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One of the most spectacular sights in Africa, MOSI-oa-Tunya is a mile-long marvel of mist and spray marking the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Known to locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”, the roar from the world’s largest single curtain of falling water can be heard 40km away.
The falls were named after Britain’s Queen Victoria by David Livingstone, the first European known to have crossed the Dark Continent. On coming face to face with the waterfall in 1855, the explorer and missionary incredulously recorded, “It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
Chief Sekeletu, of the local Makololo tribe, paddled the adventurous Scotsman to Goat Island, now Livingstone Island, which is as close to the dramatic cataract as you can get. Well, almost. Today’s tourists take the same route until they, too, are surrounded by the tossing, tumbling Zambezi River. Water levels are at their lowest from late August to early January and this is when fearless (or foolish) foreigners dive in and swim to Devil’s Pool. A submerged ledge enables show-offs to lie on the lip of the falls, barely a metre from the raging rapids, without being swept over.
The ultimate infinity pool is reached from the Zambian border town of – you guessed it – Livingstone. The easy-going former capital is a popular base for visitors wary of the political, economic and social unrest just across the river.
Zimbabwe may be about to bounce back from its tourism slump, however. Lonely Planet has included the nation once known as Rhodesia in its top 10 of countries to visit in 2019, Victoria Falls (also the name of the town) hotel occupancy rates are at their highest for 20 years and 300,000 people are expected this year – a far cry from 2008, when visitor numbers dwindled to 25,000.
Tourism chiefs on both sides of the river realise the destination they share has what it takes to become a lucrative year-round attraction (the waterfall draws even bigger crowds during the rainy season). Victoria Falls might be twice as high as Niagara, in North America, but it’s a lot less commercialised, although that’s changing. Helicopter flights and hot-air-balloon rides offer birds-eye views, and adrenaline junkies go white-water rafting down the mighty Zambezi or zip-line over it. They can also follow in the footsteps of Hollywood actor Will Smith, who gave the local tourism industry a boost last year when he bungee jumped off the 111-metre bridge that links Zim and Zam.
On the subject of adrenaline sports, (Zimbabwean) ground was recently broken on a Grand Prix circuit for Victoria Falls, bankrolled by a Dubai-based consortium. Besides the racetrack, there are plans for convention facilities, a medical centre and shopping mall.
Further afield, both countries offer world-class game viewing. Safari goers have an excellent chance of spotting the Big Five in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, which is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations. In Zambia, South Luangwa National Park is renowned for its walking safaris. Frankly, I’d rather sit on the ledge at Devil’s Pool.
Credit: SCMP.COM by T. Pile