The long way down
Have the swim of your life atop Victoria Falls in Zambia
WHEN Scottish explorer David Livingstone first saw Victoria Falls in 1855 — a place he described as “the most wonderful sight I had seen in Africa… scenes so lovely (they) must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” — his viewpoint was an island in the middle of the Zambezi River above the 103m-tall falls. All around him, he wrote, the water tumbled and roared by, “the snowwhite sheet like myriads of small comets rushing on in one direction, each of which left behind its nucleus rays of foam”.
More than 150 years later, the small undeveloped piece of land, named Livingstone Island in the explorer’s honour, is managed by Tongabezi, a family-run upmarket thatched lodge (built in an old ebony tree, its Tree House suite is exceptional) a few kilometres upstream. For most of the year the island is inaccessible as water levels are too high and the currents too strong.
But when the river levels are at their lowest, from about August to January, Tongabezi will take up to 12 guests to the island by boat, to view Africa’s biggest waterfall from the same point as Livingstone saw it and to take daredevils swimming right up to its edge in the aptly named Devil’s Pool.
While swimming up to the edge of a chasm — over which, at its peak, more than 450,000 cubic feet of water flows a second — sounds suicidal, at Devil’s Pool a thick natural rock wall prevents swimmers from being swept off into the churning foam below. Getting to the edge from the island isn’t difficult, either. Having jumped from the island into the swirling river, swimmers are gently swept towards the rock ledge, on to which they can hold and peer over the edge — or sit and look backwards at the great torrents of water shooting down around them, while a guide holds on to their feet.
Seeing the waterfalls from any point is thrilling — the sheet of water is twice as high as Niagara Falls, a third higher than Iguazu, and 1.7km wide. But from Devil’s Pool, the view is unbeatable, as not only can you see the water splashing and churning around you but you can hear and feel it. Sitting at the top of any waterfall is, of course, dangerous — and guides from other organisations who have taken tourists to swim in other pools have died while doing so.
At Devil’s Pool, however, the Tongabezi guides are extremely safety conscious, take safety ropes and dictate what guests can and cannot do (no standing is allowed, for instance).
It is not an activity for those with vertigo, but what a thrilling way to experience one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World from within its roaring, swirling heart.
TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP
Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls, above; The Lookout lounge, restaurant and bar at Tongabezi, on the Zambezi River, above right; Livingstone Island at the top of the falls, left