and city names from British to African – except for the city of Livingstone and Victoria Falls. This reflected the deep respect and appreciation the people of Zambia had for the Scottish missionary.
Zimbabweans apparently felt the same. They actually established a sister city to Livingstone, calling it Victoria Falls.
Travelers can access the falls through either Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The legendary Zambezi River, which originates in northern Zambia, serves as the fall’s water source. And you’ll hear the falls – from miles away – before you see it.
In addition to by boat, there are two ways to see the falls. The first is by air, in either a helicopter or microlite (a one- or two-seat fixed wing aircraft). The views are spectacular – to put it mildly – and they may well include thundering herds of elephants or other wildlife. You’ll feel like you have a special seat for one of Earth’s greatest spectacles.
The second viewing option is by accessing the various trails alongside the falls, which will give you a face-to-face look. As you enter the park and turn the corner, you’ll be presented with a panorama you’ll remember the rest of your life. And as you get closer, walking through the vapor, you’ll quickly understand why it’s called “Smoke That Thunders.”
In late summer, there’s an even bigger thrill. The water levels are low enough to jump into the Devil’s Pool on Livingstone Island, at the top of the falls. Devil’s Pool is an incredible natural phenomenon, a place where roaring currents flash by on either side of a natural pool at the lip of the falls. Because the currents are going around the pool, and not through it, you can swim (if you dare!) to the very edge without being swept over. From there, you have a bird’s-eye view of the largest curtain of falling water in the world. In fact, during this time of year, water levels are so low that some intrepid souls actually walk across the falls. And some simply relax at the water’s edge – literally – only a foot or two from the edge of a 360-foot drop!
The concession for Livingstone Island is managed by Tongabezi Lodge, which also happens to be a wonderful base for your explorations. This is a luxurious – and authentic – African lodge, offering ‘houses’ with one side completely open to the river, and tours to Livingstone Island and the Devil’s Pool.
Later on, when you’re back home in the real world, you’ll be able to close your eyes…and hear that roar, and see that water, and actually feel that mist on your face.