A to Z of Adventure Travel: V is for Victoria Falls

12 06 2009

 Vic Falls aerial mw

 

There are lots of spots around the world that have been dubbed ‘Adventure Capitals’ either for the activities available or the rugged wilderness that surround them. The adventure capital of the world is arguably Queenstown, New Zealand. The adventure capital of Australia would be Cairns. And the adventure capital of Africa is definitely Victoria Falls.

 

Not only are the Falls one of the natural wonders of the world, but the area is one of the finest adrenalin capitals and even if you venture there solely for the sights, it’s difficult not to be lured into at least one unforgettable activity!

  

Victoria Falls sits on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. In past years, the centre of the tourist trade was most definitely the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side, but due to recent political unrest and economic problems, much of that has shifted to Livingstone, Zambia.

 

The Falls themselves are every bit as magnificent as any photograph suggests. During the rainy season, the cascade of water over the steep precipice is positively breathtaking – if you can actually see it through the billowing clouds of drenching mist. In the dry season, the flood is reduced to a comparable trickle, but this not only allows a less-wet viewing experience but also provides a look at the chiselled rock cliffs that stretch almost as far as the eye can see. Even veterans of Niagara or Angel Falls can’t help but be impressed by Mosi-au-Tunya, or ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, as it is called by the locals.

 

For many visitors, Victoria Falls’ most captivating feature might well be its relative lack of commercialisation. There are no enormous skyscraper hotels towering above it and no neon-strewn casinos crowding its edges. Instead, there is bush stretching in every direction and only the most basic of paths and most rickety of fences preventing visitors from tumbling over the edge and into the frothing maelstrom.

 

This modest development has ensured that the area is still healthy with wildlife and the even the town centre has its baboons, watrthogs, birdlife and occasional stray elephant. Lion tracks are sometimes seen in the early morning in the soft sand that lines the paved road and pedestrians are warned to watch out for buffalo…all this within sight of hotels and curio stands.

 

The two most famous of Victoria Falls’ adventure activities are the whitewater rafting on the Zambezi – regarded as the best one-day rafting in the world – and the 111 metre bungee-jump from the bridge that spans the chasm, both within view of the Falls. However, there are also helicopter and microlight flights over the Falls and surrounding river and bush, sunset boat trips above the drop and game drives in the neighbouring parks and wild areas. You can embark on horseback or elephant back safaris, or take a walk with unleashed domesticated lions. There are night game drives in open-back 4WDs and guided hikes with armed rangers.

 

Both Victoria Falls and Livingstone have international airports and can also be reached overland by vehicle or train from larger centres – if you have the time and spirit of adventure. Both sides of the river offer basic campsites, budget hostels, deluxe riverbank tented safari camps and luxury hotel accommodation.

 

Most visitors today tend to use Zambia as their base and sadly often never venture across the border to its neighbour. Although not immune to the turmoil that has plagued Zimbabwe in recent years, the town of Victoria Falls has remained an island largely isolated from the political violence…if not the rampant inflation and basic shortages.

 

Victoria Falls provides something for everyone from the magnificence of the Falls themselves to wildlife and adventure.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

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Horse d’oeuvres, anyone?

23 03 2008

Zimbabwe horse 

A four-legged buffet cart

Everyone knows that dogs and small children can smell fear, but I believe that horses can tell when you used too many glue sticks in kindergarten. How else can you explain why every time I have ever mounted a horse, I have very nearly lost my life?

I am a gentle person. I carry spiders out of the house on pieces of paper, and I avoid stepping on lines of ants. Dogs generally like me, cats ignore me in a loving way and a penguin once fell asleep on my camera bag. But for some reason, horses are not amongst my admirers.

My first equestrian endeavour came at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It sounded like an excellent plan at the time. After signing a very long disclaimer that I swear included the words ‘dismemberment’ and ‘decapitation’, I mounted my docile old steed and patted him affectionately on the neck. I was instructed with the basic rudiments of stop, go, left and right. What more could I possibly need?

We soon turned down a narrow track into the bush. It was not long after sunrise and the light was a golden yellow that filtered lazily through the tree tops. The air was fresh and quiet save for the morning song of birds. A small antelope darted from the tall grass, stopped to stare at us and continued on. Life was great and I loved every moment…until we spotted the lion tracks.

Our guide halted our single-file procession and looked around nervously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zim track

Photo blurred due to fear

“Lion tracks,” she stammered, pointing at an imprint in the soft sand. “Very fresh too. Stay close together in single file, and if you see a lion, wave your arms around and shout loudly.”  Lions consider horse meat to be quite the delicacy and a rare treat. As I was perched on one, I felt like a glazed cherry on a cup cake at a children’s birthday party. The guide cantered back and sternly told me to ensure that I followed her instructions properly in future. I began to object, but she was already gone. My horse turned its head and taunted me with one large, knowing eye.

As our procession moved faster, I realised I was last in line and therefore almost certainly first eaten. To make matters worse, my horse suddenly veered into the tall lion-hiding grass. I pulled on the reigns, but my efforts were ignored. I tried gentle encouragement. Forfeiting all masculine pride, I begged and pleaded, but still we went further towards being a main course. Our guide noticed and shouted angrily for me to return to the path, as if I had chosen to join the à la carte menu. Eventually, after a few mouth-fulls of grass we regained the trail and emerged into a clearing. I heaved a mammoth sigh of relief.

 

The Zambezi raced past us, a wide rolling expanse of water fringed on either side by pristine bush. In a calm pool in the centre we could see a pod of hippos, their eyes and piggy-ears poking into the air. A crocodile lazed on the far bank, barely distinguishable amongst fallen trees. The river tumbled over Victoria Falls a mile downstream and although we couldn’t see it, we could hear its thunderous roar. We sat and watched a circling African fish eagle. Not contented with its salad, my horse now decided it wanted a drink of water. 

Fresh, Zambezi water.

I tolerated its first sips from the bank, but as it waded deeper and deeper, from ankle-depth, to knee and upwards, I began to once again heave on the reigns. The river was racing faster the further we went. It was like a conveyor belt at a sushi restaurant with the crocodiles as the customers, and us as the sashimi. I tugged on the reigns with all my strength, only to have that taunting eye stare at me again…and then move deeper into the river, my toes dipped into the flow. I began to realise I was going to be the first person that day to go over Vic Falls without a barrel. Our guide galloped into midstream, angrily grabbed the reigns from my hands and swiftly led us to the shore. My horse, of course, meekly followed like an obedient lemming: a vision of innocence.

For the rest of the ride I was instructed to follow immediately behind the guide, which I did, and inevitably my horse did precisely as told. You could almost see its halo hovering above its mane.  Back at the stable, I dismounted and walked bow-legged into the shade. My horse looked at me, snorted…and winked, before gently ambling away.

Post and photos by: Simon Vaughan © 2008