When Dr. David Livingstone first set sight on the magnificent falls, and when he penned the famous words ‘…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’ little did he realise the rich legacy he would leave in the charming town of Livingstone. Nor would he have envisaged the beauty and spendour that would, so many years later, be found at the luxurious Royal Livingstone.
Mosi-Oa-Tunya – The Smoke That Thunders – the local name for the Victoria Falls, is recognised as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Royal Livingstone is located within the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Wildlife Park, which fringes the Zambezi River and overlooks the Victoria Falls.
The town of Livingstone, founded in 1905, was named after the famous Scottish missionary, Dr. David Livingstone who explored much of the area. This charming historic town has much to offer the visitor, including three museums: the Livingstone Museum traces the history of man in Zambia and has a good collection of memorabilia relating to Dr. David Livingstone; The Victoria Falls Field Museum which stands on an archaeological site with artifacts dating back millions of years, and the Railway Museum, detailing the years when Livingstone was the Railway Capital of a vast region and when much of its wealth came from the railways.
I had the pleasure of staying at The Royal Livingstone, reminiscent of a by-gone era of colonial sophistication, where I was welcomed with iced tea and personal attention in the elegant lounge.
I had the pleasure of staying at The Royal Livingstone, reminiscent of a by-gone era of colonial sophistication, where I was welcomed with iced tea and personal attention in the elegant lounge. With my luggage installed, Kennedy my butler proceeded to give me a ‘tour’ of my luxurious and beautifully appointed en-suite room. I had some time before dinner so took a stroll through the expansive grounds to familiarise myself with this beautiful spot along the banks of the Zambezi, which I would call home for the next few days.
Dinner at the Royal Livingstone is a treat, with its fine cuisine, beautiful décor and spectacular setting. We were seated on the verandah watching the waters’ of the mighty Zambezi as they prepare to launch over the edge into oblivion. The menu plays host to a variety of authentic Zambian specialities as well a variety of traditional European classics. Each course paired with the perfect beverage selected from an extensive wine list. I chose the pan-fried Zambezi Bream for my main… and was proudly told by our waiter that it came from a local aquaculture project. Much of the fresh produce served at this fine dining restaurant is sourced from local projects set up by the Hotel as part of their commitment to social responsibility. ‘I’m looking forward to tomorrow’ I thought, appreciating the spectacular view and classical notes from pianist playing in the background.
The menu plays host to a variety of authentic Zambian specialities as well a variety of traditional European classics.
Morning arrived, and after a sumptuous breakfast we set to experience some of the adventure activities that are on offer. No lounging at the pool for us, although this is an option that is taken up by many of the foreign guests. For the adventurous the Zambezi is Africa’s playground and being situated on the banks of the river overlooking the Victoria Falls, the location of The Falls Resort, practically invites guests to partake in a number of thrilling activities. An activity centre at The Royal Livingstone is available to advise and recommend a variety of excursions and safaris.
No trip to this region is complete without being drenched by the spray from the ‘smoke that thunders’ – to discover how the Falls were formed and what local customs and traditions surround them it is well worth taking a guided tour. We weren’t disappointed, the falls in the wet season are spectacular and the accompanying ‘rain shower’ a pleasure in the heat of the day. Should you visit in the dry season the geology and rock formations are more visible and leads to a different experience altogether.
No trip to this region is complete without being drenched by the spray from the ‘smoke that thunders’
Another option is to re-trace Dr. David Livingstone’s approach to the island to witness the very best view of the Falls there is – he was paddled in a dug out canoe through swift rapids towards the roar and rising cloud of mist suspended above a cliff over which the whole of the Zambezi River plunged…today’ visitors are picked up in a twin engine boat with powerful motors and a skilled skipper.
These 4 x 4 vehicles of the river – aluminium hulled, jet propelled boats have been carefully designed so they can cross the ‘rough terrain’ of the river giving them access to places where other normal boats cannot go. This is a unique wildlife safari through the channels and rapids between the islands littering the wide part of the river just before the Falls. Elephant, hippo and wonderful birds are the main wildlife attractions and the views and sunsets are highlights.
Later that afternoon after a welcome siesta, we boarded the luxurious African Queen. Our arrival announced by the rhythmic beat of the marimba, soon with cocktail in hand we set off. The cruise boat meanders slowly upstream along the length of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park looking for game on the way. A number of animals and a host of bird species can be viewed from comfortable chairs on cool wooden decks.
To put the Victoria Falls into true perspective though, they must really be seen from the air. The sheer size and grandeur of the spectacle becomes all the more clearer from above.
To put the Victoria Falls into true perspective though, they must really be seen from the air. The sheer size and grandeur of the spectacle becomes all the more clearer from above. The huge Zambezi River flowing slowly south with hippos and crocodiles clearly visible in the shallow waters, elephant quietly browsing on bright green islands as the water spreads across the full width of a great rent in the earth before crashing over the lip in a burst of spray and then squeezing into a narrow, foaming, blast of water rushing down the zig zag funnel of the gorges. There are 3 ways to do this… from a helicopter, a small aeroplane, or from a microlight.
Our helicopter flight exceeded all expectations, the mist that rises high above the falls, the narrow gorges and the force of the water pushing its way through past aged rock faces and towering cliffs of the Batoka Gorge. This was the sight as we dropped down into the gorge, literally skimming the rapids as one would when white water rafting. A great option should you not be inclined to get your feet wet!
The brave can attempt the real deal and opt for the adrenalin rush of white water rafting. The rapids below the Falls are among the world’s wildest but also the safest due to deep water, steep canyon walls and no mid stream rocks. The top section of the Batoka Gorge includes the highest concentration of grade 4 and 5 rapids anywhere in the world. Spectacular scenery, sunshine, warm water and superb rapids all make this one of the greatest white water venues in the world.
Spectacular scenery, sunshine, warm water and superb rapids all make this one of the greatest white water venues in the world.
Other popular options for the adrenalin junkie include the gorge swing and bungi jumping. With the Falls behind you and the river rushing below the Victoria Falls Bridge this is certainly no ordinary bungi jump. At 111 metres it is also one of the highest jumps in the world and the adrenaline rush is as wild as the river itself. Needless to say, I declined this activity preferring the more gentle activity of a spa treatment along the banks of the river.
Nothing quite beats the feeling of bliss that accompanies a good spa session… especially when the only thing that surpasses the bliss of the actual massage is the incredible view of the river in the mirror below and the sounds of life from the surrounding bush.
My trip to Livingstone ended on a high note, with dinner aboard the Royal Livingstone Express. This was a splendid affair, definitely something to dress for… the red-carpet treatment, drinks on arrival, and light-hearted conversation in the lounge car before heading to the observation car for departure. From departure the train moves directly onto the restored old Mulobezi Line (it was once the largest privately owned railway network in the world and was set up by the Zambezi Sawmills in 1916) through Dambwa suburb towards the Mosi-oa-TunyaNational Park.
This was a splendid affair, definitely something to dress for… the red-carpet treatment, drinks on arrival, and light-hearted conversation in the lounge car before heading to the observation car for departure.
Our dining car with its luxurious leather seats, silver cutlery, crystal glassware and damask linen all provided the ideal backdrop to the exquisite cuisine created by the Royal Livingstone Hotel chefs. Not even a downpour of rain could spoil such a memorable evening!
It’s little wonder that so many guests choose to return, I know I will… I left a little piece of my heart in this piece of paradise, fit for royalty.
words – Tessa Buhrmann
Pics © – Tessa Buhrmann / Royal Livingstone / Bushtracks Africa