The long way down

Have the swim of your life atop Vic­to­ria Falls in Zam­bia

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - LISA GRAINGER

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

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