In 1855 David Livingstone found himself in a canoe traveling down the Zambezi River towards what the locals called ‘smoke that thunders.’ The sound is what he heard first, a tremendous roar heard from miles away. Then as they approached the thick columns of spray, like a morning fog rose up and he knew that he had found the long presumed imaginary falls, what he would later name after his monarch – Victoria Falls.
The falls are neither the highest nor widest such mega-fall in the world, but they are nonetheless impressive. Unlike Livingstone, I approached as most visitors do on land but just like the famous explorer, I heard the thundering smoke long before I first saw it. Victoria Falls rests between Zambia and Zimbabwe and visitors have their choice from which country to view the famous waterfall. The Livingstone airport in Zambia makes getting there easy and most people spend a couple of days exploring both sides of the falls.
I had never been to a world famous waterfall before so I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen some large ones in Iceland and other places, but I have never been to Niagara, Iguazu or any the other world renowned falls and was excited for the visit. The mist flew upwards as if on a great wind soaking my camera as I approached the side. I looked down and was instantly underwhelmed.
As I said, I didn’t know what to expect but the reality of Victoria Falls certainly wasn’t it. Don’t misunderstand me, the falls are very nice but it wasn’t a transformative experience nor would I consider Victoria Falls to be one of the top natural wonders in the world. But I hadn’t really seen the full beauty of the falls yet and decided to reserve judgement, at least to give the wonder the benefit of the doubt. The Zimbabwe Victoria Falls park features a variety of walking trails to different points of the falls so visitors can see the powerful wonder from all angles. And that’s what I never fully appreciated, the shear size of the falls. While it doesn’t beat the other falls in height, some consider Victoria Falls the largest in the world because it has the largest sheet of falling water in the world. Sure, this could just be a case of the locals trying to create more buzz, but there’s no doubt the falls are impressive.
Over the course of an hour I followed the path, peering over the edge at the best viewing points. I seemed as if I was slowly approaching the most impressive section of the falls, a natural crescendo accentuated by the watery mist that enveloped me at every stop. There’s so much water flowing back up from the falls that many people bring umbrellas and ponchos to keep dry. Finally, drenched under the hot noonday sun I finished the circuit at Rainbow Bridge where, fittingly, I saw a rainbow. I stood up on the rocks and looked across what may or may not be the largest waterfall in the world and wondered what Livingstone thought as he stood there. Was he relieved to finally locate the falls of legend or was he as unsure about its notoriety as I was?
What do you think? World wonder or just another nice waterfall?