(Photos by Willie Smit)
There is no more appropriate name for an airline than fastjet on this cold day in July as we fly out of Johannesburg to the Victoria Falls in Zambia. The flight barely lasts an hour and a half before we disembark on the Zimbabwe side of the mighty Falls.
The dry African heat is a welcome reprieve from the grip of an icy winter down south.
We wait briefly at the border of two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe before getting picked up by our driver and guide for the next few days. Stan is a card. A Zambian native who speaks 67 of Zambia's 73 languages (yep, that's not a typo) he has incredible knowledge of the area and the half an hour's drive to our destination, the Victoria Falls Waterfront Lodge, goes by in a flash.
Centrally located in between Livingstone town and The Victoria Falls in Zambia, the Lodge is situated right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River.
The lodge boasts fantastic facilities catering to a traveler's every need, including a riverside restaurant and bar with stunning views over the river - the perfect spot for a sundowner. A varied mix of accommodation includes en-suite chalets, permanent tents and a campsite.
Our chalet is nice if basic. It's comfortable and clean and since this is not the kind of place where you spend the entire time in your room, it really doesn't matter. The price also reflects the rustic nature of the place - it is one of the most affordable lodges in the Livingstone area at about $75 per person per night, including breakfast and the aforementioned riverside location is sublime.
In reception we are met by the lovely Allison, who explains the wide-ranging choice of activities available in and around Livingstone and the Falls. It's an adventure seeker's paradise and you can stay busy for weeks on end doing things like river rafting, visiting Livingstone Island, Devil's Pool, canoeing, bungee jumping, abseiling, river cruising, going on game drives and perusing the Falls from above by helicopter, among many others. Allison also profusely apologizes that we find ourselves in the midst of a massive group having taken over the lodge for a few days. There are literally hundreds of them and they are all here for the Put Foot Rally, a charity organization that distributes shoes to poor children in a number of African countries.
At the moment they are nowhere in sight though so we decide to have a quiet night at the stunning poolside restaurant overlooking the river while enjoying their much-acclaimed wood-fired pizzas for dinner.
Stan takes us on a walk of the Vic Falls the following morning. It is very difficult to describe the sight and the sound and the fury of this, one of the most worthy of one of The Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It is also a World Heritage site. David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, is believed to have been the first European to view Victoria Falls in 1855 – hence the name of the town. Livingstone named his discovery in honor of Queen Victoria of Britain, but the indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya - "the smoke that thunders" - continues in common usage as well. But it is its gargantuan size and the power of this natural phenomenon that takes your breath away and makes you feel smaller than an ant. Based on its combined width of 1,708 meters and height of 108 meters, it is classified as the world's largest sheet of falling water. It enthralls and hypnotizes and frightens the living daylights out of you, all at the same time.
We are merrily swanning along behind Stan, enjoying every moment of this spectacular sight when suddenly a narrow, long bridge looms straight ahead. As we cross, the sound of the Falls is deafening and you feel as though you're in a thunderstorm with the water everywhere. "It's raining upwards!" shouts my photographer Willie above the roar of the water. I grab onto his raincoat as he walks ahead and my heart races, my legs are like jelly and then I make the mistake of looking down…. When we eventually get to the other side after what feels like an eternity, I have to catch my breath. Then it dawns on me that I have to go back. Well, Stan (The Man) lets me hold on to his hand going back and pretends to slip here and there while going "Oh nooo!" "Oh, here we go!" "Like to bungee?" making me screech with laughter above my terror and making the whole ordeal over before I know it. Stan knows his job and he knows people and generous gestures like these one never forgets.
Back at the lodge we relax in the afternoon sun until it's time to board the fun sunset cruise aboard the Makumbi. The boat can accommodate 90 people and the cruise takes us along the river boundary of the Mosi Oa Tunya National Park, around Sikola Island and back to the Waterfront. Drinks and snacks are all included and it seems most of the Put Foot crowd is on board with us, a very merry and friendly bunch. We spot a huge elephant herd on the banks together with a slew of hippos and crocodiles.
The sun sinks into this mighty river like a giant fire ball and all is right with the world. We visit the nearby Zambezi Elephant Trails sanctuary the next morning and what a revelation.
Here you are no longer encouraged to ride these gentle giants and I am very happy to be informed about this. Not often do we understand the negative impact or long-term consequences we have on wild animals just for a selfie.
The emphasis is now on an elephant experience rather than just an elephant ride and guests are encouraged to interact with these majestic and intelligent African mammals. The training techniques used by Zambezi Elephant Trails are based on the positive reinforcement method as opposed to the controversial "discipline and submission" technique commonly associated with Asian Elephants. We meet and feed these gorgeous gargantuan creatures with names like Mashumbi, Marula, Liwa and Danny and I am astounded by the nature of these loving, emotional beings. Of course I am a bit wary too – they are still wild animals and just a wee bit bigger than me.
We return to the lodge to meet the delightful Vanessa Nielsen, sales and marketing director for the Waterfront's sister property, the David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa. Located next door to the waterfront, the property is stunning and Vanessa takes us to have a look at the various features of the Lodge. Set 5 km from the Livingstone Museum, this upscale lodge is also on the banks of the river just 12 km from Victoria Falls.
Lion Encounter, an active conservation program which is passionate about ensuring a secure future for the African lion. The species has seen an 80-90-percent decline in the past 20-30 years and this is Africa's first genuine program to ethically re-introduce the offspring of captive-bred African lions back into the wild. They too have adapted their program to no longer include a walk with the lions but instead observe them from the vehicle and learn about their fascinating habits, histories and futures.
We leave them behind after a fascinating morning and set off to the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park with our guide Francis. We spot zebra, wildebeest and giraffe. Francis tells us that it is necessary for a baby giraffe to fall that far when it is born in order to kick-start its heart! These and many other captivating pearls of knowledge emanate from this knowledgeable guide. We then alight from the vehicle to track two rhinos on foot only to find them lazing about under a tree a few meters on. It's breathtaking to be so close to these ancient beasts, so mysterious and so sadly endangered.
After all these wide-eyed animal experiences, we wind down on another sunset cruise, this time aboard the luxurious Lady Livingstone, which departs from the David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa. It is a stunningly elegant triple-deck boat with amazing staff serving delectable snacks and cocktails. And again the slow, vermillion sunset sends me into raptures. Vanessa and her delightfully droll husband Ian invite us to dinner on this, our last evening at the Zambezi Café to get a feel for the local experience. The food is fabulous, as is the ambience of candlelit tables and reggae music where we sit outside. What a wonderful end to a once-in-a-lifetime experience…
Victoria Falls Waterfront : http://thevictoriafallswaterfront.com
David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa : http://www.thedavidlivingstone.com
There are no current direct flights between China and Victoria Falls but Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Flights will depart from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.
Once in Johannesburg, fastjet offers flights from Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport to Victoria Falls International Airport on Thursdays and Sundays from as little as R1,381, inclusive of all government fees and taxes. As one of Africa's few low-cost airlines, fastjet is affordable, value for money and they offer great deals as well as flexible payment options. Their aircrafts are comfortable, modern, efficient and reliable with friendly and helpful cabin crew. Call +27 (0)11 289 8090, email email@example.com or visit www.fastjet.com/za/ to find out more or book a ticket.