Falling for Vic Falls - literally!

2012-10-16 12:15

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A trip to this world heritage site promises more than just smoke and thunder, writes News24 Travel reader Sam Bradley

Despite the political and economic hardships that have hit Zimbabwe over the last few years this is still one of my favourite countries to visit. It’s safer than the news broadcasters and rumour mill would have us believe, and it 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 amount 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) 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 onto a multi-layered deck complete with a pool and stunning views of the savannah. This is the perfect place to enjoy a true African sunset, complete with elephants bathing in the water hole a mere 100 metres in front of you.  

The actual Victoria Falls does happen to be the main attraction of the town, and with good reason. The area surrounding the falls has all been declared a national park and a world heritage site, meaning most if it remains in the same state as when it was first officially discovered by David Livingstone all those years ago. Originally named “Mosi-O-Tunya” meaning “the smoke that thunders,” Victoria Falls are spectacular at all times of the year, although they are probably at their most impressive when in full flow (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) as we had plenty of other activities vying for our attention. The Aussie boys were both adrenaline seekers, so first up was the bungee jump on the bridge connecting Zambia to Zimbabwe: apart from the thrill factor it also has the advantage of offering one of the best views of the falls. Despite my best arguments to the contrary 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.

You’ll need nerves of steel for some of these rapids as it’s 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 on their faces (this could be due to the fantastic river guides who were totally professional and made sure we felt safe the whole way through). 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 the boat, and the photos of the trip (available for purchase afterwards) did full justice to the size of some of the rapids we had conquered.

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 holiday. Sundowner cruises take place every evening on the quieter water above the falls, and a game drive in Chobe National Park (1 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 70metres of free fall before swinging out over the gorge, and at USD80 it was also cheaper than the bungee jump (small consolation when you’re pretty sure you not getting out alive anyway). Other high wire activities on offer included bridge swinging, zip-lining and abseiling, but we wisely decided we’d call it quits while we were still 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 as 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 this stage I felt like I needed another holiday just to recover, but we managed to finish off the trip on a perfect note by having an evening meal at the Boma Restaurant.  The price tag of USD 40 per person is 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 for long before an artist offered to paint various animals on our faces, a story teller 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.
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