Musambwa Islands(located at 310 35'E, 000 55'S at an altitude of 1,130 m above sea level) are three rocky islands about five kilometres offshore from Kasensero Landing site in Sango Bay region. The largest of the islands is about three hectares, the medium sized one about 2 ha and the smallest are rocky outcrops jutting out of Lake Victoria. The islands is an important Bird Area (IBA) and Ramsar site. Its classification as an IBA was based on tenet that it contains congregations of breeding birds in globally significant numbers. The islands are of exceptional biodiversity supporting among others internationally significant numbers of four breeding species of birds. These are the Grey Headed Gull, the Long Tailed Cormorant, Greater Cormorant, and the Little Egret. In July NatureUganda through its bi-annual bird counts counted 98,910 grey headed gulls, 2916 long tailed cormorants among others. They are known to have the largest breeding colony for the Grey-headed Gulls in Africa. Other birds on this island include White-winged Black Tern ,Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Spur-winged Plover, Black Crake, Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Duck, Grey Heron, Lesser Flamingo, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Moorhen, African Fish Eagle, Pink-backed Pelican ,Open-Billed Stork, Water Thick-knee, Common Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Green-backed Heron, Hamerkop, African Marsh Harrier, Black-headed Heron, Pied Kingfisher, Squacco Heron.
Unique reptiles such as snakes and lizards are also found on these islands which have never harmed any one. They usually occupy the same beds and houses with the island community members. Actually anyone who wants to concur his/her fear of snakes should visit this island. These reptiles include cobras,vipers, monitor lizards, pythons.
The vegetation on two of the islands is mainly shrubby dominated Erlangea sp. and stunted trees mainly of Ficus sp. The shorelines are mainly rocky with no fringing swampy vegetation or sandy beaches. However, some crops of the water hyacinth and bits of wetland vegetation can be found in about five percent of the coastline and these turned out to be important amphibian habitats.
Musambwa islands is known for its rich cultural diversity by the fact that its occupied by only men and it’s a taboo to have sex on this island. The island has reptiles like the African rock pythons, cobras, vipers and monitor lizards but one unique thing about these reptiles is that they have a great bond with the people in that most of the community members are not scared being near these reptiles and look at them as the owners of the island.
The island is the breeding ground of the breeding ground for the grey headed gulls (GHG) on the African continent so during the end of December to end of July the migrant GHGs are seen in vast numbers and make the island look spectacular. One can never miss to see most of the documented birds at this island. Musambwa island is known for its cultural uniqueness and the strong bond between the people and the biodiversity on this island. The island is only occupied by men and women are only allowed on the island during day with no intimate relations with men on the island. This has played a great role in the controlling the populations on the island hence giving birds more breeding space and no further encroachment on the vegetation. The visitors or tourists are treated to an initiation dance which purposely helps them to freely establish rapport with the island community. The island also has reptiles while have never harmed any one according to kabelenge an elder on the island. Since tourism is not a stand alone entity, the Musambwa island fraternity has always been in contact with other tourism sites in Rakai district as a means of networking and enabling tourists maximise their time and money by visiting all the sites instead of Musambwa islands alone. These include malabigambo forest with endemic trees and many butterflies, kagera river meanders which form some letters of the alphabet, Rwandan genocide graves, kasensero landing site, kakuto ostrich farm, the scenic views of the kooki hills,Sango bay swamp steep edged forests, and big caves.
The Eastern Arc Mountains in Tanzania are home to many species that live nowhere else in the world, including butterflies, frogs, trees and chameleons.
Many insects are also endemic to the Eastern Arc, including 43 species of butterflies.
“This is a really important place,” said Neil Burgess, an expert on the Eastern Arc Mountains at the University of Cambridge and the World Wildlife Fund. “Biologists who go there just keep finding more and more species.”
In January, an international network of scientists presented the latest findings on diversity in the Eastern Arc in the journal Biological Conservation.
Many species that live on the mountains live nowhere else in the world. (Scientists call them endemic.) So far, researchers have identified 96 endemic species of vertebrates in the Eastern Arc Mountains, including sunbirds, chameleons and the wide-eyed primates called bushbabies.
