10 Fascinating Facts: The Victoria Falls

Jan 8, 2016 Safari Prep
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A trip to the Victoria Falls is a must when you visit southern Africa and Toka Leya Camp is the perfect base from which to visit the Falls. The camp’s experienced and knowledgeable guides offer guests an unforgettable experience when they visit this famous natural wonder. Added to the Falls, Toka Leya offers guests the perfect location to explore the region further with activities including river boat cruises, rhino tracking, cultural visits and time to enjoy one of the many adventure sports. If you prefer some time to relax and enjoy the flow of the mighty Zambezi River, your tent is specifically designed for you to relax before heading to your next destination.

Zimbabwe or Zambia?
There is an ongoing debate as to which side of the Victoria Falls is best to view the spectacle though most people will concur that the best option is from the Zimbabwean side, allowing views of some two-thirds of the Falls.

But, if you would like to view the moonbow, the Zambian side is better, from the Eastern Cataract where the moon rises you. The Zambian side also tends to dry up first when the water levels of the Zambezi River drop later in the season.

The Largest In The World…
Victoria Falls is the biggest curtain of falling water in the world, forming the most remarkable feature of the Zambezi River. The Victoria Falls height varies from 70 metres to 108 metres, and is 1708 metres wide. The five most important areas of the waterfall include:

  • The Devil’s Cataract is 70 metres high and is named after the adjacent island in the river. Local tribes used to perform sacrificial ceremonies and when the missionaries arrived in the area they referred to these ceremonies as “devilish” and hence the name given to this cataract.
  • The Main Falls are 93 metres high and the most majestic with their wide curtain of water, and a peak flow rate of 700 000 cubic metres per minute. The sheer volume over the height of the falls is so great that before getting anywhere near the ground, the water is buffeted by the strong rising winds and turned into mist.
  • Horseshoe Falls (95 metres high) is shaped like a horseshoe and with the lowest volume of water it will be the first to dry up, usually between October and November.
  • The highest point of 108 metres is called the Rainbow Falls. On a clear day a beautiful rainbow can normally be viewed at this point
  • The Eastern Cataract is the second highest point at 101 metres and is situated completely on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls with stunning views from the Zimbabwean side at Danger Point.

There are seven principle gorges after the actual Victoria Falls with vertical walls some 120 metres high with the level of the river varying up to 20 metres between the wet and dry seasons.

The seven principle gorges are:

  • The first is the one that the Zambezi River falls into at Victoria Falls
  • The second gorge is 250 metres south of the falls and is roughly 2.15 kilometres long
  • The third gorge is 1.95 kilometres long and 600 metres south of the Victoria Falls
  • The fourth gorge is 2.25 kilometres long and 1.15 metres further south
  • The fifth gorge is called Songwe and is 5.3 kilometres south of the Victoria Falls, stretching for 3.3 kilometres.
  • The last gorge, Batoka is below the Songwe gorge and about 120 kilometres long as the river runs and 80 kilometres as the crow flies, ending east of the Victoria Falls.

The Victoria Falls

Under Threat…
Over the last 70+ years the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe have been considering building a dam in the Batoka Gorge, with the first environmental impact study made in 1993. When completed it would be Africa’s largest hydropower dam, built over a 10 to 13 year period and costing more than US$ 4 billion with a 181-metre-high dam wall that will hold back 1,680 million cubic metres of water, covering an area of approximately 26 square kilometres. The reservoir will be long and narrow, stretching to just 1 kilometre from the plunge pool of the Victoria Falls.

Although the dam will have almost no direct impact on the displacement of local communities, it will negatively impact on the environment and create a major impact on the local endangered species. Social impact would be significant too, considering the adventure activities and the scenery of the gorges that create a huge tourism market.
Batoka Gorge, Victoria Falls

Word Heritage Site
In 1989, the Victoria Falls became a World Heritage Site, meaning it belongs to all the people of the word, irrespective of the territory on which the different World Heritage sites are located.

The All-Day Rain
As water falls down the Victoria Falls gorge, a spray is produced that is lifted upwards by currents of air that rise up from the bottom. As the spray rises the small droplets condense and fall, creating the localised areas where it appears to be constantly raining. The clouds of spray are often seen from many kilometres away, although the height and visibility vary greatly due to local conditions, and of course the volume of the Zambezi’s flow.
Victoria Falls spray

The Devil’s Pool
During the drier months of September to December the level of the Zambezi River drops considerably allowing daredevils to swim to the very edge of the Victoria Falls in a naturally formed pool overlooking the edge. The pool is made by a rock wall that halts the current just enough for a swim.

What is a moonbow? The Victoria Falls is one of the very few places in the world where this natural phenomenon can be seen with ease and on a regular basis. A moonbow or lunar rainbow is created as light is refracted by the ever-present water particles from the spray of the Falls in the air.

This phenomenon is at its best during high-water (April to July) with a cloudless sky and at full moon when enough light is reflected to create the moonbow which always occurs in the sky opposite to the moon in relation where you are standing.

Being fainter due to the lower amount of light reflected from the surface of the moon, the human eye finds it quite difficult to distinguish the colours of the moonbow. The light is not bright enough to excite the human eye cone colour receptors and for many the moonbow appears to wash out white. A photograph with a long exposure will capture the colours of a lunar rainbow.
Rainbow at the Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls Bridge
The Victoria Falls bridge was completed in April 1905 on the orders of Cecil John Rhodes who wanted to connect Cape Town to Cairo with one railway line. The bridge designed by George Andrew Hobson from London is 650 feet long, with a main arch spanning 500 feet. Rhodes wanted the bridge built, just a little below the Boiling Pot, where the spray of the falls would fall on the passing trains.

Prior to the Victoria Falls bridge being built the Zambezi River had to be crossed either by a barge on a steel cable or a dugout canoe. The crossings were made from the Old Drift which is up river from the falls because of the dangers faced from the strong currents as the water rushed over the falls. The video below gives a brief insight into the bridge's history.

Seven Natural Wonders of the World
Not only is the Victoria Falls a World Heritage Site, but it also is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Can you name the other six?

  • The Northern Lights in the Northern Hemisphere
  • The Grand Canyon running through the Colorado Plateau in the USA
  • Paricutin Volcano in the state of Michoacán, Mexico
  • The harbour of Rio de Janiero in Brazil
  • Mount Everest on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau
  • And finally, the Great Barrier Reef along the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia
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By Carel Loubser

Carel is the digital manager at Wilderness Safaris. Even though he spends most of his time in the office he believes “a bad day in the bush is much better than a great day in the office”. With a B.Comm in Tourism Management and extensive experience working for a small tour operator in South Africa, his interest in website development and optimisation led him to his current venture within Wilderness Safaris. Over the years he has visited a number of destinations within southern Africa, allowing him to express his love for Africa’s natural beauty, bird- and wildlife through his interest in photography.

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