We woke very early on our first morning in Victoria Falls. Jet lag stirred us around 3.30am but it was the thundering sound of the water crashing down the falls that stopped us from drifting back to sleep. It made my heart race with excitement, listening to the falls as we waited for the sun to rise.
When we eventually pulled back the curtains we were thrilled, to see the morning sky filled with red and orange hues as the sun was starting to rise. We raced for our cameras thinking it would be just moments before the sun raised its head above the horizon but in reality it was probably closer to an hour.
We stood mesmerised until the glowing ball of the sun eventually came into view. It was a truly beautiful experience to see an African sunrise for the first time.
After breakfast, we headed off to Victoria Falls National Park to witness this natural wonder up close. Again we were hassled a little to buy souvenirs from the locals but they were quite accepting when we said we would look at their products on the way back.
There were only a couple of people in front of us at the queue into the park. July falls into the winter season when the weather is supposed to be cool and dry with average temperatures between 190C and 250C. We were very fortunate as it was beautiful and sunny with temperatures of at least 250C and higher –definitely shorts weather which was a bit of a surprise to me. They say that the best time to visit the falls for the volume of water flow is between February and June so we were a little late but for us the timing was ideal – especially as we missed the queues.
There was a group of American men in front of us at the ticket window howeve,r who were complaining bitterly about paying around US $30 each to get in as it was ‘just a park’. Seriously! It was just ‘one of the seven natural wonders of the world’! I think that was worth paying for…
I hope the complaining man changed his mind when he actually got inside the park and witnessed the falls because they were jaw-droppingly spectacular. We couldn’t believe how amazing they were when we reached the first viewing spot. The sheer size and beauty of the falls as the water pounded over the cliff was simply breathtaking!
We could hardly speak but as we walked to the next viewing point, it just got better and better. The volume of the water crashing over the cliffs, the intensity of the sound, the fine mist pouring up into the air as the water hit the river 100 metres below. It was quite simply beyond my expectations.
As we continued round the viewing points, we were glad we had brought our waterproof jackets. We could have bought light ponchos from the shop at the entrance of the park but as we needed good jackets for trekking in Uganda, we invested in some lightweight, waterproof jackets from Kathmandu and they were perfect.
I was a little concerned about Karl and Sam near the edge of the falls, I have to say! The cliffs drop sharply away and the ground was extremely slippery with the spray. Under the circumstances, I would have expected some barriers at the edge of the viewpoints but there was not much more than a few battered sticks in most places. Of course, Karl and Sam thought I was being too concerned about their safety near the edge of the cliff so played a game of pretending to push each other over the edge in the very worst places – in the end I had to walk away and leave them to it as I didn’t want to watch! To be fair to me, apparently at least one tourist does die every year at Victoria Falls so I was right to be concerned for their safety…
We didn’t get to see Victoria Falls from the Zambian side but from most accounts, it is more spectacular from Zimbabwe. However, Zambia does have Devil’s Pool, a rock pool where dare-devils can swim and have their photos taken on the very lip of the falls. It wasn’t supposed to be open in July as usually the water level and flow are too high but as we walked around the view points, we could see a group of people climbing over the rocks on the other side, making their way to Devil’s Pool. You have to go to Devil’s Pool with an authorised guide, which sounds like a safe option, but to be honest, the guides we saw were crazy! They were standing on the very edge of the falls seemingly impervious to the sheer drop of the cliff. As the tourists dived into Devil’s Pool, the guides were there, standing on the edge of the rocks to take photos of them – I could hardly watch!
Sam totally wanted to join these adrenalin tragics but unfortunately it wasn’t possible to book a tour at that stage. My friend and her family were lucky enough to experience Devil’s Pool the week after we left so if this is something you want to do, perhaps check with your hotel’s tour manager when you arrive, even if it is the off season. Nothing online indicated that Devil’s Pool would open early when we went but you might just be lucky!
After the 20 to 30 minute walk around the falls, we stopped at Shearwater Rainforest Café at the entrance to the tourist centre. We enjoyed a refreshing drink while we watched the warthogs playing and fighting on the grass and then wandered around reading the informative boards on the history of the area.
We bought some lovely but fairly pricy tee shirts and souvenirs in the shop on site at the park and then made our way outside, back into the world of local vendors looking to haggle on a deal.