Many insects are also endemic to the Eastern Arc, including 43 species of butterflies. Some of the most popular houseplants in the world come from its forests, including African violets, and the mountains are home to at least 800 other endemic species of plants.
All of these species are crammed into 13 patches of forest that, put together, would be barely bigger than Rhode Island. Only a few places on earth, including New Zealand and Madagascar, have comparable densities of endangered endemic species. Scientists call them biodiversity hot spots.
Geography plays a big role in the making of a hot spot. The Eastern Arc has been around for some 30 million years. “They’ve probably had forests on them for all of that time,” said Dr. Burgess, the lead author of the new reports. “Even during very dry periods, the forests have survived.”
Lineages that became extinct elsewhere in East Africa have been able to survive in the Eastern Arc. Studies of the DNA of birds and primates reveal that many species belong to ancient lineages. In some cases, their closest living relatives are found hundreds or thousands of miles away. As the old lineages endure, new species also evolve. “You’ve got these ancient things that are collected in the mountains, and then you’ve got newly evolved species on the mountains as well,” Dr. Burgess said.
The diversity of the Eastern Arc is all the more impressive because 70 percent of the original forest cover is gone. Farmers and loggers have cleared many of the trees, and hunters have eliminated many mammals, like elephants and buffalo. Many of the remaining species are endangered, including 71 of the 96 known endemic vertebrates.
The destruction of the forests may prove harmful to Tanzania’s economy as well. The rivers that flow from the mountains power the dams that supply half the nation’s energy. Deforestation may make the water supply less reliable during dry months. The Tanzanian government and conservation organizations are working on ways to preserve the remaining forests.
With money from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, scientists are continuing to explore the Eastern Arc forests in search of new species — and are finding them. While many are small amphibians and reptiles, some are surprisingly big.
In 2005, for example, scientists discovered a new species of monkey, a slender, tree-dwelling primate called the Kipunji. At first it appeared to belong to a group of monkeys called mangabeys. But last year scientists studying its DNA were surprised to discover that it was not a mangabey at all; its closest kin are actually baboons.
Dr. Burgess said he expected still more discoveries in the next few years. “There will be plenty of new and fun things for people to find out about,” he said.
|CHOMA MUSEUM & CRAFTS PROJECT||This fascinating museum in Choma on the Lusaka/ Livingstone Road preserves the cultural heritage of the Tonga tribe of the Southern Province. It houses many traditional artefacts including beadwork, musical instruments, spears, clay figurines, jewellery and much more. The Crafts project stimulates production of local crafts such as baskets, beadwork, carvings, etc. for the purpose of preserving local traditional skills and providing an alternative form of income to the people of Southern Province. The Museum now exports traditional crafts, particularly Tonga baskets. The CMCC is open daily from 8.00 to 17.00 hrs|
|COPPERBELT MUSEUM||This museum in Ndola houses items found in the area dating back to the Stone Age. Open daily from 9h00-17h00.|
|LIVINGSTONE MUSEUM||Livingstone's famous museum has four galleries: Prehistory (archaeology), Ethnography and Art, History and Natural History. There is an interesting collection of David Livingstone’s belongings and descriptions of his routes. Entry is nominal and is open to the public from 8h30 to 16h30 every day except Christmas and New Year.|
|MARAMBA CULTURAL MUSEUM||Livingstone. This village was established to preserve the arts, crafts and culture of Zambia. Around the inside of these dwellings sit blacksmiths whose helpers fan the fires with traditional bellows, wood carvers and mask makers with their adzes and potters and other craftsmen plying their trade as it has been done for centuries.|
|MOTO MOTO MUSEUM||Situated at Mbala in the Northern Province. It houses an impressive collection of articles related to Zambian culture and folklore. It contains many aspects of Zambian Art, tools, instruments of crafts, objects related to initiation ceremonies and objects of witchcraft . Click on link for more info.|
|LUSAKA NATIONAL MUSEUM||This cultural history museum tells the story of Zambia in four main sections; ethnography, witchcraft, history and contemporary art|
|NAYUMA MUSEUM||Mongu. Essentially a museum that promotes the arts and crafts of the people in the Barotseland area, not only in its many traditional forms but also where such craftwork is an expression of art.|
