After seeing Victoria Falls on foot, take to the air and view the falls from above. A microlight safari offers an intimate and adventurous encounter with ‘The Smoke that Thunders’, the world’s greatest waterfall.
It was my last day in Zimbabwe. I’d saved this moment as the climax to my trip: a flight over Victoria Falls. The previous day, I’d viewed the great waterfall on foot, which was impressive enough. Now I wanted to experience it from the air. I opted for a microlight instead of a helicopter, thinking it would offer a more exciting, unmediated encounter. Free of the chopper’s glass bubble, there would be nothing between me and the elements.
A windless, golden morning found me sitting beside a runway – near a sign that said ‘Microlight Victoria Falls’ – watching the first microlight take off. The staff pushed a second one into position. This one had my name on it. The aircraft was basically a bicycle with wings and a fan. How small and fragile it looked! My heart began to beat faster.
A pilot came over and introduced himself as Praise. From his firm manner and the confident way he spoke, I immediately felt at ease. He went through a comprehensive safety briefing, then it was helmet with headphones on, getting strapped in … and we were good to go.
We taxied to the end of the runway and I smiled for the camera that was attached to the left wing. You aren’t allowed to take along your own camera, but can purchase photos from the wing cameras at the end of your flight. This is actually a good thing, as you can concentrate on the experience without peering through a lens the whole time.
Praise applied the slightest of engine thrusts and we were suddenly airborne. With nothing between me and the elements, it was a most astonishing sensation. We were soaring like an eagle!
Gaining altitude fast, Praise followed the Zambezi towards Victoria Falls. As we neared Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’, the water below us began to writhe and twist.
Praise spoke into the helmet microphone: ‘For a considerable distance upstream from the falls, the Zambezi flows over a flat sheet of basalt in a shallow valley bounded by sandstone hills. The river’s course is dotted with tree-covered islands, which increase in number as you approaches the falls.’
The Zambezi’s annual flood season is from February to May. I had fortuitously come in April, when the water was at its peak. Ahead of us, the spray from the falls rose almost a thousand metres into the air and was visible from up to 50km away. This was truly nature on a godly scale!
Soon we were soaring above the falls. And what a sublime sight it presented. Spray was being blasted from the chasm as the full weight of the Zambezi crashed into the maw of Batoka Gorge.
We banked around and swooped lower, getting the most remarkable views. ‘It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World,’ said Praise. ‘It’s 108m tall. This doesn’t make it the world’s highest waterfall, nor is it the widest, but its combined height and width make it the largest waterfall on earth.’
Our swooping, figure-of-eight flight path showed off the full breadth of the falls, the islands and neighbouring rainforests. We glided over mighty Batoka Gorge and the neighbouring wildlife area of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Then it was back over the falls once again.
‘It’s a humbling sight,’ I said into the microphone. ‘I feel quite overawed.’
‘I know exactly what you mean,’ replied Praise. ‘Some people cry, other people pray when they fly over Vic Falls. One can’t help but be affected by it. You know, when the famous explorer David Livingstone first saw the falls, he said: “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”’
‘He got that right,’ I replied. ‘I certainly feel a bit like an angel up here. I can almost hear the harp music.’
Just before turning back, we spotted a rainbow and Praise informed me of a local saying: ‘If a rainbow follows you at Victoria Falls, it’s said to follow you for the rest of your life.’
I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but caught the spirit of its intention. Praise banked hard and headed for home. We glided low over the Zambezi with the sun’s reflection dancing in its dark waters. We flew over hippo bathing in the stream, a herd of elephant coming down to drink and a couple of buffalo dozing in the shade.
Soon we were over civilization again and, after a few minutes, plopped back down on the runway. Climbing off the microlight with shaky legs, my heart was going pitter-patter. Elation was my primary emotion. I wondered when in my life (if ever) I’d have an experience as thrilling as this again. It was hard to believe that I had just flown like a bird, or perhaps an angel, over the world’s greatest waterfall.