This article is part of a series; you will find the other episodes here:
Day 7 – Living on the edge and visiting the Victoria Falls
One week in and your adventures in Africa show no signs of slowing down! Today the action moves away from the bush and wildlife sightings to enjoy some of the many attractions on offer in Victoria Falls (the town) including of course the stunning Victoria Falls (the waterfall).
Every itinerary in this neck of the woods has to include a couple of nights in the “adventure capital of Zimbabwe”. The town itself is small in size and easily walkable, while the activities on offer are extensive. At one end of the scale there are visits to the Falls, shopping for souvenirs and a quiet drink at the world famous hotel. At the other are bungee-jumping, white-water rafting and swimming in the Devil’s Pool.
But first you need somewhere to stay. For your first night you’re booked into possible the most spectacularly positioned lodges in Africa – Gorges Lodge. A minibus from the property is waiting as you leave the arrivals hall at the airport, and half an hour later you arrive…
Gorges Lodge – a night on the edge
You check in at the front desk and at first the lodge does not seem that out of the ordinary. The gardens are beautiful and the chalets look lovely too, but a surprise awaits.
On the way to your room you begin to understand that there is a drop from the side of the property. You go to have a look from one of the viewpoints and realise this is something of an understatement…
Located 200 metres above the Zambezi River looking across the Batoka Gorge to Zambia, this place is something else. But it’s time to have a look at your chalet and freshen up with a shower.
Each of the “rooms” is a small villa of stone with a thatched roof. There is also a separate section called “Little Gorges” with accommodation in luxury tents on wooden decks.
Your room is spacious with a huge bed and all the ameneties you need. And a balcony…
It’s not a view you see every day. There are no fences, so stay away from the edge unless you are planning a bungee-less bungee jump…
Here but no further. Actually I used an extension pole on my camera for the shot above so was a safer distance away from the sheer drop down.
Time for a video:
Gorges Lodge is built on communal land and concession fees and royalties are paid to the local council which helps to improve schools, domestic water supplies and clinics. Most of the staff at the property come from the surrounding area and after a quick siesta you have the opportunity to visit a local village. During term time guests can also pop in to the local school.
Within walking distance of the lodge, Chisuma is home to several of those working at Gorges.
With its round huts typical of the area, the village is very basic but extraordinarily clean and tidy. Africana are very house-proud no matter how limited the facilities available to them and Chisuma is no exception.
You are shown round the village, swap stories with the locals and get to see inside a home. It’s a moving reminder of the vast differences between our “modern” lives and a more connected, inclusive way of living that we once enjoyed ourselves but traded for apartment blocks and housing estates.
Before leaving, you watch the lengthy process of pounding maize which will later become maize-meal and finally cooked as Sadza.
This is the local staple which Zimbabweans eat almost every day, either as lunch or dinner. Or both. Served with meat and leafy vegetable stew, it’s a tasty dish.
You return to the lodge and after a cold beer at the bar it’s time to finally see the Victoria Falls!
A minibus awaits and it takes just 30 minutes to reach town and park at the visitors centre.
Visiting the falls
As this is one of the activities included in your stay at Gorges Lodge, your guide pays the fees for you and you can then choose to explore under your own steam or hire a guide to provide you with detailed information as you walk the paths. You opt for the latter and following a briefing at the visitors centre, you begin the tour.
There is a track connecting all the viewpoints and as the falls are at full flow there is a lot of spray – you are glad you brought your rain jacket.
It really is a natural wonder and no amount of photos or video footage can do the experience justice.
But here’s a clip anyway:
You soon learn that there are multiple cataracts rather than one single waterfall, and the path offers views over all of them.
The advantage of the Falls at high water flow is that you really get a feel of their sheer power.
The disadvantage is that those views can be obscured by spray and you will get wet – very wet.
This is the last photo you were able to take before the spray drenched you – it really is like being in a heavy rainstorm.
But you wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
High tea (or a G&T) at the Victoria Falls Hotel
The Victoria Falls Hotel is legendary – a luxurious place to stay with a view of the bridge – the only hotel with such a selling point. But it is the history that really sets it apart, and you cannot resist going for a look around.
Hotel staff are quite used to non-guests nosing about and will greet you as you arrive.
Built by the British in 1904, the hotel was originally conceived as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway and today is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.
Cecil Rhodes had tasked his friend and colleague Sir Charles Metcalfe with overseeing the development of the railway system and Metcalfe took heed of Rhodes’ dreams of the railway line stretching “from Cape to Cairo,” hence he started plans for the first bridge across the mighty Zambezi.
Rhodes was insistent that the bridge should be built in a place that the spray from the falls would fall on the passing trains, which is why the site was chosen just a little below the Boiling Pot, at almost right angles and in very close proximity to the falls.
The Victoria Falls Hotel was built and operated by the railways administration and by all accounts it was the scene of raucous drinking sessions after a hard day at work building the bridge.
It’s a lot more peaceful now, and beautifully furnished.
The walls the corridor to the bathrooms are covered in old cartoons reflecting the olden times.
Although some of them are just as relevant today…
The outdoor areas are just as well-kept and the views stunning:
Many visitors opt for the belt-busting high tea after they’ve had a look around the hotel and grounds, but one of the signature G&Ts from the bar is equally – if not more – appealing.
With your thirst suitably quenched, it’s time to jump in a taxi for the short drive to the Victoria Falls you could see in the distance from the hotel lawns.
You’ll be checking out some of the high-adrenaline (read: crazy) activities here tomorrow, but today it’s time to try a slightly more sedate experience – albeit one which is thrilling and not for the faint-heartened.
Instead of a bungee jump, you’ve signed up for the bridge slide. Good move.
Bungee nutjobs on the left. bridge sliders on the right.
You have to cross the bridge to get to the starting point, then it’s time for a safety briefing and to harness up.
All you need to do is hang on and enjoy the ride – a guy will pull you in from the bridge at the end.
And this is how it goes:
Now that was spectacular – and you see a lot more than from falling headfirst on a bungee cord, too.
Another “must-do” activity in Victoria Falls is a sunset cruise on the Zambezi. There are a bunch of companies offering this service, ranging from a simple “booze cruise” (alcohol and snacks included) to a full dinner onboard (with alcohol and snacks included).
You have opted for the latter, and you are dropped off by the Gorges Lodge driver at the meeting point for some alcohol and snacks and a briefing before boarding the two-floor boat and setting off.
It doesn’t take long before you meet these elephants having fun in the water.
There are plenty of other vessels on the river of all different sizes…
Blink and you’ll miss a crocodile floating past the boat. Luckily one of the crew points this one out.
Pre-dinner drinks as the sun descends. Places are set and ready for later.
The sun slides behind the horizon at the accelerated speed you have become used to in Africa.
Check the video to see what we mean:
It’s quite something, right?
The “golden hour” begins with perfect opportunities for stunning photos.
It’s time for dinner: a three-course feast as the boat slowly glides along the river. This really is the perfect way to end the day in town before going back to the lodge.
Gorges Lodge evening entertainment
To round off the night, you meet your driver from Gorges Lodge and return for some live entertainment from a local music and dance troupe.
These guys are amazing and after being convinced by one of them to get up and join it at the end of the performance, it’s time for a nightcap in the bar before retiring to your chalet to fall asleep with the waters of the Zambezi 200 metres below as your soundtrack.
You’ve got another day of adventures in Victoria Falls tomorrow, and it starts early…