|RAILWAY MUSEUM||Livingstone. Open to the public from 8h30 to 16h30 for a nominal fee, the museum holds some of the finest examples of Zambia's railway heritage ranging from very historic steam locomotives and vintage coaches to the tiniest railway memorabilia.|
|VICTORIA FALLS FIELD MUSEUM||Built around an actual excavation through Pleistocene gravels of the Zambezi River, this museum displays the various forms of life around the Victoria Falls from more than 50 000 years ago to the present. It also has displays showing how the falls were formed. Open daily from 10h30 to 17h00.|
|CHIRUNDU FOSSEL FOREST||Just off the main Lusaka Chirundu road, not far from Chirundu are fossil trees belonging to the Karoo period and are about 50 000 years old.|
|COLLIER MONUMENT||At the Roan Antelope Copper Mine in Luanshya set amid the original outcrop where in June, 1902, the prospecter William Collier shot an antelope and first dicovered copper at what is now the Roan Antelope Mine.|
|DAG HAMMERSKJOLD MEMORIAL||This marks the spot, now in the Ndola West Forest Reserve where the aircraft carrying Dag Hammerskjold, author and former Secretary General of the United Nations, crashed on the 18th September 1961. To commemorate his death, a small cairn has been built in the centre of a simple memorial garden and a site museum has been opened to the public.|
|FORT MONZE||West of Monze, this fort was one of the earliest colonial police posts established in the country just before the turn of the century. There is a cemetary of the graves of those policemen who manned the fort.|
|KASAMBA STREAM GRINDING GROOVES||On the western shore of Lake Bangweulu, just south of Samfya, is an outcrop of rock which bears a large number of artificial grinding grooves dating back possibly to the Iron Age. It is thought they were used for grinding and polishing axes.|
|KUNDABWIKA ROCK PAINTING||A large rock bearing an elaborate schematic painting in red, lies 96 kms from Mporokoso in the Northern Province|
|LUNSEMFA WONDER GORGE||At the junction of the Lunsemfwa and Mkushi Rivers, is a site of great beauty where both rivers have cut narrow gorges over 300m into the Karoo sedementary rocks and presents one of the finest and most spectacular views to be found in Zambia.|
|MKOMO ROCK SHELTER||To the north of the Great East Road, sixty four kilometers west of Chipata. Rock paintings dating back to the Iron Age|
|MUMWE STREAM ROCK||These engravings in the Mwense district are thought to be of great historical importance.|
|NACHIKUFU CAVE||This cave in Mpika depicts some of the most interesting rock paintings in the country and is the site of a field museum exhibiting a fascinating sequence from the Stone Age in Northern Zambia some 18 000 years ago to the recent Iron Age.|
|NIAMKOLO CHURCH||On the shore of Lake Tanganyika about kilometer and a half to the east of Mpulungu, this church was built by the London Missionary Society in 1895 and is the oldest surviving stone built church in Zambia.|
|NKALA FORTIFIED CAMP||Just outside the borders of the Kafue National Park at the top of Kapilika Nakalomwe Hill, built as a police camp in 1901. The plan of the fort can still be seen from the ruined walls|
|NSEFU CAVE AND ROCK PAINTING||These painting near Kanona can be seen clearly from outside the fence and anyone wishing to enter the cave may do so on payment of a small fee to the caretaker. The main cave contains evidence of occupation during the Stone Age and the paintings are the most extensive to be seen at any single site in Zambia.|
|NSALU CAVE & ROCK PAINTING||This semi-circular cave, cut into Nsalu hills contains some of the best examples of Africa’s schematic rock paintings. It stretches about 20 metres wide, 20 metres deep and eight metres high. Excavations carried out in the 1940’s showed the site was first occupied by middle Stone Age people although the majority of remains discovered relate to the hunting people of the late Stone Age and date back from about 12000 years ago to 1000 AD. The significance of the schematic drawings at Nsalu remains a mystery. Some archaeologists believe they were connected with initiation ceremonies but research into the subject continues. It’s a short detour off the GNR. 30 kms north of Kanona turn left, travel a further fourteen kilometres, turn right. This road leads to the caves in rugged hilly country.|
|VON LETTOW VORBECK MEMORIAL||At the North end of the Chambeshi River bridge on the main road from Mpika to Kasama, marks the spot on which General Von Lettow Vorbeck, Commander of the German forces in East Africa during the 1914 war, surrendered. Incorporated in the monument is an 1890 breach loading field gun of the type used by the German army in this campaign.|
When one looks out over Lake Bangweulu, the grey blue waters disappear into the horizon, blending in completely with the colour of the sky and it’s difficult to tell just where the horizon is. ‘Bangweulu’ means ‘The Place Where the Water Meets the Sky.’
