Called ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – The Smoke That Thunders – by the local Makololo people, the sheer enormity and force of the planet’s largest stretch of falling water has powered it into the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The falls, on the Zambezi River forming part of the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, are a bucket-list destination and a must-visit on any Southern African itinerary.
The Zambezi River is over 2km wide at this point – dotted with islands abundant in wildlife and seeping into tranquil lagoons – before it plunges down a series of basalt gorges and sends up and opalescent mist that can be seen from over 20km away. Explorer and missionary Dr David Livingston, the first non-African to lay eyes on the falls in 1855, was moved to write: “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight,” and thousands of visitors to the falls each year continue to be awed by their beauty.
Over 160 years later, one of the more thrilling ways for us mere mortals to take it all in is by helicopter. But a walk through the riverine forest and along the falls is a unique experience, too – there are few major falls that can be viewed on foot at such close proximity. Tempting you to the edge is Devil’s Pool, forming each year at the fringe of the falls when the dry season reduces water levels to reveal, what has been declared, the world’s ultimate infinity pool.
The falls on Zimbabwe’s side flow permanently throughout the year, but offer different – but no less spectacular – viewing experiences as their flow volume changes according to the seasons. The fall’s heaviest flow and densest mist occur during the last months of the rainy season (February to May). But during the height of the dry season (October to November), when the falls are at their lowest and create little mist, visitors are afforded a clear view of their path.
Zimbabwe is an adventurer and nature-lover’s paradise, representing an Africa that is still largely wild, untainted, and untamed. For the quintessential African experience, there is little to beat this epic destination, with its expansive wilderness areas, great herds of wildlife, and awesome Victoria Falls.