An overgrown kite with a lawnmower motor. That is the essence of the vehicle I trusted to glide me over one of the world’s largest waterfalls, the croc-filled waters that feed it, and the sheer cliff faces that follow it.
“It looks like Da Vinci’s flying machine,” a friend observed.
Microlighting in Livingstone, Zambia, home to the mighty Victoria Falls, is for the serious adrenaline enthusiast.
As neighbouring Zimbabwe’s political situation has deteriorated, tourists have increasingly chosen to base their exploration of the falls across the border in Zambia. And though they may come for the falls, they are staying for the adventure sports based above, below and on top of the more than 1,700-metre-wide torrent of water. From gorge swings to microlight flights, Livingstone has become the new frontier for extreme travellers and nearly every adventure aims to provide a new perspective on the awe-inspiring landscape. Here is the wildest of the lot.
It may look like the aerial daydreams of some Renaissance master, but this motor-powered hang glider offers, literally, a bird’s eye view of Zambia. Your pilot hurtles the microlight down a bumpy dirt runway, easing upward over herds of elephants stomping through the bush, then glides along the Zambezi River toward the thundering mouth of Victoria Falls. Here you spiral downward, swooping through rainbows toward the mist, which sprays up as much as 2,600ft into the air. Then it is back up the river, gliding low to see hippos and crocodiles lazing along the banks before landing back on solid ground. One word of warning: because these tiny aircraft are extremely susceptible to wind currents, weather often causes flight cancellations. Your best bet is to book during the calmer early morning or late afternoon hours and avoid the rainy season between December and March. ($122 per person through Bushtracks. Most tourism companies operate in United States dollars.)
It is hard to truly wrap your head around the force of nearly 120 million gallons of water roaring every minute over Victoria Falls. That is, unless you take a similar plunge yourself. Your first option is a bungee jump off the bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe ($75). But you could also bungee jump at almost every carnival, tourist attraction and park in the world. Instead, we suggest taking a plunge on the world’s first gorge swing. You will free-fall 160ft, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph before swooping outward, swinging and soaring through the gorge. Book a full-day excursion, which includes breakfast, lunch, drinks and unlimited gorge swings, zip lining, and rappelling for only $100 (versus $60 for a single gorge swing through Africa Horizons).
Walk the falls
Just visiting the Zambian side of Victoria Falls is an extremely wet and wild experience. You can hike the marked paths alone but a guide ($17 per person through Bushtracks) offers context and a steady hand on the slick paths. You start at the top of the falls, watching the churning waters of the Zambezi and the curtain of mist that gave the falls its Zambian name,Mosi-oa-Tunya, or the Smoke that Thunders. Then pick your way down the side and along the gorge facing the falls. The spray gets so thick that you feel like you are in the middle of a monsoon. Single and double rainbows arc through the deluge, the sunlight refracting off the ever-present moisture. When the waters are at their highest, the downpour gives you the sensation of being suspended in the falls themselves, an unsettling feeling given the violent churning waters thundering below.
Flying above, hiking around and jumping near the falls are one thing. But to truly grasp their scale, you have to push yourself to the edge, literally. From the end of August to December, the waters of the Zambezi are low enough to reveal a small naturally-formed swimming pool at the top of the falls. Called the Devil’s Pool, this rock-enclosed lagoon allows you to safely float at the edge before the water takes a nearly 340ft swan dive into the gorges below. Swims are generally included in half-day tours of Livingstone Island, the small lush outcrop in the middle of the Zambezi from which explorer and local hero David Livingstone first viewed the falls (from $65 through Bushtracks).