The lake is exploited more as a fish source than for its tourist potential. This is unfortunate, as it’s beauty is breathtaking. There are rumours of developing a tourist resort and having a luxury cruise boat for hire. But for the moment this is a an interesting stopover for the intrepid vehicle traveller or backpacker.
The main catches in the Lake are Cychlids (bream, tigerfish, yellow belly) and catfish. About 57 000 metric tons of fish are harvested from the Lake each year. Although fish stocks are not in danger, catches are declining and the favoured species are becoming thinner.
The fisheries of the Bangweulu are one of the largest in Zambia. This has lead to some of the highest population densities around the lake where commercial fishermen have settled. Nevertheless the fishing industry is not economically well developed and inadequate controls and marketing facilities threaten both sustainability and profitability of the industry as a whole. Many of the fishermen trade their catches purely on a barter system for essential commodities.
Samfya is the largest town on the Lake, developed in the mid 1900’s as a fishing village. It is very shabby, unordered and scattered, but you can get basic supplies as well as fresh fish. There is a post office, clinic and adequate fuel supplies.
There isn’t much tourist access to the Lake apart from Samfya Holiday Beach, about 1km before town. It is possible to camp there but toilet facilities are dubious. A new hotel has just been built nearby with small and basic but adequate rooms facing the lake. There is also the Lake Bangweulu Water Transport Guesthouse for cheap accommodation and corresponding standards.
The Postal Services Corporation runs a transport boat from the mainland to the three main islands in Lake Bangweulu; Mbabala, Cishi and Chilubi.
The Kwanga Ceremony of the Njumbo tribe takes place in Samfya in October. If you are there at the time it's worth finding out about for a fascinating insight into local customs and traditional dancing. Any of the locals should be able to tell you the exact date as it changes from year to year, or ask at the Tourist Board in Lusaka. Tel: 225174.
One can hire a motor boat from Water Transport into the spectacularly rich Bangweulu Swamps, which surround the Lake for hundreds of kilometres. This may take a day or two to arrange, so plan early. Fuel prices make it quite expensive, and be sure to take a guide.
This vast inland sea was first made known to the European world in the mid 1800’s by the English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke. They pursued it as the source of the Nile, arriving at its shores in February of 1858, only to discover that the Ruzizi River in the north, which they thought to be the Nile, flowed into and not out of the lake. (Their incredible journey is documented in the movie ‘Mountains of the Moon’.)
Tanganyika’s waters lap Tanzania, Burundi, Congo DR and Zambia. It is the longest fresh water lake in the world and the second deepest after lake Baikal in Russia. The immense depth is because it lies in the Great Rift Valley, which also has created its steep shoreline. It reaches a depth of 1433 metres (4 700 feet), which is an astounding 642m below sea level.
Although Zambia can only lay claim to 7% of its surface area, it stretches north to south a distance of 677 kilometres (420 miles) and averages about fifty kilometers wide (31 miles). The clear waters host more than 350 different species of fish and is well known for aquarium fish exports and excellent angling.
The fertile circulating surface water, although not tidal, provides abundant plankton for its inhabitants which in turn provides much needed protein for both the local and export markets. The stiff winds that blow off the surrounding mountains aid the continual movement which inhibits the spread of bilharzia, the parasitic disease carried by shallow water snails.
It is essentially a landlocked sea but in years of heavy rain the lake overflows into the Lukuga River which in turn feeds Congo DR’s Lualaba River.
