Harare - The Victoria Falls has for centuries held mankind in awe as millions of mega-litres of water tumble and roar over the lip into the gorge below – hence the indigenous Tonga name given it since time immemorial – Mosi-oa-Tunya – “The Smoke That Thunders”.
Yet, despite all the changes that have taken place in the modern world, many things still remain the same in the small town of Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe. The tourist hub has been a popular destination ever since the rest of the world came to know of its existence in the early 1900s.
Even though travel was time-consuming in the previous century – it didn’t stop sightseers from flocking to view what was described as an “open-air Paradise of the world”.
The first steam train arrived in Victoria Falls in 1904 (part of the extension line from Wankie – now Hwange) and part of the Great Railway Line north from Cape Town to the Belgian Congo. This attracted even more visitors.
Cruise-ship passengers stopping over in Table Bay, in the 1920s, were more than happy to undertake a return trip by train of nearly 60 hours (one-way!) to reach the Falls – just to stay for a couple of days.
Victoria Falls was part of the first main commercial air route in the early 1930s, which added to the town’s growing tourism potential. In 1947 BOAC introduced the famous ‘Short Solent’ class of flying boat, and a new route was launched: Southampton - Augusta - Cairo - Luxor - Khartoum - Port Bell - Victoria Falls - Vaaldam (Johannesburg), all in 4 1/2 days and with three scheduled services each week.
The Solents seated 34 passengers and tickets for the 10 220km journey were advertised at R2 860 single and R5 130 return.
There was no flying at night, and the route included overnight stops in Sicily, Luxor, Kampala and Victoria Falls. A similar service was introduced again in 1988 for six years.
Accommodation for tourists has also evolved from the early 1900s when the grand old lady – the Victoria Falls Hotel – was built in 1904. Now the town provides a wide variety of accommodation – from luxury hotels to lodges, B&Bs and backpacker facilities.
Adrenalin sports on, over and in the gorge below the Victoria Falls are the top attractions. Whitewater rafting is a huge drawcard. Bungee jumping, zip-lining and gorge swinging are also popular.
The biplane flights over the Falls of yesteryear have now been replaced by helicopter flips.
River excursions can be enjoyed above the Falls – allowing tourists to view the wildlife which may be on the riverbanks or in the water. Options include canoes; drifting down the river with a guide steering the craft; or on luxury vessels, which can include sunset cocktails and dinners on board.
Technology, accommodation, adventure activities and means of travel may have all evolved since the early 1900s but one thing will always remain the same…and that is – the closer one gets to the Falls, the wetter one gets!
Adapted from a press release for IOL