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David Livingstone – the missionary, explorer and first European to truly venture into sub-Sahara’s African interior – first stumbled across Mosi-oa-Tunya (‘The Smoke That Thunders’), a relatively short time ago. Exactly 163 years ago today, on 16th November 1855.
After Dr Livingstone’s first visit, the Falls were renamed for Queen Victoria, and the biggest island upstream, right at a midway point in the Zambezi river, where the largest confluence of water plunges over the top, was renamed Livingstone Island.
It is without doubt one of mother nature’s most spectacular sights, and one which I first clapped eyes on 35 years ago, while hitch-hiking through the region in 1983.
Whereas the Falls themselves have altered little since my first visit, with River Zambezi water levels only rising and falling with each season, the nearby towns of Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Livingstone (Zambia) have seen a huge surge in international visitors. Today there is a wide range of accommodation and activities, creating a vibrant and exciting adventure destination.
For example, visitors can bathe in, and dine next to, Devil’s Pool, located on Livingstone Island. This offers even the most addicted of adrenaline junkies a mega hit, as you peer directly over the steep, spray-blasted infinity drops below.
There is a host of adventure activities including bungee jumping, white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, boating, cruising, abseiling, zip wiring, hydro-skiing, horse riding, fishing, safari adventures as well as helicopter and microlight flights.
This is all in complete contrast to my first visit. Apart from the statue of David Livingstone staring down across the Falls, and the amount of water plunging over the top, nothing else appears to be quite the same. Myself included.
My yester-year memory is of an almost totally deserted Falls. I walked alone, save for a Canadian traveller I had met a few days before, across the opposing Zimbabwean escarpment.
Spellbound, directly in front of the never-ending crescendo of cascading water. Spending the whole day at the Falls we saw no more than a couple of local visitors in addition to the border guards in immigration huts on either side of the famous bridge spanning the gorge opposite the Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The lack of people in 1983 was mainly due to the recent Gukurahundi outbreak, which saw the massacre of northern Nbebele civilians by the Zimbabwe National Army (1983-1987). Indeed, as I hitchhiked through northern Zimbabwe, I saw very few people going about their daily lives, let alone on the open road. The town of Livingstone (on the Zambian side of the Falls), although calm in contrast, was also a small gentle town with no more than a few truck-stop hostels and a handful of simply stacked shops.
Thankfully, today we are in safer times, with over a million visitors a year enjoying the remarkable walking and water-based opportunities on both sides of the falls. With breath-taking panoramic views at every turn, a visit to Victoria Falls is quite simply one of Africa’s highlights.
The swirling-mist soaked rainforest, high vantage rock outcrops, deep below-falls canyons and deafening roar of water crashing and jumping 80m high will take your breath away.
As much as ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’