Scars look different when viewed from afar. From up above the world, hovering in a glass-sided helicopter over the world’s largest stretch of falling water straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls looks less like a crack in the Earth than a portal into the very centre of things. Clouds of mist puff up towards us as the morning sun throws rainbows across the sky.
Our trip to Victoria Falls, the start of a 12-day African safari we’re experiencing with Luxury Escapes, has come at an interesting time. A week earlier my husband quit his job and, with it, the farm we’ve been calling home for the past five years. Although we’ve been trying to stay positive, the transition has been painful. But taking the “Flight of the Angels” over Victoria Falls, a flight we first took together on our honeymoon seven years ago, is a reminder of how much we’ve already endured together and how much we still have to be grateful for. Peering down at this raging curtain of water, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, it’s easy to focus not on what’s missing, but on what’s been gained.
Scottish explorer David Livingstone, the first European to discover Victoria Falls, perfectly described their magic after being led to them by the local Makalolo people in 1855. “The most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa,” he wrote at the time. “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.
Undeniably, there is something otherworldly about this brown-gold curtain of water tumbling out of a 1700-metre-wide gash in the Earth. With this bird’s eye helicopter view you can see how the constant pounding of the falls has, over millennia, cut through the rock faults and carved successive precipices. The falls travellers see today are actually their eighth incarnation, with the previous seven appearing as a sharp zig-zig cutting across the land.
Most powerful of all, however, is experiencing the falls just as Livingstone did 163 years ago, from their very edge. Half an hour after our helicopter touches down we’re donning full-length black raincoats and inching our way across the “Knife Edge Bridge” directly opposite the falls. It’s late March and the end of the wet season, and by the time we’re halfway across the light mist of the falls has become a heavy torrent.
“The locals call these falls Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘the smoke that thunders’, I think now you understand why!” our local guide shouts over the roar of the falls as we continue slipping along the moss-covered track. The water becomes increasingly heavy until it seeps through our ponchos, soaking our skin and blurring our eyes, the bellow of it filling our ears until there is nothing but water, water everywhere. It’s complete immersion, cleansing and almost spiritual, and a reminder of the power of these falls that pour roughly 625 million litres of water over the cliffs each minute.
Seven years earlier, my husband and I had an equally intense experience on the other side of this chasm on Livingstone Island, from where David Livingstone first glimpsed Victoria Falls. After walking to the lip of the falls our guide had grabbed our arms and instructed us to steady ourselves on the mossy rocks beneath our bare feet, then to lean over the edge. “I’ve got you!” he reassured us as we bowed our torsos out into the abyss, breathless with fear and exhilaration as we peered into the canyon below. That morning, when we pushed our limits and did something that terrified us, in many ways set the tone for our life together.
They say that everyone who travels to Africa leaves a part of themselves there. Today, as we stand shrouded in spray from one of Earth’s most powerful natural phenomena, it feels as though we’re retrieving that courageous and resilient part of ourselves. Now that we have it back, it’s hard to feel anything but hopeful about the future.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of Luxury Escapes.
THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN PRINT AND ONLINE HERE
Qantas flies from Sydney to Johannesburg, then South African Airways connects to Livingstone. See qantas.com.
Luxury Escapes offer an 11-night small group safari taking in Zambia, Botswana and South Africa, including luxury accommodation with Sanctuary Retreats, all meals and beverages, the ‘Flight of the Angels’ helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, a ‘Walking with Elephants’ experience and more, from $8499 per person. See lescapes.com.