Despite the ferocious surface storms that occur, driving waves up to six meters high (20 foot), no mixing of the lower relict waters occur. The bottom 1 200 meters of the lake remain ‘dead’ - either too high in hydrogen sulphide or too low in oxygen to support life. This ‘fossil water’ may be as old as 20 million years. By contrast, the oceans, because of currents and upwellings have life forms even as low as 11000 meters (36 080 feet).
Lake Tanganyika has a remarkably uniform temperature. The lower regions are only a mere 3 degrees C colder than the surface. The reason for this strange phenomenon has yet to be discovered.
Lake Tanganyika boasts over 350 species of fish of which most are endemic. Like Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika is extremely old, and the combination of its age and ecological isolation has led to the evolution of unique fish populations. Since new species are being discovered continually in these remarkable lakes, it is difficult to determine which has the highest diversity, but they at least share the distinction of being the top two lakes in the world in terms of biodiversity, whilst Lake Tanganyika has the highest proportion of endemicity, concentrated mainly in the Zambian waters of the lake.
The Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project has been set up to ensure that its biological diversity is maintained. The aim of the project is to produce an effective and sustainable system for managing and conserving the biodiversity of Lake Tanganyika. As Lake Tanganyika is a border for four countries Zambia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo- the success of the project will depend on how well these countries work together. The project which began in 1995 comes to an end in the year 2000 and is funded by the Global Environmental Facility through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Species of particular note include the Giant Nile Perch (Lates angustifrons) and Small Nile Perch (Luciolates stappersii) which are important commercial and sports fishing (that is angling) species, Goliath Tiger (Hydrocynus goliath) and the English Fish or Lake Tanganyika yellow-belly (Boulengerochromis microlepis) which are important angling species (the latter being especially prized for its good eating), the Kapenta (Limnothrissa miodon) which is an important source of fish-protein in Zambia, the rare Bichir (Polypterus congicus), and a great variety of endemic Cichlids.
Regarded as one of the most biologically unique habitats on earth, Lake Tanganyika is also an evolutionary showcase due to its great age and stability. Ninety eight percent of the lake’s cychlids (which comprise two thirds of all the lake’s fish) are unique to Tanganyika. Also endemic are all seven of its crabs, five out of the thirteen bivalve molluscs, more than half of its gastropod molluscs and eleven of its thirty three copepod crustaceans.
Sport fishing is very popular here and catches include the goliath tigerfish and Nile perch. Crocodiles inhabit most of the shoreline, except around Mpulungu, probably due to the noise of people and motorboats. Swimming in the lake (in the Mpulungu area only!) is an absolute treat. Warm, clear, salt free water that changes from silky stillness, to high waves for a great body surf - usually with no apparent reason for the change. Storms from way up north probably cause the still waters in the south to agitate.
The MV Liemba, a large ex German warship that has been converted into a passenger ferry, arrives at the port of Mpulungu every Friday morning and leaves in the afternoon for Kigoma in Tanzania and Bujumbura in Burundi. If you have time to do the week long trip there and back or if en route further up Africa, this is an experience not to be missed. It’s not luxurious but the trip itself offers a spectacular experience of this vast Lake in the heart of the continent. There are ‘first class’ cabins with double bunks and one family cabin with en suite facilities. The toilets seldom work properly so be prepared. It has a carrying capacity of 500 passengers and by the time it has left Kigoma, it is usually full.
It was originally built as a cargo vessel when German occupied what was then known as Tanganyika, now Tanzania. The First World War broke out before its completion and it was converted to a military expedition ship to be used against the British forces in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia and the Belgian Congo, now Zaire. It was bombed by the Belgians in 1916, raised and dragged to Kigoma where it sank again. The British, who had taken control of Tanganyika after the war, raised her again and renovated her to a cargo and passenger vessel. The name Liemba was the name Livingstone gave to the Africans living in the area when he first reached the Lake.
Mpulungu is Zambia’s only port. It is the gateway to the north by ferry and provides an important outlet for exports and imports by ship. A small town with very few shops, it does however bustle with activity when the ships arrive bringing passengers and goods from Burundi and Tanzania. It lies in a natural bay along the lakeshore, protected by a large island just a few hundred metres out. The villagers are mostly fishermen and every evening at sunset, a long procession of fishing boats hitch a ride from one of the bigger fishing barges and head out to the horizon for the evening’s catch. There is also a tropical fishing industry here that exports aquarium fishes all over the world.
