Travel review: Zambia’s majestic Victoria Falls

ANGEL KISS: Victoria Falls, Zambia.
ANGEL KISS: Victoria Falls, Zambia.
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When it comes to sheer forces of nature, the Victoria Falls are unrivalled. Paul Keaveny bows to the power of Zambia’s majestic waterfall.

Africa conjures up images of vast savannahs populated by lions, rhinos and elephants, as well as rich culture: the tribes, the music, the dance.

In short, it has always seemed to be a place of excitement and adventure; the ultimate destination for the seasoned backpacker, at the ready with their tent and mosquito net, not somewhere for extravagant hotels.

But for those unwilling to don backpacks but dying to feel the “angel’s kiss” at Victoria Falls, it now seems Indiana Jones can order room service.

My luxury adventure began in Zambia. I flew from London Heathrow on South African Airlines to Johannesburg where I transferred to Livingstone.

I was roughing it in economy but thankfully there was ample legroom and a good selection of movies to occupy me throughout the 12-hour flight.

I was collected by a water taxi (none of these road taxis when we’re going all-out luxury) and taken straight to the five-star Royal Livingstone Hotel.

The luxury was easy to spot: the pool, the spa massages on the banks of the Zambezi, the butler service in the hotel room.

And yet the adventure was also in clear view: the lolling hippos as we approached in the taxi and the giraffes, zebras and monkeys which roam freely about the hotel’s grounds.

The animals would have to wait for now – my first adventure would be Victoria Falls.

There are various ways to see the falls and I tried them all.

The first is the walking tour which takes you right up to the top the falls and then on to the Knife Edge Bridge directly in front of the cascading water.

Here, the spray from the tonnes of falling water is so dense that it rains in every direction.

Huge clouds of spray can be seen from miles away as 546 million cubic metres of water per minute plummet over the edge at the height of the rainy season.

The guides will give you raincoats but they are useless. The best thing to do is to go in your swimming gear and be prepared to get completely drenched (take a plastic bag to store your camera in).

It’s totally worth the squelchy trainers. That first view of the falls is unparalleled. Photographs can’t compare to the sheer scale of the real thing.

To gain another perspective, I was taken to Livingstone Island which lies on the very tip of the falls and enables viewers to stand on the very edge and look down into the white powdery depths.

This one is obviously not for those adventurers who suffer from vertigo, but Livingstone Island still provides a unique slant on one of nature’s greatest marvels.

If you are staying at the Royal Livingstone, they will even prepare a luxury breakfast for your party after you’ve finished taking your pictures.

In the dry season you can go on guided walks across the lip of the falls to the island and take a dip in the Devil’s Pool - a natural rock pool right on the edge of the falls.

The third and by far the most adventurous way of seeing the falls is by microlight.

You can take 15-minute or 30-minute flights and the experience will have you lost for words.

It is only from the air that you can fully appreciate the incredible size of the falls and the awesome power of the water as it carves into the deep zig-zagging gorges for 8km.

The flight takes you along the wide, tranquil upper Zambezi before the breathtaking sight of this magnificent natural phenomena.

It would be difficult to follow an adventure like that, so instead I was treated to a spot of luxury with a six-course meal on the Livingstone Express, which aims to re-enact a “bygone era”.

The train takes a trip along the old Mulobezi line, through the national park.

The food is amazing and the general Victorian feel is quirky and fun.

If the train did not provide enough Agatha Christie-style kitsch, then the African Queen sunset cruise will surely tick the remaining boxes.

Berthed just upstream from the falls, the cruises are daily and offer passengers wonderful views of the Zambezi River and surrounding game reserves.

All this luxury and adventure, however, did make me wonder about how the local community comes out of this pact with the tourist industry.

But Sun International, the company which owns the Royal Livingstone, makes a lot of its Corporate Social Investment (CSI) programmes – it has more than 50 in Zambia.

The resort’s CSI co-ordinator Stain Musungaila took me to a selection of the projects and it was hard not to be impressed with the work that is being done in the community.

Projects include a hospice, the Lubasi Home for vulnerable children and orphans and the Linda farms run by people blinded by smallpox.

These farms even co-ordinate with the hotels to make sure they are growing crops needed by the chefs for their five-star menus.

One of the latest projects is the Leema Primary School in Tlhatlaganyani Village.

The programme involves setting up a vegetable garden and irrigation system made with rainwater collection tanks to provide fresh and nutritious meals to school pupils.

For those wanting even more luxury and adventure, Sun International also owns the Palace of the Lost City resort in Sun City, South Africa, which is just over an hour’s flight away from Livingstone.

If you have any more adventure left in you then the resort – which is basically like Disneyland for adults or a slightly more classy version of Vegas – can provide pretty much everything you can imagine.

Casinos, bars and restaurants abound. And for those still keen on getting back to nature after the opulence of all that five-star living, then the hotel offers game drives to see Africa’s so-called Big Five - lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants and rhinos.

There is also an elephant sanctuary where you can touch, pet and feed these majestic creatures.

Let’s face it, when it comes to luxury versus adventure, feeding elephants and observing wild rhinos in their natural habitat beats quaffing champagne on a sun lounger any day.

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