Focus on...Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Updated: Nov 5, 2018
Victoria Falls and Swimming Elephants.
Livingstone, June 2018.
When the group, I travel regularly with, announced a trip to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe I knew I needed to secure my place. Victoria Falls has been on my radar for a while, so this was my chance. We flew with Ethiopian Airlines, a night flight with a stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Livingstone, Zimbabwe, which became our base for our explorations in the area, including day-trips to Botswana and Zambia, both a short drive from Livingstone.
We arrived at our destination just in time for a late lunch at In Da Belly, the restaurant of the Victoria Falls Rest Camp, Livingstone. I knew that we would be staying in tents; what I didn’t know was that when laying on the mattress either my feet or head was sticking out of the tent. They were the tiniest tents I’ve ever seen, so having to fit myself, a midsize suitcase and my photography gear into the tent was quite a feat, but with a bit of inventiveness and improvisation I was successful…eventually.
Our local hosts were three Zimbabwean guys who had established a destination management company – Wanderlust Campers Africa based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – and we were one of their first clients. They were childhood friends, and with a little money they had managed to put together, they had bought an old and cranky van, the tents, and camping gear. They were super enthusiastic, great fun, and made sure everything was organized and that we got where we wanted to be, despite several setbacks during the trip.
Victoria Falls, Mighty and Wet
After lunch we headed straight for Victoria Falls, which is just around the corner – it was so close you could clearly hear its thunderous noise in the camp. June means the water levels in the Zambezi River are high and the waterfall is at its most powerful. It also means mist and phenomenal amount of water spray. In some places it was like standing in heavy, heavy rain, whereas in other more sheltered places there was almost no spray. The long raincoats we rented at $5 each were great at first, but even so, everybody ended up completely drenched – no protection was possible against this force of nature.
The falls are truly magnificent. Their whole layout is quite different from what I had imagined. The river just drops into a huge ravine, so except for a few viewing points, you see the river and the waterfall dropping in the ravine, but you can’t see the water hitting the river below. The ravine is just too narrow to take it all in.
The mist – unlike the harsh direct spray – creates a magical light and a beautiful play of moody silhouettes and shadows. But during this time of year the falls itself are very difficult to photograph because there is just too much water coming through them. Local sources told us that during November and December the water levels are much lower, the spray is much less, and there are more rocks visible in and around the falls, all making it much more photogenic.
Chobe National Park, Swimming Elephants
The next day was a trip to the Chobe National Park in Botswana, which was the highlight of my photography holiday. After the border formalities – with a KaZa visa you get access to Zimbabwe and day trips to Botswana and Zambia – we proceeded in proper safari jeeps to Chobe. Whilst there are all types of wildlife, the main show is the elephants. Especially during an afternoon cruise on the Chobe River, we had some magnificent encounters.
Most the of the large number of reeds that grow in the Chobe River are in the middle of the river, creating small islands. It seems that these juicy plants are the favourite food of the local elephants, because to get to it they must cross a couple hundred meters of river. The river is too deep to walk through, so they need to swim to get there.
A small group of four elephants were pacing indecisively up and down the small beach, one foot in the water and then two steps back. But then they managed to summon up some courage and began the trek to their dinner. At first the water was shallow, but then they were quickly out of their depth and needed to swim the last stretch. They were completely submerged; it was amazing to see just the tips of their trunks sticking out above the water’s surface, indicating their slow progression. After awhile they appeared again in the centre of the river at an island of reeds where the water was shallow, and started their banquet.
It was remarkable to see how they curated their food. Standing in belly-deep water, they first pulled the reeds out of the riverbed with their trunks. Then they washed the muddy roots carefully in the water and checked their handiwork; if it was not up to scratch, there was another wash until all the mud was gone, and then began munching slowly. These animals are so big, but they move with such grace on land and in the water.
Bulawayo, You Never Know When You’ll Need a Coke
Bulawayo was next day’s destination. It was a long eight-hour drive, and fortunately the road was good. After one of the obligatory stops, the battery had died on us. Several drivers, including a public bus full of passengers, stopped to check if they could assist. By popular vote, the conclusion was that the problem was caused by a dirty contact. The remedy was pouring some Coke on the problem area to eat through the dirt and rust… One of the bus passengers had a half bottle of Coke, which was put to good use, and after a couple of minutes the contact was as good as new and yes, the battery worked again like a charm. (Note to myself – don’t ever drink Coke again.)
Matobo National Park, Rhinos Without Their Horns
The next morning we embarked on a walking safari in Matobo National Park with the local rangers to try and find rhinos. After about an hour of hiking through the bush the rangers found a rhino mum with her young calf. The rangers are passionate about their rhinos and in their continuous fight against poachers. Their solution for poachers is to regularly harvest the rhinos’ horns. They sedate them and with a chainsaw cut the horn to a stump – this is painless for the rhinos, and the inconvenience of not having an intact horn pales in comparison to the possibility of losing their lives to ruthless poachers.
Bulawayo, Bad Luck Strikes a Second Time
Just before the departure back to Livingstone, the Wanderlust guys ran into big trouble after the driver hit a huge pothole and the van’s driveshaft broke in two. Fortunately, they were in their hometown, so within no time a replacement vehicle was arranged, and we were on our way back to Livingstone.
The last morning was spent at leisure, at least for me. The others were off to bungy jumping, zip-lining, a helicopter ride, rafting, or swimming with crocs. I stuck to shooting the falls again, now at sunrise, which was still very challenging.
On the way back, we had, according to the flight schedule, 15 minutes to change planes in Addis Ababa, and after the plane landed 30 minutes late, we feared the worst. But they held the connecting flight for us and moved us directly from plane to plane; even our luggage travelled with us – kudos to Ethiopian Airlines.
In conclusion, would love to go back to Zimbabwe for another photography trip and explore more of this region that has so much to offer, but it will have to be in December to get some decent pics of Victoria Falls.
All images © 2018 Marco Duyves