Victoria Falls – The Smoke That Thunders

‘The smoke that thunders’ or Mosi-oa-Tunya is the local name for the mile-long curtain of water more famously known as Victoria Falls. Arriving in by air the falls are immediately visible as a large cloud and mist hovering in plain view.

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View from 30km away on the plane

The falls themselves pour the Zambezi river down 100m of sheer drop to form the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. There are walking routes on both sides but about 75% of them are on the Zim side versus 25% on the Zam – we decided to do both.

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View from the eastern end of the falls

Learning from my time in Igazu I went in complete beachwear aiming to avoid wet stinking trainers in the process – Pedro’s city rain jacket was quickly saturated with water and of no use at all.

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The view of the falls varies greatly depending on the water level. At low water the falls are more broken and some parts have no water but April is high water season and seeing the falls with full force is breathtaking – when you can see it.

The famous spray is at times so strong and heavy that nothing can be seen at all but for blankets of torrential rain. At the closest place along the falls, danger point, there is nothing but slippy rocks between you and hundreds of tons of water hurling down and blasting back up the gorge.

At the end of the gorge is the Zambezi bridge – a wonder considering it was constructed over a hundred years and ago shipped from the USA. Towering over 100m over the rapids below it now has pedestrian, road, rail and even bungee jumping traffic!

Overlooking the bridge is the Victoria Falls Hotel – a beautiful colonial style hotel for the great and good sumptuously decorated and offering afternoon tea on the Stanley terrace with the bridge and spray in the background (and some amorous warthogs to boot!)

On our second day we headed over to Zambian side for a microlight trip over the falls and a kayaking trip down the Zambezi. Travelling over the bridge to Zamiba Pedro was incensed that Irish citizens get free entry while he needed to pay $55 to get in – I was loving it!

At the microlight base a few kilometres from the falls we got our hand written boarding cards and waited for our turn to strap in. The microlight looks like a paragliding wing with a lawnmower engine at the back and completely exposed to the elements.

Accelerating down the runway soon we gently glided up and the smoke of the falls came into view. It was incredible to be circling 300m over the full length of the falls and seeing the zigzag canyons of the old falls stretching off to the distance.

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Returning on the 15 minute flight we could spot the rotund shapes of hippos in the river and passed directly over a herd of elephants as they crossed the road – completely unfazed by the enormous buzzing bird in the sky above them.

 

Taking it down a key we headed out for a kayak day trip on the upper Zambezi – well upstream of the falls themselves to avoid any unexpected drops.

Heading along the swollen river we were ably guided away from hippo territory and were able to get right up close to elephants with one bathing in the river watching us.

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Paddle for God’s sake Pedro!

Nature really is up close and personal with our riverside lodge having a unsettlingly large croc on the other bank and warning about hippos at night!

Then it was back to Zimbabwe for something completely different – to meet up with my fellow travellers for my overland camping trip from Vic Falls to Cape Town.

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All ready to go!

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