It has been a while since my last blog, despite my best intentions. But, hopefully this one is the first of many to follow shortly. This year I achieved one of my life ambitions that I can now cross of my bucket list – I visited the Victoria falls! In the process of visiting the town (one of them, anyway) where the falls are situated I discovered, and experienced, many more adventures, which I will blog about. Here is the first instalment of my Livingstone adventure…
The Zambian tourist town of Livingstone has undergone a major make-over the likes of which it probably has not seen in its history. Town centre and key buildings have received a lick of paint, roads have been patched up and upgraded, grass and flowers have being planted on the road verges, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula international airport facilities and tourist attractions such as the Livingstone museum and the area around the Mosi-oa-Tunya (the local name for the Victoria Falls, literal translation – ‘the smoke that thunders’) have undergone renovation.
What prompted this transformation? Livingstone is co-hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly with Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe from 24th to 29th August 2013.
And it wasn’t only the town’s infrastructure that was preparing for the UN WTO. The tourism minister bungee jumped in a bid to show Zambians and tourists alike the way to enjoying the activities available to them in this town. Her stated aim was to be able to speak with the authority of one who has themselves experienced and enjoyed the activities.
It was in this atmosphere that I arrived in Livingstone in the middle of August 2013, never having visited the town before, despite growing up in Zambia and having lived there most of my life. At last I could lift the shame that weighed heavily over me, of not being able to speak about the Mosi-oa-Tunya from a position of authority, like the Minister of Tourism, as one who had first-hand experience.
But, it was certainly worth the wait!
While the Zambezi river is not at its fullest at this time of the year, the falls were nevertheless a magnificent sight. I was surprised at the distance they covered, stretching a distance of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft), the full width of the river falling into the first of seven gorges.
Viewing platforms are scattered at strategic points on the cliff opposite the falls, linked by a stone path that takes you on a tour the length of the cliff. Along the way you cross the Knife Edge Bridge, which gives you a spectacular view across the falls and under which the waters of the Zambezi flow from the first to the second gorge.
At the bottom of the second gorge is a 150-metre (500-ft) pool known as the ‘boiling pot’, formed by water entering from the first gorge, reached by a steep footpath. It is calm at low water levels, but becomes a swirling, ‘boiling’ pool when the river is at peak level. I did not get to climb down to see it this time, but it is definitely on the list for my next visit.
At the time I visited, you could walk across the Knife Edge Bridge without getting soaked. However, just after the rainy season, around April/May, the bridge and anyone on it is soaked by the spray coming off the falls. As a colleague of mine who visited the falls in April can testify, the volume and force of the water is such that you get soaked right through even wearing the raincoats handed out at the start of your tour.
So, a tip here is, do not go smartly dressed, unless you do not mind your glad rags getting drenched. Or, alternatively, go later in the year (August to September) when the spray is much reduced and you probably get a better view of the magnitude of the falls from this point, but miss experiencing majesty of the wall of water when the river is at peak level.
Across the second gorge spans the Victoria Falls Bridge, which connects Zambia and Zimbabwe. The bridge is visible from various vantage points on the path winding along the cliff top bordering the Zambezi river. I watched a bungee jumper launch off the bridge towards the gorge below, from the same spot that the Zambian Minister of Tourism had taken the plunge. I was happy to be a spectator rather than a participant!
Across from the cliff on the river itself, the waters were low enough that you could walk, or swim, in the section that approaches the very brink of the falls. People were swimming and wading in the waters and sitting on outcrops of stone in the middle of the river. I joined in, dipping my toes in the lukewarm water and picking up a pebble to take with me as a souvenir of my visit.
A statue of David Livingstone, after whom the town is named, stands at the point where the two sides of the first gorge meet (Livingstone is probably the only town in Zambia whose name remains unchanged from that given by the colonial rulers, but that is a subject for another blog).
Livingstone visited the falls on 16 November 1851. According to the plaque at the foot of the statue, on seeing the falls he wrote of his first impression of the falls:
“The most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa. No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
I couldn’t agree more! No picture can do the incredible views of the falls justice. You have to experience it to appreciate its true beauty and majesty.
I visited Livingstone with my sister, two nieces and my mother. We drove from Lusaka to Livingstone.
We stayed at the Fallsview Apartments, off the Airport road, a gated complex of four spacious apartments each with three bedrooms, including a self-contained master bedroom. All rooms are air conditioned with a television receiving terrestrial (local) and satellite channels. There is free Wi-Fi internet access, a swimming pool and braii (barbecue) facilities. Apartments are fully serviced and a chef can be made available for an extra fee.
We also rode an elephant at the Mukuni Big Five Safari, enjoyed a game viewing drive through the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Zambezi aboard the African Princess catamaran. We also visited Mukuni village and the Livingstone museum. But these are stories for another blog.
We didn’t walk with the lions or cheetahs, or do the bungee jump, gorge swing, helicopter ride, microlight flight over the falls or white water rafting. These are adventures for another trip – maybe. The Livingstone railway museum sounds more my speed.