International Travel

Sue Halliwell

Indulging in the wonders of Victoria Falls in Zambia

The natural consequence of being a 60-plus traveller is that you become a bucket list basher, racing to tick off as many items as possible before time and health run out.

Victoria Falls was a list topper, but I was determined not to hurry this visit. The world’s largest curtain of water had intrigued me for decades, and I would wallow in the wider experience of it like a great, fat Zambezi River hippo.

When explorer David Livingstone discovered the Falls, he described them as ‘the most wonderful sight I have seen in Africa’, marking the occasion by carving his initials and the date on a nearby tree. He then introduced them to the world through his writings, thus generating myriad stories of romance and adventure around them.

A lover of all things African, I wanted to see that most wonderful sight and soak up the romance and adventure at my own pace and in comfort. Victoria Falls is an ideal and popular place for a safari wind-in or wind-down, so I booked a week of its thrills, frills and animals before my own safari departed.

Most centre around the region’s physical, scenic and economic artery, the Zambezi River, Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park and the Falls themselves. Daredevils fly above them in microlights, small planes or helicopters, or get a closer view by jet boat, cruise, canoe or fishing adventure. Adrenaline junkies bungy, flying fox, swing or zip line from Victoria Falls Bridge, or whitewater raft beneath it.

My days of scaring myself silly long gone, my first view of Victoria Falls was by walking the rainforest section of Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. Donning a hired yellow raincoat and with a quick salute to Livingstone’s statue at the Park entrance, I walked reverently towards the ‘thick, unbroken fleece falling all the way to the bottom’ of Livingstone’s description, its thunderous noise, cumulus mist and legendary rainbow.

It exceeded my imaginings and I returned many times during the week to gaze again at this marvel of nature. That’s when I wasn’t soaking up the other delights of the Park, River and Falls area, especially the wildlife. Steering clear of the cheetah and lion walks with reports of dodgy conservation practices, I instead created life highlights from a rhino walk and elephant interaction.

Two rangers guided the rhino walk, picking up spoor an hour into the park. The trail led to a lone male on the scent of a female, so we crept quietly in the direction he was headed until we found her – and baby. Our guides positioned us to watch the age-old scenario of male approaches female, female rebuffs him, male tries again, female leaves him in no doubt, male slinks away, mum and baby get on with life. I delighted in this opportunity to be part of my own dramatic wildlife documentary, as I did with its sequel at The Elephant Café.

An exciting 10-kilometre jet boat ride from the Falls, The Elephant Café’s herd of ten rescued elephants filled our hearts, and its incredible African chefs, our bellies. The Café supports these mainly orphaned elephants who wander freely in the spacious park but scurry to the Café at tourist time to be fed treats.

The elephants aren’t the only ones getting a treat. Feeding them, and then watching them interact, play in the Zambezi and wander back into the park, was a mammoth privilege, as was the magnificent lunch that followed. Elephant Café chefs have revived traditional recipes using locally-sourced ingredients to create heavenly, Africa-style haute cuisine, which they serve at their beautiful Zambezi-side restaurant.

I topped this pleasurable afternoon with a genteel Zambezi cruise, wildlife viewing and canapes on the Lady Livingstone. This stately river boat departs the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa every evening in time for the reliably stunning African sunset, which was handy because I was staying there.

Victoria Falls accommodation is the stuff of exotic dreams, the African decor, Zambezi views and ultra comfort of The Royal Livingstone Hotel, David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa, and The River Club totally blowing my Afrophile mind.

Each offered exemplary fine living and dining, infused with its own stand-out character. I thought I had died and gone to romance heaven at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk from Victoria Falls. I couldn’t have imagined more magical al-fresco dining, a more opulent suite or delightful aspect, Falls’ mist framing the Zambezi as giraffe, antelope and zebra wandered the expansive grounds at will.

Not far upriver at the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa, sumptuous grandeur met tasteful safari chic. The cultured grounds, charming rooms and character-filled dining areas oozed Africa. After an exquisite dinner of monumental proportions in one of them, I sank into my luxurious four-poster bed, listened to hippos and elephants across the Zambezi, and once more thanked Dr. David for his extraordinary legacy to the world.

It was almost cruel to take this ‘Out of Africa’ obsessive to The River Club and expect her to leave again. Around 18 kilometres by road transfer from Victoria Falls, this oasis of tree-filled tranquility on a sweeping curve of the Zambezi had me captivated. At any moment I expected a pith-helmetted Robert Redford to stride through the colonial grace of the lounge and al-fresco dining areas, or up the dark-wooded stairs of our multi-storeyed, elegantly furnished chalet, to whisk me upriver in search of wildlife and a wild time. That pretty much described the sunset cruise on our second evening at The River Club, although the animals took the starring roles due to Robert’s disappointing no-show.

Another Victoria Falls evening saw me transported back in time on the painstakingly restored Royal Livingstone Express. Steam billowed, whistles tooted and drinks flowed as we chugged to the Victoria Falls Bridge and back in this magnificent piece of Zambian railroad history with its five courses of silver-serviced dinner.

The area’s rich and fascinating history gets broad coverage on the daily cultural tours starting and finishing in nearby Livingstone Town. While there, I also recommend visiting Wayawaya on Livingstone’s main Mosi-oa-Tunya Road, a vibrant collective of local ladies being taught to design, make and market high quality leather and cotton products. Their showroom and workshop are open most days, and by making a purchase you support a project aimed at empowering vulnerable women.

Meeting these beautiful women was my final Victoria Falls indulgence. Like Livingstone, I had seen ‘scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’, although unlike him, I wouldn’t be marking any trees to commemorate them. Rather, I would be marking off the bucket list and extracting this old lady hippo from her happy Zambezi wallow for the next adventure.