David Livingstone was the first European to set eyes on the falls, on the 17th November 1855. Astounded by what he saw he wrote: ‘No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.’ True to the form of Victorian explorers, Livingstone named the falls after his queen.
It did not take long for others to become entranced by this natural wonder. Cecil John Rhodes quickly chose the falls as a key point in his vision of a railway running from the Cape to Cairo. Drawing on the drama of the falls, his vision was that spray would shoot along the gorge and dash the windows of the carriages as the train crossed the bridge, thrilling the occupants. Thrills on the bridge and on the Zambezi itself are certainly on the extreme side: white-water rafting, bungy jumping and ‘gorge swings’ are some of the activities on offer. A memorable experience is to take a helicopter flight over the falls, really giving visitors a unique perspective of the extraordinary geology below. In our opinion, just soaking up the atmosphere and drama of this magical spectacle up close can be a life changing experience.
A visit to the falls is a totally different experience at certain times of year. When the flood waters begin to flow through the river system the Zambezi swells ten times in volume. This ‘wet’ season, from February through to June, with a peak in late April and early May, is an incredibly dramatic time to visit. The cold morning temperatures react with the warm river water to create a tower of spray that can rise to over 400 metres and be visible from over 50 miles away. This combined with the roar of the water provides clear explanation for the local name for the falls: Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders. Up close views of the falls result in a soaking: spray comes up from the floor of the gorge, straight across from the lip and hangs in swirling squalls of wind and warm rain in the air all around. Views of the floor of the gorge are obscured but the power can be felt vibrating through your feet. During the dry or low-water season the experience is altogether different. The actual lip of the falls can be explored from the Zambian bank, it’s even possible to jump into an eddy known as the ‘Devil’s Pool’ and rest your arms on the lip itself! From Zimbabwe, the National Park paths take you right along the facing bank of the gorge enabling a stunning panoramic view of the full breadth.