For centuries, travellers to the Victoria Falls have been held in awe as its waters tumbled over the lip into the gorge below with a roar – leading the indigenous Tonga name “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or “The Smoke That Thunders”. Many things remain the same in the small town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe depsite the many change that have taken place in the mordern world.
Victoria Falls – an attraction that has stood the test of time
Even though travel was time-consuming in the previous century – it didn’t stop sightseers from flocking to view what was described as an “open-air Paradise of the world”. The first steam train arrived in Victoria Falls in 1904 (part of the extension line from Wankie – now Hwange) and part of the Great Railway Line north from Cape Town to the Belgian Congo. This attracted even more visitors.
Cruise-ship passengers stopping over in Table Bay, in the 1920s, were more than happy to undertake a return trip by train of nearly 60 hours (one-way) to reach the Falls – just to stay for a couple of days.
Victoria Falls was part of the first main commercial air route in the early 1930s, which added to the town’s growing tourism potential. In 1947 BOAC introduced the famous ‘Short Solent’ class of flying boat, and a new route was launched: Southampton – Augusta – Cairo – Luxor – Khartoum – Port Bell – Victoria Falls – Vaaldam (Johannesburg), all in four and a half days and with three scheduled services each week. The Solents seated 34 passengers and tickets for the 6,350 mile (10,220 kilometres) journey were advertised at £167 (R2,860) single and £300 12s (R5,130) return. There was no flying at night, and the route included overnight stops in Sicily, Luxor, Kampala and Victoria Falls. A similar service was introduced again in 1988 for six years.
Even the Great Depression of the 1930s did not deter the globetrotters whose journeys would involve mail ships, steam trains and automobiles of the day (on the strip roads built in this decade) to reach what is now known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. In fact, special travel offers at the time had to exclude busy public holiday periods as the Victoria Falls Hotel,the first hotel built in the town, would have a lengthy waiting list.
Fast-forward to the present and technology has improved tourist travel and access to the town exponentially. The recent redevelopment and expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport allows intercontinental airliners to fly directly to Victoria Falls (it has the capacity to accommodate the Airbus A380) and handle 1.2 million global travellers and 500,000 domestic passengers per annum.
Accommodation for tourists has also evolved from the early 1900s when the grand old lady – the Victoria Falls Hotel – was built in 1904. Now the town provides a wide variety of accommodation – from luxury hotels to lodges, B&Bs and backpacker facilities.
Africa Albida Tourism has links with Victoria Falls that span more than a quarter of a century and include the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Lokuthula Lodges, The Boma – Dinner & Drum Show and Ngoma Safari Lodge, with its expansive views over the flood plains of the Chobe River, located in the Chobe Forest Reserve, Botswana.
Experiencing the Falls
In the early 1900s visitors would view Victoria Falls, venture out on safari and indulge in swimming, golf, tennis and fishing. Short leisure flights were also available over the Falls in the 1930s at a cost of £1. Fast-forward to the 21st century and the Victoria Falls is a tourist hot-spot, not only for travellers wanting to view the Falls, the Zambezi and its wildlife, but also for extreme-adventure enthusiasts.
Adrenalin sports on, over and in the gorge below the Victoria Falls are the top attractions. Whitewater rafting is a huge drawcard. Bungee jumping, zip-lining and gorge swinging are also popular. The biplane flights over the Falls of yesteryear have now been replaced by helicopter flips.
River excursions can be enjoyed above the Falls – allowing tourists to view the wildlife which may be on the riverbanks or in the water. Options include canoes drifting down the river with a guide steering the craft or on luxury vessels, which can include sunset cocktails and dinners on board.
The closer to the falls, the wetter
Technology, accommodation, adventure activities and means of travel may have all evolved since the early 1900s but one thing will always remain the same and that is the closer one gets to the Falls, the wetter one gets!
In the 1930s visitors were advised to wear “mackintoshes and galoshes” for the excursions through the Rain Forest or while walking through the “spray-clouds”, and it was even recommended that guests wear a bathing costume beneath their raincoats.Nowadays travel websites encourage tourists to “pack waterproof gear as you will get soaked when in close proximity to the Falls.”
Something else that has never changed are pesky mozzies and malaria in this travel destination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that travellers to the region take prescription medicine before, during, and after the trip to prevent malaria. A good doctor can help you decide which medicine is the most appropriate and offer advice on other steps that can be taken to prevent malaria.
One modern-day advisory for tourists concerns currency. The currencies presently used in Zimbabwe include US dollars, South African rand, Botswana pula, British pounds and euros – and of these the US dollar is the most common and certainly the best one to use on your trip to Zimbabwe. Most establishments accept major credit cards, but please check in advance with the hotels and restaurants on your itinerary. Ensure you have enough foreign currency, in cash, in your possession to pay for national park fees and souvenirs at the market where credit card facilities are not available.
It is best to travel with small denominations of foreign currency. When paying in US dollars, all airports, immigration offices and many vendors and shops will only accept US dollar notes printed after 2001. Try to pay for accommodation and activities before your trip. It is not possible to make cash withdrawals with an international bank card.
The millions of years that it has taken to carve out this icon of Africa, ensures that it stands out proudly against the technological and economic challenges of the modern world, and Victoria Falls remains one of the most hospitable places on the planet. If you have never been, it’s time to go.