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A brief history of the Zambezi River & the Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls

Known today as the largest curtain of falling water in the world, the Victoria Falls is just that. The falls are located on the Zambezi River between the towns of Livingstone in Zambia and Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe. The awe-inspiring sight while standing close to the edge of the falls or from a helicopter flight over the falls is unbeatable.

The Victoria Falls has a width of nearly 2 kilometres and there is a foot path around the falls for viewing the different sections of the falls. The average hight of the falls is only about 100 metres,but the volume of water pouring over its basalt rock edge reaches close to 500 000 000 cubic metres of water per minute in the flood season. This produces a tremendous amount of pressure at the bottom of the gorge and causes and up-draft which produces rain above and around the falls. This rain or mist can be seen from 30 kilometres away, and is the story behind the origin of the name 'mosi-oa-tunya' given by the Kololo tribe who were living around the falls at the time David Livingstone, the European explorer, saw the falls for the first time.

The history of the Zambezi and the formation of the Victoria Falls

The Zambezi River rises at a place called Kalene Hill, just North of the Mwinilunga District, North West Zambia, an area where Zambia, Angola and DRC meet. It flows for 2700 km through 6 countries on its route to the Indian Ocean. Flowing south, and then strangely enough, it takes a turn at the site of the Victoria Falls and flows in a northerly direction and eventually southerly again as it flows through Mozambique spilling into the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi is the 4th largest river in Africa.

You might ask, how or why does it flow north? The events that caused this took place too many years ago for us to remember. Scientists have discovered that the Zambezi and Kafue Rivers flowed south into a huge lake that covered most of modern day Botswana. The remains of this lake are known today as the Makgadikgadi Pans, further it is believed this super lake drained into the Limpopo River Valley. The tilting of the middle of Africa changed the flow of the rivers draining southern Congo and Angola. These rivers when in full flood, now flowed south and then east instead of south into the super lake. The Zambezi flowing in its new direction came up against basalt dykes. At first flowing backwards and eventually gouging its way through softer sand stone in the dykes. This is the area where the Victoria Falls pours into the Batoka Gorge. From here is takes it turn north east on towards the Kariba and Mupata Gorges. It appears that the mighty force of the Zambezi waters flowing backwards while breaking though the basalt dykes created the beautiful sight we have today at the Victoria Falls

Move Tours and Safaris offers safaris which include a guided tour of the Victoria Falls as well as itineraries with adventures on the Zambezi River. Visit for more information on safaris in Southern Africa.

About the author: Jonathan lived out his passion for Africa and its wildlife while working a guide in Southern Africa.

Excerpts take from "Inspired by the Zambezi" Memories of Barotseland and a Royal River - the mighty Liambai by David Lisle Whitehead

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