Driving there from anywhere is a long haul, but well worth the effort. One can go straight to the port of Mpulungu on the Great North Road via Mpika and Kasama. Or drive to Nsumbu National Park, which borders the Lake, via Mporokoso. Kasaba Bay cannot be reached from Mpulungu as there are mountains and a river in the way, but it is possible to take a boat, a distance of about 60kms. There is an airstrip at Kasaba Bay for chartered flights, but no scheduled flights go there at present. This may change with the imminent re-opening of the three lodges there. Check with the Tourist Board for the latest developments.
About two kilometres east of the town of Mpulungu is Niamkolo Church. Built in 1895 by the London Missionary Society it is the oldest surviving stone built church in Zambia. The fifteen meter tower was a landmark for boats using the port of Mpulungu. The church was built by one Adam Purves who had joined the mission as a helper and teacher. There is a main hall and a three story tower. The walls are nearly a meter thick comprising two skins of roughly dressed sandstone quarried on the Mission estates, with mud or anthill bonding. The gap between the skins was filled with rubble. Only the walls and the tower remain. In 1908 the Mission decided to move inland due to the high incidence of sleeping sickness, and the church fell into disuse and decay.
On the lake shore at Mpulungu, there is a colourful Market selling vegetables, fish, cloths, salaula (second hand clothing) and other odds and ends.
Kalambo Falls are on the Kalambo River bordering Zambia and Tanzania. They are the second highest waterfalls in Africa plunging a breathtaking 221m in one uninterrupted drop - over twice the height of the Victoria Falls! The width of the falls varies from 2m in the dry season expanding to an impressive 15m after heavy rains, cascading down a sheer cliff into a deep green pool below, through the gorge and on about 3 more kilometres into Lake Tanganyika.
There are two access options. One can take a drive via Mbala, then take the northerly road to the border of Tanzania, bearing left at road junctions. Park at the summit and walk down to the falls. It is advisable to have someone mind your vehicle. This road is quite bad, especially in the wet season. The other way is to hire a boat from Mpulungu across the Lake taking about an hour. Then climb up to the summit where the falls begin. This is about a two hour hard walk. Bring plenty of water for the journey there and back as the water in the Kalambo river is not safe to drink. The route there is not marked so ask for a guide at the lakeside village where you start to climb and try to leave as early as possible in the morning to avoid the midday heat.
Look out for the Marabou storks that nest in the sheer cliffs of the rocky gorge. Also an area for the palmnut vulture and vulturine fish eagle. There is a cliff path along the southern side of the gorge leading to a viewpoint directly opposite the falls and another further along overlooking Lake Tanganyika
East of Mpulungu is Kituta Bay. The hull of the missionary steamboat, the SS Good News, lies abandoned here and has an interesting history. The 54 foot ship was commissioned by the London Missionary Society and originally built in England. It was delivered to the mouth of the Zambezi and from here, sailed up the Shire River, where in places it had to be carried. After sailing the length of Lake Malawi, (then Lake Nyasa) to Karonga, it was dismantled and then carried 400 kilometers overland to Lake Tanganyika. Because of aggression from Arab slave traders, the missionaries couldn’t bring it to their site at Niamkolo and carried it a further 60 km to the Lufubu river where it was reassembled. The boat was finally launched a year later in 1895 and there is a monument on the site to commemorate the event. Her propeller and flag can be seen at the Moto Moto Museum in Mbala.
Sumbu National Park also lies on the edge of Lake Tanganyika about 60km west of Mpulungu.
This area, used to be an active slaving point. Up until the middle of the 1800's Nsumbu was often the area from which slaves were shipped across the lake to the Tanzanian mainland before being sent to onwards to the slave market in Zanzibar.
The Zambezi is Africa’s fourth largest River system, after the Nile, Zaire and Niger Rivers. It runs through six countries on it’s journey from central Africa to the Indian Ocean. Its unique value is that it is less developed than others in terms of human settlement and many areas along it’s banks enjoy protected status.
