The Victoria Falls

The exquisite Victoria Falls are no doubt one of nature’s greatest revelations. Attracting visitors from far and wide, passengers aboard the Rovos luxury train journey will be able to experience this natural wonder in all its imposing glory.

On par with the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest, the Victoria Falls are seen as some of the world’s most astounding natural feats. While the Victoria Falls are neither the highest nor widest waterfalls in the world, the rolling waters which plummet over the edge of the falls are regarded as the largest body of falling water to grace this earth. 

What’s in a name?

On 16 November 1855, David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer made famous in dog-eared history books, is believed to have been the first European to set eyes on the falls. The ground from which he first spotted the natural wonder is now known as ‘Livingstone Island’ in Zambia and is the only land accessible in the middle of the falls. Livingstone named the wonder ‘Victoria Falls’ in honour of Queen Victoria, but the indigenous name of ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ meaning ‘Smoke that Thunders’ is still recognized by the World Heritage List. 

The Zambezi River

Passengers aboard Rovos Rail’s African rail tour will be intrigued to know that the thundering mass of water that tumbles so recklessly down the falls cannot be traced back to any rainfall in the area – in fact, the falls are set in a very dry area which fringes on the Kalahari semi-dessert. Instead, it is the Zambezi River – the fourth longest in Africa – which rises in the remote northwestern corner of Zambia, gathering tropical rainfall in Angola and eventually reaching the Victoria Falls in the months of autumn.

The Zambezi River is approximately 2kms wide as it roars above the Falls; it tumbles dramatically over a cliff 1.6kms in length and 108ms deep and compresses the incredible volume of water into a chasm just 50ms wide. The sound is deafening, terrifying even, but the aspect is magnificent and the memory ultimately indelible.

Victoria Falls Formation

The formation of the Victoria Falls began approximately 200 million years ago when sweeping sheets of volcanic lava covered the face of Southern Africa, all the way to Lesotho. After undergoing metamorphosis and transforming into hard basalt rock, an upwelling of the tectonic plate occurred in the site of the present-day falls, heaving up the 300m-thick layers of basalt with great pressure and cracking them into the zigzag pattern of the gorges that are visible today.

It is then that the Kalahari Period occurred, transforming the whole of Southern Africa into a sand-covered desert and filling up the 100m-deep gorges to their lips. Around 500 000 years later, the proto-Zambezi – following a different route to the present river – began flowing over the region, excavating the soft sandstone left by the Kalahari Period and leaving a huge gorge in its wake. This would have been the very first sign of the Victoria Falls that you will see today.