Victoria Falls in neighbouring Zimbabwe is one of Africa's most popular tourist attractions, and with excellent reason.
By far the most popular destination in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is returning to its heyday, when tourists flocked to the town for epic experiences that cater to all types of travellers.
It’s Sunday afternoon at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and as countless tourists clad in safari suits and cargo pants stand at a viewing point to behold the Victoria Falls thundering so close to us that we become wet from its mist, I can’t help but befriend the couple next to me. I’m travelling alone but as my time in Vic Falls comes to an end, I need to marvel about my time here with people who’ll know exactly what I mean when I say this is one of the best experiences Southern Africa has to offer. Here, travel brochures come to life and every moment is infused with wonder.
The Victoria Falls bridge lives up to its reputation as one of the best places in the world from which to bungee jump. The town’s premier playground offers zip-lining, swinging and sliding. However, it’s the bungee jump that has a small group of people smiling nervously and trying to swap places in the queue. I stand on the ledge with one of the operators, suddenly frozen with fear as I look down 110m below me. ‘You must throw yourself down at the count of three and remember to cross your hands over your face whenever you swing forward.’ A few seconds later, I’m in the air with my screams echoing around the hills; for eight seconds, all 113kg of me is suddenly weightless and my initial anxiety is replaced with sheer joy. This is one of the most thrilling things I have ever experienced.
A wild time
A game ranger talks us through the rules of engaging with the lions at the Victoria Falls National Park: whatever we do, we should not move suddenly or forget that, while the two cubs, named Pendo and Phezulu, act like kittens around the rangers, they are still wild at heart. He gives us walking sticks and leads us to the open veld where our one-hour trek will start. The cubs arrive shortly after us. They are feeling petulant and lie down for close to 20 minutes. In the meantime, we take turns to kneel behind them for up-close pictures. When our walk starts, it’s along a footpath that takes us over a small creek. Pendo and Phezulu keep disappearing into the bush before finally settling under a tree to escape the scorching morning sun. Like all wildlife excursions, Lion Encounters is a hit or miss affair depending on how the animals feel. Just when I think this morning is a miss, one of the cubs walks next to me for about 10 minutes. When they're older, they will be released into the wild as part of Lion Encounters’ rehabilitation programme, which is aimed at making sure the endangered species doesn’t face extinction due to trophy hunting.
|The sunset cruise is one of the more relaxed activities in Vic Falls|
Cruising the Zambezi
Retrace the route David Livingstone took when he first sailed to the Victoria Falls more than 150 years ago by embarking on a sunset cruise down the Zambezi River. It is subdued compared to other experiences, but no less epic. The cruise is also one of the more budget-friendly experiences depending on its duration and the type of boat you decide on. As always, the Falls thunder in the distance while hippos and crocodiles bob their heads in and out the water. We watch the sun dipping into the horizon with complimentary cocktails and wine in hand, and watch various species of birds take flight. In a moment that I have come to associate with being in Victoria Falls, we spot an elephant playing in the water. For people with more time on their hands, the cruise also offers dinner.
Thrills and spills
The Zambezi River has grade-five rapids that only the most experienced water-sports lovers dare to brave. You hear the rapids roar long before the raft gets close to them. With names like 'Deep Throat', 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Oblivion', the experience sounds like we're flirting with danger. It is the best fun I’ve had in water – mostly because safety always comes first. Like all rafting trips, ours starts with a safety brief on what to expect when we’re in the water and how to climb back into the raft when it has overturned – which happens at every rapid. We also get a life jacket, safety helmet and a paddle. All trips are accompanied by a safety crew in a separate kayak. True to its reputation, the Zambezi overturns our raft and sends water gushing into our mouths and noses. The head rush is dizzying and the experience unforgettable. Like most excursions here, rafting can be tailored depending on how much time you have. The shortest is a half-day trip, while those who are more daring can opt to spend several days rafting and camping along the riverbank.
|Rafting the Zambezi's grade-five rapids is daring and fun.|
The life and memory of David Livingstone looms large at Victoria Falls. I follow his proverbial steps once again with a 13-minute flight in a light aircraft that leaves a lasting impression of the town. The 'flight of angels' starts at Maramba Aerodrome, where I wait 30 minutes for my turn to soar. Aside from our captain, there are only three passengers in our aircraft, which affords all of us an equal opportunity to enjoy the views. With our earmuffs on and bodies strapped into our seats, we set off for a breathtaking experience that takes us over the Zambezi National Park, the Falls and the bridge. We circle over the area several times and hover above the waterfalls. While we don’t spot any of the abundant wildlife in the park, the experience lives up to Livingstone’s words when he wrote, ‘A scene so lovely it must have been gazed upon by angels in the flight.’ It’s a fitting way to end my weekend in a town that’s once again open for business and tourists.
Before you go
- Getting there: British Airways and SAA have direct flights from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Visit flysaa.com and britishairways.com.
- Where to stay: Accommodation on offer includes a wide range of options such as campsites, self-catering chalets and luxury spa hotels. Find them through booking.com and trivago.co.za.
- Bookings: Shearwater Victoria Falls responds to online enquiries within 24 hours. It also offers significant discounts if you book all activities through the company, shearwatervictoriafalls.com
- Experiences: Victoria Falls also offers rhino encounters, elephant walks, game drives and crocodile cage-diving among an array of experiences that feature adrenalin highs and gentler pursuits. While days are very hot, early mornings and evenings are chilly, so remember to take a coat and an umbrella or a raincoat when you visit Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park for an up-close view of the waterfalls. If you are feeling particularly brave, you can take a dip at Devil’s Pool at the edge of the Falls.
- Photography and videos: Pictures and video footage of experiences are charged for separately should you want them.
- Cash: All excursions can be paid for using a bank or credit card. The town uses both American dollars and rand. Zimbabwe still experiences cash-flow problems, so it's advisable to withdraw money for cabs, tips and other miscellaneous expenses while still in South Africa.
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Words Lerato Mogoatlhe