It's power has carved the spectacular Victoria Falls and the zigzagging Batoka Gorge.
The Zambezi has been harnessed at various points along the way including the massive Kariba Dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe and Cabora Bassa Dam in Mozambique. Plans for another dam at the Batoka gorge have fortunately been shelved.
The River’s beauty has attracted tourists from all over the world providing opportunities for a myriad of water sports and game viewing.
Running for a length of 2700kms, it begins it’s journey as an insignificant little spring in the corner of north-west Zambia in the Mwinilunga District. It bubbles up between the roots of a tree, very close to the border where Zambia, Angola and Zaire meet.
It enters Angola for about 230kms, where it accumulates the bulk of its headwater drainage, and re-enters Zambia again at Cholwezi rapids flowing due south but substantially enlarged by the entry of various tributaries.
It passes through the flat sandy country of the Western Province, then traverses the broad, annually flooding Barotse Plains, where much of the water is lost to evaporation, then over more rocky country where it’s tranquil course is interrupted by the Ngonye falls and rapids.
This upper part of the river is thinly populated by pastoralists, farmers and fishermen and although wildlife is sparse it is remarkably free of pollution. This is also the scene of the remarkable Ku-omboka Ceremony where thousands of inhabitants move annually to higher ground as the Zambezi floods into the low lying plains.
As it turns to an easterly direction it forms the border between Zambia and Namibia and eventually joins up with the Chobe River in the Caprivi Swamps, briefly forming a border with Botswana.
For the next 500kms it serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe thundering over the Victoria Falls and through the narrow, steadily deepening Batoka Gorge which flattens out at the broad Gwembe Valley.
From here it flows into the Kariba dam for 281kms - it’s width at one point being 40kms. From the dam wall the river travels due north, heading east again at Chirundu.
Here it is flanked by the Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian side and Mana Pools National Park on the Zimbabwean side. This middle zone supports one of Africa’s most important wilderness areas.
After the Luangwa confluence, it’s a much larger Zambezi that flows into Mozambique and out towards the Indian Ocean, having provided power, food, pleasure and transport for many and a home for untold numbers of wildlife along it’s journey.
Described by the Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800’s as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ - ‘the Smoke that Thunders’ and in more modern terms as ‘the greatest known curtain of falling water’, Victoria Falls are a spectacular sight of awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur on the Zambezi River, bordering Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Columns of spray can be seen from miles away as 546 million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge (at the height of the flood season) over a width of nearly two kilometers into a deep gorge over 100 meters below. The wide basalt cliff, over which the falls thunder, transforms the Zambezi from a wide placid river to a ferocious torrent cutting through a series of dramatic gorges.
Facing the Falls is another sheer wall of basalt, rising to the same height and capped by mist-soaked rain forest. A path along the edge of the forest provides the visitor who is prepared to brave the tremendous spray with an unparalleled series of views of the Falls.
One special vantage point is across the Knife edge bridge, where visitors can have the finest view of the Eastern Cataract and the Main Falls as well as the Boiling Pot where the river turns and heads down the Batoka Gorge. Other vantage points include the Falls bridge and the Lookout Tree which commands a panoramic view across the Main Falls.
"The first impression was unmistakable; immense power, the raw energy unleashed when the entire Zambezi leaps wildly into a black two kilometer wide abyss. The scale is massive, the spectacle spellbinding and perpetually changing. The falls hiss and roar as if possessed, they rumble and crash like thunder. Vast clouds spew and billow out from the seething cauldron of its dark impenetrable depths. The moving water creates a magnetism that sucks you closer, so that you recoil in horror to quench a subliminal sacrificial urge." (Jumbo Williams, Zambezi, River of Africa. 1988)
The Victoria Falls Bridge was commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes in 1900, although he never visited the falls and died before construction began, he expressed his wish that the "railway should cross the Zambezi just below the Victoria Falls. I should like to have the spray of the falls over the carriages."
The bridge affords a magnificent view both down the gorge on the one side and through to the falls on the other. The immense depth of the gorge can be fully appreciated from this perspective and combined with the sea green river below, the shiny black rock face and lush green foliage, the 360 degree view from the bridge is breathtaking.
