Victoria Falls: Riverside Royalty

A town with the same name as this wonder of nature, Victoria Falls lies on the Zimbabwean border of the Zambezi river, and has largely been built for tourism purposes. Having said so, it does not take away from the originalities of the Zambezi ecosystem, and we felt so from the very first minute upon our arrival at the airport, a few miles away from the township. As we made our way towards the town, the locals were busy doing their own thing, driving passengers in and out of town, having their early morning runs by the side of the road, and commuting towards their workplaces. And out of nowhere, stood in front of our cab right in the middle of the road, a gigantic male Tusker staring at us right in the eye. But to my surprise, this seemed to affect just us. The locals did not even flinch or decelerate their cars or their feet, and our driver noticing this jokingly said to us, “Welcome to Zimbabwe!”. Such is the oneness of humans and nature in the area, we were taught a lesson in co-existence right at the start of the trip, and we hadn’t even reached our destination yet!

The two ways to get to Victoria Falls would be from either the Zimbabwean side, or the Zambian town of Livingstone, named after the Scottish explorer in previously-named Rhodesia who was Europe’s first to cast his eyes upon this magnificent spectacle in 1855. The two countries are connected by a bridge that runs right across the Zambezi with a surreal view of the world’s widest waterfall, quite the international border to have. Outside the entrance to the Victoria Falls Park, one would naturally find a lot of shops, but to my surprise, these weren’t just food or souvenir shops. Almost every single shop was selling raincoats and ponchos, and I wondered why because it was a wonderful bright sunny day. But I was about to learn the hard way. As I made my way to the falls, before I could even admire the stupendous sight that stood before my eyes, I was drenched. From head to toe. And not because the weather took a turn for the worse. It was the might of the Falls, with the water cascading down into the ravine with such force, it bounced back and soaked us completely. A reality check as to why the original name of this behemoth of a waterfall is indeed Mosi-oa-Tunya, a Sotho term that translates to ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. But I was finally there. Amidst all its glory. With the roar of the waterfalls serving as white noise to my ears and the width of the waterfall that never seemed to end in the view of my eyes, augmented by a wonderful rainbow, my decision of taking a detour into Zimbabwe from my South Africa trip was justified straight away, and I hadn’t even been in the country for two hours yet.

Juvenile Waterbucks playfight in the Bush of the Zambezi National Park

However, just going to the Falls on foot does not do justice to the absolute Titan that Senogo, The Place of the Rainbow is. The best view of the Victoria Falls is undisputedly from the air. And our second day at the Gorge was reserved exactly for that. To see the Falls from a chopper, and truly complete our experience. But first, it was time to indulge in a trip of the ecosystem. The Victoria Falls and the Zambezi river serves not only as a tourist destination, but is a very important ecological factor, one which thousands of plant and animal species call home. The Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is home to the famous ‘Big 5’ of African animals among others, and we set off into the African Savannah as dawn struck. A number of species graced us with their presence, the most elusive of them all being the critically endangered Black Rhinoceros. The typical image of an African safari, through the never-ending stretches of grassland and bush was captivating, and it was still only second-best to what was left to be seen.

The Helicopter ride, known as the Flight of Angels took us above the Zambezi to give us the best possible view of the gorge, as no other spot would enable us to see the Falls completely from one end to the other. We started off through the National Park, at first getting some wonderful views of the Bush, even spotting some Kudu and Giraffe from above. And even though as large as it is, the river, the gorge, and then the falls suddenly appeared right before our very eyes, and enthralled us for the rest of the journey. It was absolutely worthwhile, and left me mesmerized for the remainder of my Southern Africa trip and beyond. Today, as hard to believe as it is, even a Natural Wonder of the World as gigantic as the Victoria Falls is vulnerable to climate change, with fears of the Falls and the Zambezi drying out with the annual temperatures rising to scorching highs. It is quite poetic as this fact is as eerie as the thunderous sound of the falls from a distance at night, and an eye-opener that climate change and global warming is in fact upon us.

A surreal view, but for how long?

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