The park and its history
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park covers 66 square kilometres from the Songwe Gorge below the Victoria Falls in a north-west arc along about 20 kilometres of the Zambezi River bank. It forms the south-western boundary of the city of Livingstone and has two main sections, each with separate entrances – the forest and cliff tops surrounding Victoria Falls, and the wildlife park.
The Zambezi River forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, so the Victoria Falls are shared by the two countries, and this Zambian National Park is ‘twin’ to the Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwean side. ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ which means ‘the smoke that thunders’ comes from the Kololo or Lozi language and the name is now used throughout Zambia, and in parts of Zimbabwe.
In November 2005 a new statue of explorer David Livingstone, the world famous explorer was erected in the park. The original and more famous Livingstone statue is on the Zimbabwean side. A plaque was also unveiled on the nearby Livingstone Island to mark the spot from where David Livingstone became the first European to see the Victoria Falls, who he named after Queen Victoria.
Today, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is considered for inclusion in the five nation Kavango-Zambezi Trans frontier Conservation Area.
The Victoria Falls section of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
The Victoria Falls section of the national park includes the rainforest on the cliff opposite the Eastern Cataract which is sustained by spray from the falls. It contains plants that are rare for the area such as pod mahogany, ebony, ivory palm, wild date palm and various creepers and lianas. Despite the many visitors that come here small antelopes and warthogs inhabit this area and are sometimes seen on the winding footpaths through the dripping riverine forest leading to the falls.
The aptly named Knife Edge Bridge was built in the 1960s to provide access on foot to the cliffs looking over the Rainbow Falls and the first gorge’s exit to what is known as the boiling pot in the second gorge. During the high season from February to May, prepare to get drenched from clouds of spray thrown up by the thundering falls. A steep footpath leads down to the boiling pot. Look up and there are views of the second gorge and the Victoria Falls Bridge.
Just before the Zambezi River plunges over the Victoria Falls, there is a small undeveloped stretch of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which is currently the only river front location that can be accessed without paying a fee. This is also known to be an important location for elephants to cross the Zambezi River.
As you would expect the amount of water falling over the Victoria Falls varies with the seasons. Come to Victoria Falls during or just after the rainy season to see the world’s largest curtain of falling water. Be ready to hire rain coats or get soaked to the skin for this experience. Come to Victoria Falls in the drier seasons for a view of the sheer drops of rock, craggy nooks and crannies which offer an altogether different experience. It is when the water calms a little that you can take a guided trip across the rocky lip of the Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls to Livingstone Island for a heart-stopping peek into the thundering chasm below, or take a dip in the Devil’s Pool – your friends will never believe your photos!
Below the Victoria Falls
Downstream from the Victoria Falls the Zambezi River plunges into the Batoka Gorge a sheer cut through the landscape that hacks a deep zigzag groove through the plateau as it heads off eastward towards the distant Indian Ocean.
Sandy tracks wind through the forest, passing through the occasional thatched village, various points where rafters climb up out of the gorge and on towards two remote lodges perched high above the chasm. The tops of these deep gorges below the Victoria Falls can be reached by road and walkable tracks through the game park. These are excellent places to see klipspringers, clawless otters and 35 species of raptors such as the Taita falcon, black eagle, Peregrine falcon and Augur buzzard which all breed here.
The wildlife in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
The game park is on the land adjacent to the awe inspiring Victoria Falls. This is home to Zambia’s remaining white rhinos. White rhinos are on the verge of extinction and there are currently five white rhinos with plans to introduce further animals in due course. The indigenous black rhino was believed extinct in Zambia but has recently been reintroduced in a pilot area. There are also zebra, giraffe and herds of elephants. A game drive along the Zambezi River almost certainly promises pods of hippo wallowing in the shallows and crocodiles basking on the Zambezi River bank. A variety of colourful birds, various antelope species, warthog are also likely. Elephants cross the Zambezi River and roam around freely in this game park and the bordering regions.
The Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is small compared to other parks in Zambia making a tour in the early morning or late afternoon an easy and rewarding addition to a Livingstone and Victoria Falls visit. Since there are no predators here, the wildlife is very relaxed with some excellent photo opportunities. You can complete a pleasant drive around the park in a couple of hours and all the species can be seen at a relatively close range. There are many organised tours available and visitors can use their own cars to drive through the park. You could also opt for an elephant back safari through the park.
A commercial wildlife company, Lion Encounter, has been operating a ‘walking with Lions experience within the park, with further plans to start a breeding programme for lions within the Dambwa Forest section of the park.
Livingstone is a historic town, the orginal capital city of Zambia and where many European explorers first settled. A visit to the Livingstone museum tells some of this story within Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is the Old Drift cemetery where many of the first European settlers were buried.
The area is also an adrenaline junkies heaven with a host of activities. Throw yourself off a bridge, zip wire down the gorges, go white water rafting below the Victoria Falls or… Take your pick from the long list on the right and we’re sure to have missed some off!
There are many hotels and lodges to choose from, many with their own restaurants. There are also just as many restaurants serving all kinds of cuisine with European, American, Asian and Adrican influences.
Where to stay
There is a whole range of Livingstone accommodation choices in and out of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, from budget to five star, hotel to safari accommodation, city to the country.
How to get there
International fights fly into Livingstone International Airport from South Africa and London. Connections from Lusaka are available daily. Visitors can drive from Lusaka though it is a long six hour drive with some bad patches of road. If you are coming from Zimbabwe crossing the border into Zambia from Victoria Falls town is possible on the Zambezi Bridge. From Botswana, Namibia and Angola visitors can cross into Zambia on the pontoon at Kazungula.
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