Falling for Victoria Falls

By Sam Bradley Time of article published Feb 14, 2012

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Despite the political and economic hardships that have hit Zimbabwe over the past few years it is still one of my favourite countries to visit. It’s safer than the news media and rumour mill would have us believe, and has the most amazing sights at affordable prices right on our doorstep.

I recently had the honour of showing the area to an Australian couple and their two teenage sons who seemed more daunted by the number of activities available than by any political tomfoolery, which meant we were in for an action-packed week.

During our stay we were lucky enough to be based at Lokuthula Lodge, the self-catering part of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Voted one of the top 50 hotels in the world, this is one of the most luxurious and spectacular places you can possibly choose to stay. What sets this hotel apart is the bar area, which leads on to a multi-layered deck with a pool and stunning views of the savannah. This is the perfect place to enjoy an African sunset, complete with elephants bathing in the water hole a mere 100m in front of you.

The falls are the main attraction of the town, and with good reason. The area surrounding the falls has been declared a national park and a World Heritage Site, meaning most if it remains in the same state as when it was officially discovered by David Livingstone.

Originally named Mosi-Oa-Tunya, meaning “the smoke that thunders”, Victoria Falls are spectacular year-round, although they are probably most impressive in full flow from March to May. The Zimbabwean side of the falls covers a greater area and has more views of the falls, but the Zambia side is also well worth a visit.

Despite the falls being absolutely amazing we didn’t let them take up all our time (or camera batteries) since we had plenty of other activities vying for our attention. The Aussie boys were both adrenaline seekers, so first up was the bungee jump from the bridge connecting Zambia to Zimbabwe: apart from the thrill factor it also has one of the best views of the falls.

Despite my best arguments I was also tied up and unceremoniously thrown off the bridge. Evidently the boys had a death wish, because with barely time to appreciate the fact I was still alive we were getting ready to go white water rafting.

You’ll need nerves of steel for some of these rapids because they are not for the faint-hearted. The parents joined us for this one, and despite a lot of hearty screams they got through the towering waves and rapids with a smile (this could be due to the fantastic river guides who were totally professional and made sure we felt safe).

For safety reasons this half-day activity is only offered when the water is not too high, so you’ll be out of luck between February and May. We had a really great time, even surviving falling out of the boat, and the photos of the trip (which we could buy) did full justice to the size of some of the rapids.

Going on “holiday” with a few crazy Aussies probably isn’t the best way to paint a true picture of Victoria Falls, and I must mention that there’s also plenty to do for those seeking a more relaxing time. Sundowner cruises run every evening on the quieter water above the falls, and a game drive in Chobe National Park (an hour away) is always an option.

Elephant rides and walks with lion cubs are also available on the Zambian side of the border, and the photos from these activities are always spectacular.

The next morning the parents headed off for a relaxing helicopter ride over the falls. I was hoping to quietly jump on board but the lads weren’t finished with me yet, and once again my pleading fell on deaf ears as I soon found myself standing above the truly terrifying Gorge Swing on the Zimbabwean side of the river.

This jump involved a pure 70m of free fall before swinging out over the gorge, and at $80 (about R600) it was also cheaper than the bungee jump (small consolation when you’re pretty sure you’re not getting out alive). Other high-wire activities on offer include bridge swinging, zip-lining and abseiling, but we wisely decided to quit while ahead and move on to slightly more sane activities.

We had some free time to explore the markets, and everyone managed to find some space in their luggage for a few souvenirs. We needed to be on our toes because the sellers drive a hard bargain – we often found it easier to trade unwanted items instead of cash (old shoes and torches seem to be highly valued).

By that stage I felt like I needed another holiday just to recover, but we managed to finish off the trip on a perfect note, with an evening meal at the Boma Restaurant. The cost of $40 per person was a bit steep, but became a lot more digestible once we’d seen the array of food and entertainment on offer.

Upon arrival we were clothed in traditional evening attire, and we hadn’t been seated long before an artist offered to paint various animals on our faces, a storyteller stopped by with a collection of African fables, and singers and dancers performed for us.

Entertainment aside, The Boma has become famous for its food.

We all enthusiastically tried crocodile, kudu, giraffe and eland. Luckily there were also plenty of options for the vegetarian in the family, and the buffet style of service meant we all ate a lot more than we should. This didn’t matter in the least, however, as straight after dinner each guest was given a bongo drum and told to make some noise.

Needless to say this led to dancing and merriment well into the night – a perfect way to finish off a holiday on an uniquely African note.

If You Go...

Flights: British Airways and SAA both fly from Joburg to Vic Falls, with return flights ranging from R3 500 to R6 000.

Accommodation: Backpackers charge about R50 a night for camping and R120 per dorm bed, while hotels range from R500 to R5 000 per night.

Activities: Operators such as Shearwater, Wild Horizons and African Encounter all have offices in Victoria Falls and can book activities, while ACTS Africa organises longer stays and customised itineraries.

Currency: Officially Zimbabwe uses only US dollar, but rand is widely accepted.

Must-pack items: extra camera batteries for viewing Vic Falls, old clothes and other swoppable items for the marketplace, and extra cash (activities are priced in dollars and aimed at the overseas market). - The Mercury

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