Haggling is definitely the way the locals like to sell their wares. I looked at a cap and was immediately targeted by a vendor who asked me how much I wanted to pay for it. I asked the price and he told me in a very animated way that it was US $18 ‘but now you tell me what you want to pay and then we discuss’! It was just like Life of Brian! I eventually got it for US$15 which proves I’m not very good at haggling…
It was good experience however for what was coming next. I bought the cap from an outside stand where multiple vendors were selling their products. Across the railway line on the way back to the hotel, other vendors were displaying their products on blankets on the ground and they were very desperate to make a sale. We all felt we should buy something to support the local community so we asked about a few small wooden animals. Clearly buying one or two souvenirs wasn’t enough for these vendors though – they were the masters of upselling! Ultimately, I managed to buy two bowls, an elephant and a rhino for US $35, despite not really wanting anything.
Karl and Sam also bought quite a few items but what we didn’t realise was that this would make us a target for all of the other vendors. We were literally hounded as we tried to make our way back to the hotel. It was quite unnerving as people were running after us desperately telling us that we had to buy from them too – we couldn’t just buy from the first people because they had families to feed as well! ‘You support them – you must support me too’, they said. We had to be extremely firm and tell them that they needed to ask someone else as we couldn’t buy from everyone. We briskly walked away, trying to avoid eye contact as these men pushed their products up into our faces, trying to intimidate us into buying them.
It wasn’t the most pleasant experience but it certainly wasn’t dangerous. More annoying really and we had empathy for these men as the poverty level in Zimbabwe is so high. Around 70% of people living in Zimbabwe are classified as living in poverty, especially in rural areas, with hyperinflation, power outages, declining manufacturing and fuel shortages all serious issues for the country. The inflation level was so high at one point that $100 trillion notes were being issued! Karl was offered a $10 trillion Zimbabwean dollar note for US $40 which he eventually haggled down to US $7. Of course, the note is worthless as it is no longer legal tender. Zimbabwe is now trying again with its new currency, the Zim dollar, after a period of using the US dollar as its national currency.
Anyway, we eventually made our way back to the hotel, fascinated by the local ladies balancing baskets, shopping and other large objects on their heads. Karl asked a couple of ladies if he could take a photo and, as I had warned him, they asked for US $2 for the privilege. Karl only had a US $5 note at that point so offered them that if they would have their photos taken with me. They agreed, clearly thinking tourists like us had more money than sense. It was fairly obvious that this was one of the ways they earned their money – walking up and down the street, waiting for supposedly rich tourists to part with their money for a photo opportunity.
We didn’t mind though as it was part of the experience of being in Zimbabwe. We went back to the hotel, had a drink in the bar and waited for the pick-up time to come round for our 4pm helicopter ride, in time to see the sun start to descend over the falls.
We were totally delighted, when back at our room, to see all the wildlife playing in the hotel grounds. First, there were lots of baboons of all sizes from babies through to huge patriarchs. They started to climb up the balconies and at one time, they were actually sitting on the edge of our own balcony! We were very mindful not to let them into our room as they can be extremely aggressive – one attacked a lady near the bar when she shooed him away from her bag – but it was amazing to watch them play.
Then after all the baboons, there came warthogs, pangolins, mongooses, monkeys and more! It was such a delightful sight as we relaxed on the balcony waiting for our tour.
We booked our Flight of Angels helicopter experience through GetYourGuide and everything went very smoothly. We enjoyed the trip out of town to the small airstrip where we were grouped with an American father and daughter for our flight. After going through induction, we were weighed to determine where we would sit in the helicopter and before long, we were taking off.
Now, I love helicopters and have been in a few but nothing tops the Victoria Falls experience. We soon put away the DSLRs and just used our mobile phones for constant images and videos as the view was simply incredible. You don’t realise how huge the Victoria Falls’ body of water is until you see it from the air. And to see the Zambezi River and the surrounding rural area was just beautiful.
It wasn’t cheap – it cost the three of us around $660 AUD but it was totally worth it. Our ride was for 15 minutes and that was ideal. Every moment was awe-inspiring so it felt longer than it was.
We were soon back on our way to the hotel for evening drinks and dinner. Everything at our hotel just seemed perfect and we were on a high after our amazing day. Whilst other people might stay longer in Victoria Falls with bungy jumping, white water rafting and other high adrenalin activities, I had decided to use our last day in Zimbabwe to go on our first African safari, to Chobe National Park in Botswana. It was to be a 7.30am start so it was off early to bed for some much needed rest after an extremely exciting day!