Monday, June 9, 2008

Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls

We left the train and drove to Victoria Falls. We were staying at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. The first time we came here we had stayed at The Victoria Falls Hotel which I would recommend as the best place to stay. But the Safari Lodge which is a little way outside the town was a great place to stay and the surrounding scenery was suberb.

In the afternoon we took a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls. We have flown over the Falls several times before in small 4 seater aeroplanes. As we arrived for our flight I was amused to see a pile of what looked like parachutes in a pile outside the reception area.

Victoria Falls used to be known locally as "Mosi-oa-tunya" ("The Smoke that Thunders"). Almost exactly halfway along the river's 1,678 mile journey to the Indian Ocean, the mighty Zambezi plunges into a vertical chasm that spans the river's full width of one mile. The sheer drop of the Falls is 328ft.

The flight lasted about 15 minutes. We were amazed at how little water was going over the falls. Last time we were here, in 1989, the water was thundering over. After we had flown over the Falls we flew up the Zambezi to see what wildlife we could see. We saw a lone buffalo and some giraffe.

After returning to our hotel we swam in the pool which is small and is like a big rock pool with a waterfall; very refreshing, but no good if you really want to swim. We sat on the terrace, watching the waterhole which is fairly quiet. A great white egret is fishing and a large jackal has just come for a drink.

The following day, on a recommendation from some people we had met, we took the sea plane trip over the falls. The first thing the pilot pointed out to us was where the sick bags were kept! He was an Aussie, with the typical Aussie sense of humour. We wondered what he knew and we didn't! We taxied down the river, turned, revved up, and accelerated up river, eventually taking off and swooping over Victoria Falls at about 700ft. We were up about 20 minutes. It was an experience landing on water, and not as bumpy as I had expected it to be.

We have now flown over the falls by light aircraft, by helicopter and by sea plane. Of the three, the most exciting was the light aircraft.

Today is the day we are going to walk along by the Falls. The shuttle from the hotel dropped us at the entrance to the Victoria Falls Park.

David Livingstone's statue overlooks the Devil's Cataract This statue was unveiled on 6th August, 1954, by Livingstone's nephew, Howard Unwin Moffat, who served as Prime Minister of Rhodesia from 1927 to 1935.

Livingstone was born in Blantyre. At the age of 23 he enrolled at Anderson's College at Glasgow, studying science, which enabled him to join the London Missionary Society and travel to Africa. Dr. David Livingstone first saw the Zambezi in 1851. One year after crossing the river's upper stretches, he pioneered a route to Africa's west coast and back, on a journey that took more than thirty months. By September 1855 he was back on the upper reaches of the Zambezi, determined to trace its course to the east coast, and thus open "God's highway to the sea".

Travelling downstream by dugout canoe, Livingstone hoped to pioneer a navigable route along which traffic would displace the slave trade. Defeated by rapids at Cabora Bassa in Mozambique, his mission to trace the Zambezi's course failed. But his discoveries, particularly that of the Victoria Falls in 1855, provoked even greater interest in Africa generally, and in the Zambezi Valley in particular.

Livingstone believed the falls had arisen because of a sudden and cataclysmic rifting of the earth's surface some time in Africa's ancient past. Negotiating the rapids a little upstream from the falls, his crew landed on the western side of an island that stands in the centre of the river at the top of the precipice. Though he had seen "five columns of vapour rising 250ft to mingle with the clouds", he was unprepared for the spectacle that greeted him after he stepped ashore on the island that now bears his name and marks the Zambian border.

Livingstone noted in his journal. "The falls are singularly formed. They are simply the whole mass of the Zambezi waters rushing into a fissure or rent made right across the bed of the river".

The sensitive Scotsman was so overwhelmed by his first sight of the great falls on the Zambezi that he wrote; "It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight". Loyally, the good missionary, whose heart lies buried in the continent to which he gave his life although his body is buried in Westminister Abbey, named this great wonder of the world after Victoria, his British Queen.

It was some forty years later that development began in the region with the discovery of coal at Hwange and copper in Zambia.

The construction of the Cape to Cairo railway line was thus diverted and it was taken across the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls in 1905. Once completed, this section of railway line opened the region to an influx of tourists. To cater for them, the original Victoria Falls Hotel was opened in 1904 and only 8 years later replaced with a more permanent structurey. In 1947, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret provided the first of many Royal accolades to Victora Falls.

It was only in the late thirties that development began in the town, with the construction of new hotels, shops and the airport. Today Victoria Falls is still growing. As you walk along opposite the falls you get very wet from the spray. It took about an hour to walk along the Falls. The six falls - Devil's Cataract, Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Rainbow Falls, Armchair Falls and the Eastern Cataract - form the largest curtain of falling water in the world.

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