To fully appreciate the incredible size of the Falls, and the awesome power of the water as it carves into the deep zig zagging gorges for eight kilometers, one must see it from the air. Micro-light and fixed wing flights are available. The pilot will take you along the wide tranquil upper Zambezi, and over the huge 2 km rent in the earth. The breathtaking sight of this magnificent natural phenomena, seen in all its glory from the air, is unforgettable. Helicopter Flights are also available from United Air Charters.
On the opposite cliff, facing the falls, you can take a well marked and paved walk through the rain forests. Every so often the path will open out into a clearing for a view of the falls. Further along this path is the Knife Edge Bridge which affords an impressive panorama depending on the time of year. Although less can be seen of the width of the Falls during the wet season, the intense spray provides welcome relief from the heat, but don’t carry anything you don’t want to get wet!
During the dry season, be sure to take a walk along the lip of the Falls themselves. Sometimes the water is low enough to walk all the way across to Livingstone Island, the place where David Livingstone had his first glimpse of the Falls. This is surely one of the most magnificent views in the area.
Another interesting perspective is deep within the gorge into which the Falls descend. From the parking lot, look for the signs pointing to "The Boiling Pot." It’s quite a steep climb, but well-worn steps make it a fairly easy descent. Coming up is of course a little more strenuous, but the view from below of the wide Zambezi thundering over the cliff, then compressed into the deep thin crevice turning into the Batoka Gorge, crashing and swirling over rapids, is quite spectacular. From this vantage point one can also see up to the impressive Victoria Falls Bridge, spanning the gorge over 100 meters above.
The best place for a wide range of crafts and curios is the Mukuni Victoria Falls Craft Village. From intricate animal carvings in stone, wood, or the beautiful green malachite, masks, drums, marimbas, spoons, book ends, walking sticks, jewellery and much more. The vendors can be really pushy however, yelling for your attention from all sides, so be firm. Look at everything before buying as some offer better quality than others. They are usually happy to trade for things like T shirts, batteries, shoes, or anything else hard to come by in Zambia. You’ll find it in the parking area just above the Falls where most of the walks begin and alongside the Victoria Falls Field Museum. This little museum attempts to explain how the falls were formed over the millenia. It is built over an actual excavation site that has uncovered evidence of early hominids who lived in the area as far back as 2.5 million years ago.
Mosi O Tunya National Park is situated along the upper Zambezi stretching from and including the Falls for about 12kms up river. It is only 66 square kilometers but provides a home for numerous antelope species, zebra, giraffe and the recently acquired white rhinos, one of whom gave birth in the park in 1994. These are the only rhinos to be seen in Zambia as its previously large population has been completely eliminated through poaching. One can take a pleasant drive around the park in a couple of hours and almost all the species there should be seen at close range. Since there are no predators, they are very relaxed and afford some excellent photo opportunities.
Mukuni Village is an authentic tribal village where thousands of people live and work. In July of each year the Leya people partake in the colorful Lwiindi Ceremony. The local people believe the spirits of their ancestors still dwell in the gorges of the Falls and during the Lwiindi, they offer sacrifices to them for rain.
The Victoria Falls area is rapidly becoming known as the ‘Adventure Centre’ of Southern Africa, with various adrenaline sports, unmatched scenery of breathtaking proportions, and many other leisure options for outdoor lovers.
Stop in at the Adventure Centre in Livingstone Town for a wide range of adventure / activity services and shops. There are several Adventure Companies offering Riverboarding, White water rafting, Canoeing, Horse riding trails, local tours to the Victoria Falls and around Livingstone. There are Safari operators, a Restaurant, an Internet Cafe, a good Backpackers Lodge and an excellent Arts and Crafts Gallery. You'll find the Centre in the main road from the Falls to Livingstone on the left.
The Falls can be approached from the town of Livingstone by traveling south on Mosi O Tunya road for some 11 kilometers. Just before the border, there is a turning to the right which leads to a parking area. Walks all around the Falls are accessible from this point. If approaching from Zimbabwe, cross the border at the town of Victoria Falls and watch for the left turning just after the Zambian customs post.