Locals long ago named the place where the Zambezi River tumbles 355-feet “Mosi-oa-Tunya,” or the “smoke that thunders.” David Livingstone, who initially encountered the falls on November, 17th, 1855, wrote in his diary, “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Livingstone dutifully named the falls “Victoria” for the Queen of England. A statue of the physician and explorer stands in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.
The Zambezi River forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The falls can be accessed from Livingstone, Zambia, or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. During our stay in Zambia, the sheer power of the falls unfolds for us in a series of encounters.
While driving to the falls from Toka Leya Camp, our Wilderness Safaris’ lodging within the park, we spot a mushrooming cloud low on the horizon in an otherwise clear blue sky. Our guide, Histon, tells us that the fall’s rising mist creates the cloud. Like looking at a dinosaur footprint, then trying to imagine the creature’s height, we can’t fathom a waterfall so dynamic as to birth a cloud.
At the park, Histon leads us along the Upper Zambezi path first. Here the river runs flat. Locals picnicking on the banks point out the five-foot crocodile sunning itself at the base of a midstream rock. The peaceful scene belies the marvel we are about to experience.
Before reaching the main path, Histon reminds us to zip up our raincoats. It’s the end of June and the falls, while not at their rainy season fullest, tumble in thick torrents. At that trail’s first overlook, a partial side view, the roar amazes us, but we stay dry. However, at each succeeding look-out, we encounter more of the cliffs and get increasingly wet. The pièce de résistance: crossing the Knife Edge Bridge, a long expanse directly fronting the falls. We walk carefully along the slick canyon overpass. The booming cascades and the drenching spray amaze us and the wide rainbow, a frequent afternoon figure, delights us.
For more adrenaline-filled moments, various outfitters offer helicopter tours, bungee jumping, and whitewater rafting. For quieter thrills, plan ahead to see the park’s nine rhinos. Working together, the African Wildlife Foundation and the Zambia Wildlife Authority relocated four white rhinos from South Africa to Mosi-oa-Tunya, which already had one white rhino. The animals acclimated well and the females had four calves.
We stop at the ranger station for a rifle-toting guard who directs Histon to a specific area, which changes since the rhinos roam. Joined by additional armed guards, we walk silently through the bush to the rhino herd.
Oblivious to us, the prehistoric-looking animals with their thick skin, horns, and rounded bellies, keep busily grazing until “Lester,” the big male, moves toward a female to sniff her rear. She responds with snorts accompanied by a quick thud-like turn and step forward, a scary moment for us. Since Lester is feeling amorous and a rhino rhumba may ensue, the guards ask us to leave.
Driving back to Toka Leya, we pass elephant herds and warthogs. Instead of staying in a multi-story hotel in Livingstone, we much prefer Toka Leya Camp, 12 safari-style tents, each with a private bathroom and a deck, set along the Zambezi River. We dine to the backdrop of the rushing river and wake to monkeys scampering across our deck. On several walks from our tent to the main lounge, we encounter elephants chewing the tree branches next to the elevated walkway and one night a small group stood next to the pool, munching the grass. You can’t get that in a high-rise.
To book Toka Leya Camp or any Wilderness Safaris trip, contact Travel Sommelier.
Images credit: William S. Liebman
Video credit: Candyce H. Stapen