On Saturday, 5 July, my friend Etienne Marvillet and I, left the world’s largest colored gemstone mine for Ndola to fly to Livingstone via Lusaka. Although having already spent 5 and a half years on this mine in Zambia, this was the third time I was going to Livingstone and Victoria Falls, and the first time as a holiday. Having an idea what to expect, little did I know what lay ahead at the time. It was Etienne’s first trip to Livingstone. We had been speaking about going for the most part of the year as there are 3 long weekends in March and April, but it never materialized as work requirements and commitments always come first in our line of work. Then at the end of June, we found out that Hero’s Day and Unity Day created another 4-day weekend. So after permission was granted, flights and hotel bookings made post-haste. It was, after all, a long weekend, school holidays and a good time of the year to go. The idea had become a reality.
It is a midday flight from Ndola to Lusaka, and always through Lusaka to get to Livingstone. 40 minutes later, we were in Lusaka. And then a 1 hour and 10 minute flight got us to Livingstone at 17h30. The airport lies outside the small town, and to get to the hotels in the vicinity of the Falls, our chauffeur (read: taxi) takes you through the never-changing town.
Our chauffeur got us to the Royal Livingstone Hotel – spoilt, hey? – at 18h00. There was a perfectly justifiable reason as to why we stayed at the crème de la crème of hotels in Livingstone, and that was because the Zambezi Sun Hotel was fully booked on the Saturday. But it truly is a magnificent hotel set right on the northern edge of the Zambezi River and literally a stone’s throw from the Falls themselves. The hotel is beautiful by day and by night with its dining rooms, bar and facilities all colonial-themed after its founder, David Livingstone. He named the falls after Queen Victoria, who incidentally, never saw the falls, Victoria Falls. To the Zambians, the falls are known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders.
Checked in, shown to our room, and once comfortable, went for dinner at the Royal’s restaurant overlooking a grass bank before the river. Dinner was shared with zebras and skittish impala all feeding on the grass in front of the hotel. This is a common site as the hotels along the river all form part of a nature reserve where the animals get to freely roam.
The following morning was when our planned activities started, and in our case, white water rafting. But before that, we had to check out and move across to the sister hotel, the Zambezi Sun, which lies right at the Falls. The perfect position for access to the Falls and centrally situated to all activities. There are many, many things that one can do in and around Livingstone and Victoria Falls, but booking and planning is essential. We were collected at the hotel and taken downstream to rapid 10 as the season had just opened following the rainy season, and there is still too much water from rapid 1 (literally right under the Falls) to rapid 10.
As expected, the white water rafting was the highlight of the long weekend but it really was better than expected! I had done it in October the previous year with less water, but this time with so much water, the class 5 (highest) rapids seemed like ocean waves crashing into us on the raft. But not getting the better of us, we did not flip and negotiated all the rapids (10 to 25) perfectly. Potato was our guide and a true professional having taken over 5,000 people through the rapids over the years. Knowing how to approach and maneuver through each rapid, he explains what to do. We base-jumped at 8 m high from the Zimbabwean side, swam in the croc-infested waters, and bodysurfed some of the rapids.
After an exhilarating day, we returned to the Zambezi Sun to relax, catch our breath and just relive what we’d just done with a double gin and tonic and double Captain and coke, obviously.
As the clock neared 17h00 and the sun neared the horizon, we grabbed our cameras and headed off to the Falls. This alone, is the biggest reason and advantage to stay at the Zambezi Sun – the Falls is a short 10 minute walk from the hotel.
On the Monday morning, 7 July, we got up early and after having almonds and chicken livers(!), respectively, for breakfast, we were collected at 6h30 by the game driver to take us to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. The short 15 minute drive to the park was freezing cold on the back of the open vehicle. This national park is the smallest in Zambia at 66 sq km and has no predators – except man, of course.
I mention this as it was actually quite a shock visiting a national park and within 30 minutes of game driving, we came across two animals that survived being caught in snares at a young age and today live with the handicap. A baboon with a snare around its body and a warthog with a snare around its hind leg. Having been in Zambia for over 5 years now, I am not completely surprised by this as it is part of Zambian culture to live off the land. “A good Zambian wife is a wife that can cook bush meat well” is what I was told very soon after arriving in Zambia back in 2009. I found this out because the country has so much miombo forest but there is no animals within, and what is there, is so skittish - reptiles and birds alike. Unfortunately, the Zambian will kill any- and everything. So what happens is that locals lay snares to catch animals within the park. There are rangers patrolling the borders of the park to protect the animals though, but it is not easy with limited funding, etc. Coming back to the good – the park is fenced to protect the animals, and the only animal able to get out and roam around are the elephants! They are great swimmers and cross the Zambezi River to the Zimbabwean side (and national park) as well as to move up and down the river.
Meeting at 15h30 that afternoon at the Activity Centre at the Zambezi Sun Hotel, we were taken the African Queen catamaran to experience the Zambezi River and sunset by water. The African Queen was one of 6 vessels from the Zambian side that were on the water that afternoon. All the boats were cruising upstream criss-crossing the river looking for hippos and crocodiles heading toward the sunset.
Up early again on Tuesday morning, 8 July, we walked across to the Victoria Bridge from the hotel. After getting a gate pass from the Immigration Office, we walked down the onto the bridge. The photograph above is what greeted us that morning. Looking upstream toward the Falls, the sun was rising behind all the spray creating some amazing light on the slopes and bridge. This is the only border crossing I have been to that allows photography! This is probably one of the few beautiful ones too. From the bridge, one has the opportunity to Bunji Jump as well Bridge Swing as can be seen by the cables suspended in the photograph above. This fall from the bridge is a 100 m into the Zambezi River below. The river and rapids below is also where the White Water Rafting starts at lower water later in the season.
Our last event of our 3-day trip to Victoria Falls was a morning trip to Livingstone Island, a small island lying right on the edge of the Falls, and where David Livingstone was shown the Falls for the very first time. A 5 minute motor boat ride out from the Royal Livingstone Deck on the river to where one can stand on the edge and above the highest point of the Falls (108 m) and look straight down to the bottom. Difficult to capture even with a wide angle lens, but 360 degree rainbows were seen.
Tongabezi, the company facilitating this adventure has permission for only 3 small facilities on the island to keep it as natural and as unspoilt as possible – that is a small kitchen (for making breakfast), a tent for the table (for breakfast) and The Loo with a View (the toliet), as seen below.