Like any work of fine art, Victoria Falls – a masterpiece of tectonic creation and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World – is a spectacle best viewed from several angles. Which is how I found myself in the most precarious of positions, buckled up in what appeared for all intents and purposes to be a scooter wearing a kite, powered by a lawnmower motor.
How microlights even make it off the ground still baffles me. These machines look more like an early prototype of an eccentric engineering project than a chariot capable of flight. But sure enough, as I gripped the seat, my pilot steered our wobbly aerodyne along the runway and lifted it into the sky. The feeble-sounding engine stuttered at the back, the canvas above our heads fluttered in the wind, and the bellowing boom of the Victoria Falls reverberated below.
‘I wonder if death would be instant,’ I pondered, peering down as the ferocious cascades below us veered into sight. I also wondered who might write my obituary, which friend would take ownership of my cats, and whether my mother would read my teenage diaries when she cleared out my belongings.
Mortality feels more imminent in a ceiling-less, windowless microlight than it would in the capsule of a helicopter or plane, which only adds a thrill to the experience. ‘Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight,’ wrote Dr David Livingstone when he became the first European to witness Victoria Falls in 1855. The explorer named the site after the then-monarch of his homeland, but its original Lozi moniker, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is more evocative: ‘the smoke that thunders’.
I had seen the falls – which at 360ft tall and a 5,604ft wide form the world’s largest body of falling water – closer to earth the previous day, by way of the slippery path that meanders through the rainforest facing it on the Zambian side. The recently refurbished Avani Victoria Falls Resort, where I was based, has a private entrance to the park for guests on its doorstep, handy given that this is a stroll you’ll want to repeat, preferably early in the morning before the walkway gets bottlenecked by bloggers and selfie-stick wielders.
The falls are at their most powerful in April, while the best vantage point on the ground is from Knife Edge Bridge, a narrow gangway that faces an eastern portion and overlooks the main gorge, where I had stood shrouded in a cloud of fine spray; vanishing, it felt, into the scenery.
From high above, on that clear, sunny day, was a Monopoly-board view of the Zambezi river’s silver tentacles merging at the mouth of the plateau, then toppling from its shelf into the cascades I’d been admiring so close-up the day before. The mist, seen from the elevated vantage point of our microlight, looked like a linear cloud of smoke emanating from a deep gash in the landscape. The rainbow, a mighty arc that crowned this two-million-year-old geological amphitheatre, was the final flourish.
In total, the flight lasted a little over 15 minutes, by which point I had concluded that my mother would read my teenage diaries, and that it would be a disaster. I was, for the duration, suspended in a dual state of fear and awe.
There is much debate as to which side of the border offers the best views of Victoria Falls, Zambia or Zimbabwe. The answer is neither; it must be seen from above. Standing near its base is an experience to be ticked off your list, but it’s impossible to take in the majesty of the falls from ground level.
Avani offers other ways to enjoy this mighty landmark; by river cruise, white water rafting, or aboard the Royal Livingstone Express - a restored steam locomotive that totters back and forth over the Victoria Falls Bridge. But when Livingstone first arrived here, he imagined angels soaring overhead, and this is about as close as you’ll get to such a viewpoint.
The Daily Telegraph