Victoria Falls, Zambia

(Notes from a journey to Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia, Sep/Oct 2015.)

When we arrived at Victoria Falls in late October, we were surprised to discover that most of the falls was completely dry, with water still spilling over only the western half of the great cliff face. It was the peak of the dry season, when the water throughput is only a fraction of its wet season peak in March/April. But this meant that we could walk the 1.2 km across the dry boulders of the Zambezi riverbed just above the dry part of the falls, and then swim 20 m into the river to reach the Devil’s Pool, a water-sculpted stone basin where water pools before spilling over the lip of the falls. It was full of fish that kept trying to nibble at us, unless we kept our legs swiftly kicking. Leaning over its slippery edge, we looked right down the waterfall to the bottom of the gorge; a brilliant rainbow fell sideways into the abyss.

Following this intense thrill, we walked across the bridge inaugurated by Cecil Rhodes in 1905, which still provides the only road and rail link across the gorge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. From Zimbabwe, you can look across the gorge directly at the heaviest part of the falls on its western end. The unceasing mist from the falls has created a micro-rainforest on the very edge of the cliffs. Conventional wisdom has it that while the falls lie entirely on Zambian territory, its best views are from this rainforest in Zimbabwe, across the gorge that divides the two countries in this area, and that the mist in the peak season is so heavy that it makes raingear mandatory and photography very difficult.

Above the falls the Zambezi remains deep and plenty wide, even in the dry season. During a slow sunset river cruise, we were treated to grand, ruddy vistas of hippos, Nile croc’s, and birds fishing in the river. A herd of elephants came down to the edge of an islet where they’d been grazing, waiting for the tourist boats to leave before they crossed the river to the mainland.

A few kilometers from the falls is Mukuni village, which claims a 700-year history, led by female chiefs until 500 years ago. It was then that their last female chief married a man who had been a chief in another chiefdom in what today is the Congo. She ceded most of her power to her husband, retaining primarily ritual duties. Since that day, Mukuni has always been led by two chiefs, one male and one female, with their powers similarly divided; since the two rulers must come from the same royal family, the co-chiefs are brother and sister. The village remains dirt poor but remarkably clean. They now accept visits from tourists for a small fee, which goes toward helping the poorest families access medical care and the poorest bright kids to stay in school. As in so many other villages across southeastern Africa, most locals lack access to modern jobs; here they produce handicrafts for the tourist trade. [—Usha Alexander, October 2015.]

("The smoke that thunders")

The flow is much reduced in late October

The mist from the falls has created a rainforest across

Roaring water gushes down over 100 meters

Best views of the falls are from Zimbabwe

Track through the rainforest in Zimbabwe

View from the rainforest across the falls

Rainbow over the falls, Zambian side

Gorge near the falls

View of the gorge from Victoria Bridge

Seasonal variation in water flows (more)

The dry half of the falls in late October

Walking to Devil's Pool

Approaching Devil's Pool

Approaching Devil's Pool (1, 2)

Devil's Pool (1, 2)

In Devil's Pool over Victoria Falls (more)

Hanging on over the slippery edge

Definitely a thrill

The thundering edge

Hearty breakfast after Devil's Pool

Crossing the border into Zimbabwe

Victorial Falls Bridge, built in 1905

A flower in the rainforest across Victoria Falls

Dry side of the falls

Dry side of the falls

Victoria Bridge (more)

Dry side of the falls

Gorge dividing Zim-Zam

Gorge dividing Zim-Zam

Gorge dividing Zim-Zam

Gorge dividing Zim-Zam

Hike to Boiling Pot

A small cascade

A shallow pool

Victoria Bridge

Victoria Bridge from the Boiling Pot

Our cheeful driver and guide, Richard Likamba

Approaching the falls in Zimbabwe

David Livingstone (closeup)

Zambezi River Cruise

Taonga river cruises

Zambezi river before the falls

Croc on the banks

River flows through Zambezi National Park

Cook on the boat

Zambezi National Park

Goliath heron

Looking for wildlife

Zambezi river with swimming hippos

Hippos marching towards the river

"Don't mess with me"
(1, 2, 3)

Entering the river

Zambezi river bank

Zambezi river bank (1, 2)

Zambezi river bank (more)

Left coast is Zambia, right is Zimbabwe (1, 2)

Water is much higher after the rains

Evening glow (1, 2)

Lots of islands (1, 2)

Dinner on the Zambezi

Zambezi sunset (1, 2, 3)

Watching the sunset

Zambezi at dusk (more)

Zambezi at dusk (more)

Zambezi at dusk

Elephants waiting to cross the river

Elephants waiting to cross the river (1, 2)

Elephants waiting to cross the river (1, 2)

Mukuni Village

Mukuni village: Home of the Leya people

A few kilometers from Victoria Falls

Village has two chiefs, who are brother and sister

Chiefs come from one designated royal family

Typical roof

The small enclosure is the bathing area

An artisan working with wood


Villagers are Christian today, at least nominally

Few villagers are out in the hot early afternoon

Inside a family compound with many huts

Inside a family compound with many huts

David Livingstone passed thorugh here

Villagers fetch water from Zambezi river

Curio shop, Mukuni village

Sample art of Mukuni village


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