While scrolling through Africa Geographic’s Facebook page, I came across an image of the Victoria Falls.
There are many pictures of this spectacular natural wonder around, but some, like this one (posted on 14 May), always manage to tug at my heartstrings. It rekindled my fondness for the falls … once seen, they never seem to leave my mind’s gallery entirely.
I’ve visited three times; twice as a child and more recently as a ‘mature adult’ on a amazing well-arranged media trip. Normally when adults return to the places they knew in their childhood, they find them to be somehow less than they remembered … the old house that once held such magic in its dark corners now seems really quite small. But Vic Falls is as awe-inspiring as ever. If anything, my wonderment was greater. It’s still soggy with mist, the sheer volume of water is still staggering, the purchase underfoot still slippery, the gorge still heart-stoppingly deep – even the smell of it is familiar.
As a child, I remember staring goggle-eyed as my father hovered perilously close to the outer rim of a rock as he leaned into the chasm for that special shot; tucking under a waterproof poncho to change the film in my Baby Brownie; spending nights in a campsite listening to the elephants walk heavily past in the dark; the constant boom of the water; the squeals of the monkeys and the calls of the birds; the final glances before climbing into our trusty green Opel and heading off to our next destination. My adult trip was more luxurious, for sure, but the emotions it inspired were very like those of my childhood.
But memories are not enough; here are a few facts and statistics:
The Zambezi River, one of Africa’s mightiest waterways, separates Zimbabwe from Zambia. For thousands of years it has cut its way across the basalt plains to reach this yawning chasm into which the water cascades thunderously before rushing through a series of gorges. Five separate drops make up Victoria Falls: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe Falls are in Zimbabwe; the Eastern Cataract is in Zambia.
At Main Falls, the gorge is more than 1.7 kilometres wide and 108 metres deep, twice the depth of Niagara. Although it is not the widest or the highest waterfall, if all its dimensions are taken into account, including the rainy-season flow rate, Vic Falls holds the record for the biggest curtain of falling water in the world.
During the rainy season (Feb/March), more than 500 million litres plummet into the chasm each minute; in November, when the water is low, the flow is around just 10 million litres per minute. Above the gorge, a cloud of spray rises 400-plus metres into the air, and it can be seen from 50 kilometres away.
In 1989, Victoria Falls was named a World Heritage Site. It is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world. David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer we all know so well from our history books, may not have been the first person to set eyes on what the locals called ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, but in 1855 he was certainly inspired by a force greater than his own when he described the falls so poetically as a scene ‘so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.
A must-see? Definitely!