Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Victoria Falls. Zambia and Zimbabwe
Creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambezi, and saw that a stream of a thousand yards broad leaped down a hundred feet and then became suddenly compressed into a space of fifteen to twenty yards.
David Livingstone, 1855
The Legends of the Falls
In some indigenous cultures time is likened to a river, not moving ever forward as we usually imagine it, but sitting backwards in a canoe and watching time past receding: we cannot see time forwards, only that which we have already lived. What lies ahead is like the river yet unseen – it might be quiet, or there might be a waterfall in our path. With luck accelerating rapids, the roar of falling water ahead or maybe a plume of spray will alert us to the dangers lying in our future.
Employing the metaphor of the earth as Gaia or Mother Nature, the big rivers are the arteries of living organisms. The Zambezi, the fourth longest river in Africa, has been one of the principle arteries for trade and exploration in the region. However, this conduit has one main stricture, the Victoria Falls, and two lesser ones, the Kariba and Cahora Bassa gorges. Like embolisms in a blood vessel they have prevented the Zambezi from reaching its full potential as a major channel of human activity.
Flying over this mighty river the massive gorge that forms the Victoria Falls, appears to have been cleft by the axe of some huge ancient deity. If that were so, it must have been a battle of the Titans because there are seven vertical, interconnected incisions zig-zagging this way and that, each about 100 metres deep and up to one kilometre wide.
What they really represent is evidence of the river’s incredible erosive power, cutting into the basaltic bedrock over several millions of years as it follows its current course. The start of the next great incision can be seen where it is currently eroding a new defile at the Eastern Cataract.
But water alone cannot cut rock, no matter how long it tries. The actual work is being done by sand particles carried in the river from erosion upstream, working tirelessly like sandpaper. The earth’s crust is perpetually being uplifted in places and then ground down in others; one process following the other, while major geological plates push up against one another or are torn apart.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Tongabezi and Sindabezi Lodges while photographing and researching this chapter.
Going Over The Edge
Looking at the outbreak of accommodation establishments cluttering the sides of the Batoka Gorge you have to wonder what the “angels in their flight”, who apparently gaze down on the scene, would have to say about the ring of commercialisation that compromises the essence of this magnificent site. Some of the hotels and lodges are built as close to the cataract as you can get, without actually going over the edge.
So thank heavens for Tongabezi Lodge, constructed with a sense of modesty and passion for the surrounds, on the Zambian bank about 17 km upstream of the gorge. Built in subtle safari-lodge style, Tongabezi was the most characterful and environmentally appropriate place in the region in its day, pioneering eco-tourism in Zambia around two decades ago. It remains – in our opinion – the very best address at The Falls.
Tongabezi’s small satellite camp on Sindabezi Island is unlike any other camp in Africa: exclusive, intimate and surrounded entirely by the Zambezi River. Five thatched chalets offer waterside views over the flood plains and nearby national park and you are totally engulfed by river sounds – hippos grunting, greenbuls twittering and spurfowl cackling in the undergrowth. Furthermore you are almost guaranteed a sighting of that most elusive of all African water birds, the finfoot. Sindabezi was the deciding factor when selecting a place to partner the Victoria Falls as an icon, and you really should see it too.