I saw the mist first - rising from the river in the distance - and I immediately understood why the indigenous people of the area call Victoria Falls “The Smoke that Thunders.” The mist looks like smoke – a massive cloud of smoke that seems to sit atop the Zambezi River. The thunder, of course, is the roar of the falls, which flow at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia in southern Africa.
Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a sight I have wanted to see since I was a kid. When I traveled to the area in June, it did not disappoint. How could it? Victoria Falls is classified as the largest waterfall in the world based on its combined width of 5,604 feet and height of 354 feet. From the ground, the entire fall can’t even be seen. From the air, the sight is breathtaking. The waterfall is the full width of the Zambezi - a powerful sheet of water more than a mile wide that cascades into a chasm it has carved over time.
After viewing the waterfall from the air in a helicopter, we took a well-marked footpath on the Zimbabwe side to scope out different sections of the fall from ground level. Sixteen viewing spots dot the path and the spray from the waterfall (the mist, or the smoke) gets stronger and stronger as you go. (A raincoat is advised – and provided at the entrance for visitors who don’t bring their own.) The spray is constant, which means there also is a constant rainbow at the falls, and can be seen as far as 30 miles away. The end of the path offers a view of Victoria Falls Bridge, which links Zambia and Zimbabwe below the waterfall.
Victoria Falls was given its Christian name (in honor of Queen Victoria) by the Scottish missionary David Livingstone, who is believed to be the first European to have seen the falls. There are many fun facts about the falls. The One that fascinates me the most is that from September through January (the dry season), part of the waterfall can actually dry up.
Of course, southern Africa is home to various wild animals and those, too, can be spotted near the falls. From the helicopter, we saw elephants. While taking a cruise along the Zambezi, several hippo were seen, as was a small crocodile sunning itself on the shore. And on the footpath, we were greeted at one point by a baboon running toward us, as well as several smaller primates lucky enough to call this natural wonder home.
-post by Judy