Oct 25, 2011

Seven Wonders of the Natural World - Part Seven

Victoria Falls is one of the most spectacular sights of awe-inspiring beauty in the world. Known by the local tribes as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – the Smoke that Thunders – it’s 1,708 metres (5,604 feet) wide and drops between 90 metres (295 feet) and 107 metres (351 feet) into the Zambezi Gorge and is considered to be the largest curtain of water in the world.

Located in southern Africa on the Zambezi River between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe, it’s believed to have been first sighted by Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingston. He named the falls after Queen Victoria.

The Zambezi’s course is broken up by numerous islands, increasing in number the closer to the falls the river gets. Upstream the river flows over a level sheet of basalt; there are no mountains or valleys, only a flat plateau extending for miles in all directions. The falls are formed as the full width of the river plummets in a single vertical drop into a crosswise chasm carved by its waters along a fracture zone in the basalt plateau.

The spray from the falls typically rises to a height of over 400 metres (1,300 feet), and sometimes even twice as high, and is visible from up to 50 kilometres (31 miles) away. During the full moon, a "moonbow" can be seen in the mist, much like the rainbow that is seen during the day.

The depth of the chasm, called the First Gorge, varies from 80 metres (260 ft) at its western end to 108 metres (354 ft) in the centre. The only outlet to the First Gorge is a 110 metres (360 ft) wide gap about two-thirds of the way across the width of the falls from the western end, through which the whole volume of the river pours into the Victoria Falls gorges.

There are two islands on the crest of the falls that are large enough to divide the curtain of water even at full flood: Boaruka Island (or Cataract Island) near the western bank, and Livingstone Island near the middle — the place that David Livingstone first saw the falls from in Zambia. At less than full flood, additional islets divide the curtain of water into separate parallel streams. The main streams are named, in order from Zimbabwe (west) to Zambia (east): Devil's Cataract (called Leaping Water by some), Main Falls, Rainbow Falls (the highest) and the Eastern Cataract. ~ Wikipedia

Over at least 100,000 years, the falls have been receding upstream through the Batoka Gorges, eroding the sandstone-filled cracks to form the gorges.
The river's course in the current vicinity of the falls is north to south, so it opens up the large east-west cracks across its full width, then it cuts back through a short north-south crack to the next east-west one. The river has fallen in different eras into different chasms which now form a series of sharply zig-zagging gorges downstream from the falls. ~ Wikipedia

A famous feature is a naturally formed pool known as the Devil's Pool, near the edge of the falls, accessed via Livingstone Island in Zambia. When the river flow is at a safe level, usually during the months of September to December, people can swim as close as possible to the edge of the falls within the pool without continuing over the edge and falling into the gorge; this is possible due to a natural rock wall just below the water and at the very edge of the falls that stops their progress despite the current. ~ Wikipedia

There are two unique and distinctive views of the falls, one through Livingstone, Zambia, the other through Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The best way to view the falls is to take a helicopter tour, which provides a breathtaking and spectacular aerial view of the falls and surrounding area. Another and almost equally impressive view is from the foot path and foot bridge trail that follows alongside the falls. This unique trail allows visitors to see the falls at eye level, and from only 200 feet (60 metres) away.

Activities that gained popularity in the area include whitewater rafting in the gorges, bungee jumping from the bridge, game fishing, horse riding, kayaking, and flights over the falls.

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