VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE — “Look just above the trees. You see something like smoke? It’s the spray from Victoria Falls,” says Skhue, our driver/guide, on approach to the town named for the mammoth water force that is roughly twice the height of Niagara Falls.
The following day I’m swimming toward its edge — intentionally. Called Devil’s Pool and located on the backside of Victoria Falls, this is a natural rock swimming hole reached after crossing the Zimbabwe/Zambia border, motoring in a small boat to Livingstone Island and swimming to a vertical view of the thunderous falls. Described as “the ultimate infinity pool” by Victoria Weinstein, director of Salute Africa, a Johannesburg-based tour operator, this adventure is possible only in the July through January dry season when water levels are low enough for this typically submerged wall to provide protection.
Soar over the Zambezi
For those eager to expend additional energy are adventures above the raging Zambezi River. Considered one of the world’s highest bungee jumps, the tethered four-second leap from the 111-metre high Victoria Falls Bridge — the bridge connecting Zimbabwe with Zambia — is for dare devils. For the more cautious, there’s the bridge slide. Though high above Batoka Gorge and the Victoria Falls-fed river, it is a slower glide along a rope while strapped into a harness.
At the end of a day full of high activity and higher adrenaline, what better way to wind down at its conclusion than to travel in pampered fashion via transport of the early-1900’s British-ruled era? After walking a red carpet amongst a lively local musical welcome to climb aboard Loco 512, a steam-powered train, the nostalgic evening begins. Lovingly restored to combine vintage luxury with fine dining expectations, the result is the recreation of bygone times. Best part: Victoria Falls is the scenic backdrop.
Cape Town-style cheers!
Known by many are South Africa’s renowned wines and wineries. Situated within easy reach of Cape Town and surrounded by high mountains and deep valleys are such renowned wine towns as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. One such stop is The Lanserac Hotel & Spa. Surrounded by the majestic Helderberg Mountains and set on a 300-year-old, 155-hectare private working wine estate, the lux resort’s Cape Dutch architecture classically preserves the elegant atmosphere of a gracious age. Regardless of the direction one travels from Africa’s “Mother City” — south, east or west — the landscape lovingly embraces the vineyards.
Cape of Good Hope and more
Marking one of the southernmost points of the continent is Cape of Good Hope. A most memorable portion of the drive from Cape Town along the peninsula to Cape Point is its reveal of a countryside replete with an impressive variety of flora and fauna. In route, you’ll likely see ostriches and baboons; and though the Cape Floral Region represents only five per cent of Africa, it is home to more than 20 per cent of the continent’s plants. “It is also the setting for action-packed activities from snorkelling with seals and kayaking with African penguins to cage diving to view the Great White,” details Weinstein. The ocean view from the Old Cape Point Lighthouse at 260m above sea level seems eternal, with the nearest landmass to the south being Antarctica, albeit 6,000km away.
Recently designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World is aptly-named Table Mountain — a flat-topped peak that prominently overlooks Cape Town. As one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions, it’s possible (weather permitting) to reach its top at 1,067m via cableway or by hiking. The mountain top is often covered by clouds but, if clear, it presents a striking surround sound-like view that showcases the city, Robben Island to the north and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south.
Robben Island Museum
Robben Island was the infamous prison home of political activist, the late Nelson Mandela, for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and elected president of South Africa in 1994, Mandela is the country’s best-known citizen. Now it is possible to tour the former prison, today a South African National Heritage site and UNESCO World Heritage Site. With all tour guides once political prisoners, stories from the inside may be shared while seeing such historical sites as the leper graveyard, the lime quarry where political prisoners were forced to work and the maximum security prison, with the tour typically ending at Nelson Mandela’s cell.
An illustrious finale to crisscrossing this massive continent is to luxe it up. Weinstein’s advice: “Stay where you can wake by the serene riverbanks to scenes of dusty pink early African mornings.” Her suggestion is Namibia’s five-star Chobe Water Villas. The resort is a collection of villas perched on stilts over the water’s edge serving up unobstructed 180-degree views of the Chobe River, as well as Botswana’s Sedudu Island and Chobe National Park on the opposite riverbank. Here it’s possible to view grazing elephant and buffalo herds from the resort’s infinite pool or from the comfort of one’s private terrace.
In conclusion and in observation of her homeland, the African specialist shares a Richard Mullin quote: “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa — for he has so much to look forward to.”