There have been few times in my life when sheer excitement has rendered me speechless. And even fewer when that excitement has caused my mouth to hang open in a zombie-like gawp.
Indeed, there has only been one instance, thus far, when both things happened simultaneously in one stomach-churning moment of extreme amazement and incredulity… and it involved me being immersed up to my neck in the Zambezi.
Yes, I have swum on the very edge of the Victoria Falls. It happened in a 3 m by 3 m pool known as Angel’s Armchair on the lip of the main cataract, reached by a short swim across the mighty river from Livingstone Island – a haven of sanity in the boiling madness of the river.
Not five meters away, the full force of the river was raging over the edge of the falls, plummeting hundreds of meters to spend itself at the foot of the gorge. And yet, the water around me was still, protected from the swift, life-threatening currents by an encircling wall of rock.
You can tick it off as one of the things to do before you die – an experience not to be missed. Which just about sums up Victoria Falls in general.
And, thanks to the forward thinking of operators on both sides of the falls in the towns of Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), it is now a marvelous value-for-money short-break package holiday destination.
Because the falls themselves are dry for most of the year on the Zambian side, I recommend a dual-center holiday of, say, a couple of nights on either side. The countries are literally a bridge apart, and getting across the border is no great hassle, as borders go.
And tour operators generally do business on both sides of the falls, so transfers from one side to the other are usually included in package prices, as are flights, accommodation and, in some cases, some activities.
In Livingstone the Waterfront is a bustling tourism hub on the edge of the Zambezi which offers accommodation, a restaurant and lively pub, swimming pools and a range of excursions.
All budgets are catered for, from executive-class double chalets, en-suite twin chalets to the cheap and cheerful Adventure Village with its deck-mounted furnished twin tents.
There’s also a campsite for those wishing to pitch their own tents, complete with power points, braai areas and shower and toilet facilities.
The activities are not just for adrenalin junkies, although it has to be said that white water rafting is what it’s all about when it comes to ultimate rushes. There are calmer, more relaxing ways to experience the river – on canoe or river safaris or sundowner cruises.
The Waterfront booking office also handles helicopter and microlight flips, elephant-back safaris and encounters, cultural tours and, of course, trips to Livingstone Island and Angel’s Armchair (in the dry season only).
Of course, there are two big flagship hotels at the Falls Resort, a stone’s throw from the falls themselves on the edge of the river. The Zambezi Sun and Royal Livingstone are both huge drawcards offering affordable short-stay package deals.
Away from the hustle and bustle of town, Thorntree River Lodge is set inside the Mosi oa Tunya National Park, a few kilometres upstream from the falls. A collection of attractive, secluded thatched chalets is strung out along the river bank, each with its own private stoep overlooking the water.
Meals are taken al fresco, under the stars, at the main lodge building and guests can enjoy elephant encounters and safaris at the adjacent elephant camp.
Thorntree also runs its own river craft, with canoes and river safaris among the activities on offer.
On the other side of the river, Zimbabwe enjoys a year-round rush of water over those inimitable falls. The spectacle can be enjoyed solo or as part of a guided tour.
Victoria Falls is on the up. After years of hardship caused by Zimbabwe’s political unrest, tourism is once again on the increase in this picturesque and historic town. Eateries abound, as do craft and curio shops, and haggling is order of the day.
Accommodation on the Zim side is many and varied. The Kingdom and the Victoria Falls Hotel – the oldest hotel in Africa – rest cheek-by-jowl with smaller lodges like Ilala and the Sprayview. Further out of town you can find the excellent Elephant Hills hotel and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
And if you’re looking for something equivalent to Thorntree, then Masuwe Safari Lodge fits the bill. It’s situated in a 1000-hectare private game reserve a mere 15-minute drive from town.
Accommodation is in 10 upmarket en-suite safari tents, with large, raised wooden decks overlooking the bushveld. And if that doesn’t have you speechless and agog, then there’s always that pool on the edge of reason!