Where the Smoke Thunders

Although separate geographically, Zambia and Zimbabwe are often partnered because they are joined at the hip, from a tourism point of view, by the mighty Zambezi River. The Zambezi is most certainly the focal point for tourism in both countries. The upper reaches are the scene of one of the natural wonders of the world – the Victoria Falls. The Kololo tribespeople living in this area named the waterfall “Mosi o Tunya” (‘the smoke that thunders’). It was the Kololo who paddled David Livingstone in a canoe to Kazeruka, the scene of his first glimpse of the Falls – the first known European to set eyes on this almighty site. He named it after his Queen.

Both Zambia and Zimbabwe are land-locked, and both are blessed with fertile soils, mineral wealth and magnificent scenery. Victoria Falls, with its majestic Victoria Falls Hotel and a variety of other hotels and game lodges, is a bit of an icon. But the Zambezi Valley is also home to legendary National Parks such as Matusadona and Mana Pools, with their fabulous concentrations of big game. Below Victoria Falls is one of the most awesome white water river rafting stretches anywhere in the world, and the gorge of the Upper Zambezi has encouraged all sorts of other adventure-orientated activities such as canoeing, abseiling, climbing and even bungi jumping.

Further downstream is one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, Kariba. Besides the game viewing along its banks, such as that found in Matusodona, Kariba also offers activities on the water – fishing (for bream and tiger fish) is excellent, and a bit of relaxation with plenty of cold beer on the famous Kariba Ferry is a really worthwhile experience. Beyond Kariba lies Chirundu which is  the main border crossing between the two countries, and the favoured starting point for gentler Zambezi canoe and boating safaris. Here the river is flat but often more than 1 km in width and literally filled with hippos and crocodiles. Mana Pools itself is a lush, forested paradise for wildlife photographers. There are a variety of private camps at Mana Pools including Chikwenya which must rate as having one of the most beautiful sites of any camp in Africa.

Both Zambia and Zimbabwe offer a range of other hot spots as well. In Zambia, you can visit the remote and inaccessible Luangwa Valley, the Kafue National Park or the lesser known Banguelu Swamps. Zimbabwe has its beautiful highlands – situated south east of Harare, the mountains of Inyanga, Vumba and Chimanimani. Other notable parks include Hwange, south of Victoria Falls, where there are excellent lodges, and on the southern border is the up and coming Gonarezhou National Park. In the centre of the country is the mysterious Zimbabwe Ruins, or “Great Zimbabwe”, after which the country derived its name at Independence in 1980.