Experiencing Victoria Falls cannot be done in a virtual world. No film, IMAX theatre, or computer-generated image can quite capture the heart-pounding sensation of actually standing on the edge of the precipice above the raging waters.
© On the edge of thunder in the rainforest walk at Victoria Falls
Photo: David Rogers
The sheer power of the natural world is both magnificent and terrible, and it is not unusual to feel an overwhelming sense of insignificance in the face of the relentless crashing of water on rock.
It is hardly surprising that Victoria Falls has long been associated with mysticism and transcendence. David Livingstone recorded in his diary in 1865 that the ancient Batoka chiefs used Kazeruka and Boaruka Islands on the lip of the Falls as sacred places of worship."It is no wonder that under the cloudy columns, and near the brilliant rainbows, with the ceaseless roar of the cataract, with the perpetual flow, as if pouring forth from the hand of the Almighty, their souls should be filled with reverential awe,"
Even the most hardened men have been moved. The hunter Frederick Courtney Selous was awestruck, describing the Victoria Falls in 1881 as "the most transcendentally beautiful natural phenomena on this side of Paradise".
The intensity of human response to the Victoria Falls is rooted mainly in their sheer scale. One is confronted by one's own mortality. Death, after all, is a mere step away. Interestingly, very few people have decided to end their lives by leaping into the gorge.Thomas Baines
Thomas Baines was an artist/explorer who joined Livingstone's second expedition to Victoria Falls in 1862. He spent 12 days sketching and painting his now famous artworks of the waterfalls. Baines and Livingstone had opposing temperaments and did not get on well together. They ultimately fell out over an argument about sugar rations.
See a view of the Falls from the rain forest close to where Thomas Baines painted "The Great Western Fall"
An interesting meditation is to reflect on the Falls as the natural embodiment of the circle of life - birth, death and renewal, for the Victoria Falls, as mighty and permanent as they appear, exist in all phases of this cycle at once.
We recommend that the visitor experience the Falls from both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides, as the border post is only a short distance away - over the historic iron bridge - and cross-frontier excursions are relatively easy and encouraged by authorities on both sides.
Ideally, we feel you should start on the Zimbabwean side where there are many more views of the Falls and you can experience the magic of the rain forest, which is a distinct ecosystem that has been formed because of the spray from the Falls.
The rain forest is part of the 1900ha reserve established in 1937 and is part of the broader Victoria Falls National Park. Among the animals that may be seen here are bushbuck, baboons and mongooses. There have been rare sightings of leopard in the undergrowth but no tourist has ever been attacked. The birdlife is profuse, with special sightings being the trumpeter hornbill, Schalow's turaco, the coppery sunbird and the blue waxbill.
One of the most impressive sights of Victoria Falls is at night during full moon when a Lunar Rainbow
, or "moonbow" can be seen in the spray instead of the usual daylight rainbow. The rain forest is open for these viewings every full moon, and you should ask your local tour operator for the details.
Photo: Marleen PostSafety Along the Walk
You are very safe in the National Park, and your greatest danger is probably your own lack of good judgment. Unlike many such spots in the world - thankfully - the Parks Service has chosen not to spoil your view of the Falls by putting up metal and stone barriers between you and the edge of the gorge. At most lookout points there are just some piled branches preventing you from crossing over and approaching the sheer cliff. DO NOT CROSS these barriers! If you do, you will find yourself on wet, slippery rock that often angles downward toward the precipice. Do not be tempted to cross these barriers to get a great photo of the Falls, as it might be the last photo you ever take! Other precautions include
carrying water with you, as the walk is several kilometres long and it can get very hot. Also, don't leave your valuables lying around - another tourist is likely to want your camera more than you do. Finally, adequately protect camera equipment and other sensitive electronics from the ever-present spray - it and you WILL get wet!Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.