Victoria Falls – chase the rainbow through Mosi Oa Tunya

Victoria Falls - Paradise at the End of the Rainbow

Victoria Falls is the English name for the Mosi Oa Tunya, the infamous, bountiful waterfalls in Mosi Oa Tunya National Park, Zambia. “Mosi Oa Tunya” means “The Smoke that Thunders,” but David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer, named Victoria Falls for his queen. Both names are widely recognized. Today, the Victoria Falls are recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

The falls are breathtaking and powerful enough to intimidate and inspire even the most experienced of travelers. They fill you with wonder and awe. They’re big; at 5,604 feet wide, they form the largest continuous sheet of falling water in the world, and they’re moving; the constant erosion of the falling water has actually pushed the falls markedly backward over the years. The umissable crowning glory of the falls is the permanent rainbow. You can see a rainbow from almost any angle as you walk along the path viewing the falls. You can chase it if you want, but it moves — trust me, I was after that pot of gold.

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The Livingstone-adjacent Mosi Oa Tunya National Park is full of wildlife and well-known not just for the magical waterfalls and rainbows, but for Mosi Oa Tunya game drives. Additionally, the park features level five rapids just below the falls, and you can also take elephant rides, helicopter tours or go bungee jumping. When you visit the falls, they may not be as powerful as you see above; part of the water is diverted to create hydropower — but according to our guide, we happened to visit on a lucky Sunday when the hydropower plant was under maintenance.

Perhaps Victoria Falls is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s hard to tell which side of a rainbow is the end and which side is the beginning.

To reach Victoria Falls, fly into Livingstone from Johannesburg, or to Lusaka and then take a train. Nearby accommodations include the fabulous Sussi & Chuma treehouse hotel. Right outside the Victoria Falls Heritage Site is a market where you can bargain for all kinds of souvenirs, so be sure to read Bartering in Africa – bring socks and other tips before you go!

[Photos and video by Annie Scott.]

My trip to Zambia was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Controversy over development near Victoria Falls


Environmentalists are complaining that the tour company Shearwater Adventures has violated national and international law by expanding their luxury resort into the rainforest near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Shearwater has constructed a new restaurant, bar, kitchen, and information center next to the public entrance to the World Heritage Site. A lawyer for Shearwater insists the development is a legal replacement of earlier structures that had fallen into disrepair and that none of the new buildings go outside the area already reserved for facilities. Opponents to the construction contend that the buildings are on a much larger scale than the previous ones and are forbidden by a 2007 moratorium. This was put in place after UNESCO threaten to rescind Victoria Falls’ World Heritage status after a local businessman tried to build a hotel and golf course in the World Heritage zone.

Without being on the ground it’s hard to say if who’s telling the truth here. Last week The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe ordered that no new construction take place. It is now running the site along with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which used to have sole authority. The government is currently trying to decide which body will run the Falls.

As this shakeup is going on, conservationists say Shearwater is planning a giant $6 million development next to the VIP entrance to the Falls. This will include a complex of buildings close enough to the Falls to threaten its World Heritage status. There’s also worry about the development’s location only a few yards from the Zambezi River.

[Photo courtesy user colmdc via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Hiking the Yorkshire Moors


England is a wonderful place to hike. When the weather is fine the countryside is as beautiful as you’ll find anywhere, and it seems that every step is steeped in history. There’s variety too, from idyllic hikes along the Thames to challenging treks along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

One of the more unique places for hiking in England is the Yorkshire Moors. Moorland is found in uplands that have acidic soils. There aren’t many trees and most of the vegetation is grass or heather. When a river cuts through it, like in the photo above, you’ll find trees and a richer variety of plant life. The moors in Yorkshire are some of the biggest in England and in the summertime are purple with blooming heather. Sheep graze on the slopes and a wide variety of birds can be seen. Parts of it reminded me of the Scottish Highlands but with gentler terrain and no lochs.

The Brontë sisters were inspired by this brooding yet subtly beautiful landscape and many of their stories are set on the moors. Local historian and hiking guide Steven Wood led me and my group out onto the moors to visit some of the Brontë’s favorite spots. In fine English tradition it started pouring as soon as we left the hotel. Waterproof gear is essential on any English hike. Even if it’s beautifully sunny, bring it anyway just in case. You won’t be sorry because the weather can change quickly. While it can go from bad to worse, it can also go from terrible to lovely. That’s what you get for being on an island between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Within half an hour the weather had cleared and we were walking through open fields. Yorkshire has been cultivated since Neolithic times and while there’s no shortage of civilization, it’s quite easy to walk away from it and into land that looks as it did centuries ago.

%Gallery-104950%Our first stop was Top Withens, an isolated stone farmhouse that may have been the inspiration for the location of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Located on a highpoint surrounded by low, undulating hills covered in heather, it’s a spot that could certainly inspire a novel. You can see for miles in all directions, the dull browns and greens of the land matching the slate gray of the arching sky. While this abandoned farm has been a pilgrimage site for Brontë fans for a century, today we had it for ourselves. With no other people about, no animals, and the jet contrails hidden by lowering clouds, it felt like we were the only people in all of Yorkshire.

We then headed to a waterfall that the Brontë sisters liked to visit. At least it’s said to be the waterfall. Like a lot of “George Washington slept here” kind of spots, the waterfall’s reputation is based on a slim bit of fact (they mention frequent visits to a waterfall) and a lot of local lore and wishful thinking. The main thing is that it’s beautiful. A little stream, stained brown by the moor’s soil, rushes through a narrow valley thick with greenery. Another stream cascades over a nearby hill, making a sparkling little waterfall before joining it to flow on towards Haworth, where the Brontës lived. A natural stone seat has “C. Bronte” carved on it, along with the mysterious initials “DWW”. A nearby bridge has a plaque talking about how this was probably where the Brontë’s like to spend their spare time.

It’s all a bit iffy, but who cares? If it wasn’t for its reputation, I wouldn’t have whiled away an enjoyable half hour watching the water flow between the heather. People from all over the world come to see this stream, and if they want to believe this was the place the Brontës visited, that’s fine. It may even be true. The crowds of Japanese Brontë fans who come here seem to think so. The Brontës are huge in Japan, and so many Japanese travelers show up that the signs marking the routes are in Japanese as well as English!

There are many different hikes in the Yorkshire Moors. Some are easy day hikes like the one we did. Others are long-distance paths that take days and pass by the rugged coastline. The Walking and Hiking website has a good listing of routes to get you started. The Welcome to Yorkshire website has free downloadable maps of several popular routes. The Walking Englishman has an amusing description of the walk we did (including a photo of a sheep stealing his lunch) and a map of the route.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: Brimham Rocks: weird natural formations in Yorkshire

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.

South by Southeast: Exploring Luang Prabang

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking in Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. As travelers, we have a tendency to overload our trips with adventure and movement. This is especially true in Southeast Asia – as I’ve discovered in Thailand and Laos, there’s no shortage of motorbikes to ride or zip lines to catch. But if you truly want to understand this part of the world, it’s not a vigorous itinerary you need. Instead, you need to spend a few days on foot, letting the pungent smells, vivid colors and urgent sounds of the Southeast soak into your subconscious. And there’s no better place for this to happen than Luang Prabang.

Located in the sleepy nation of Laos, Luang Prabang is truly a crown jewel of Southeast Asia. This former royal capital, atmospheric river port and UNESCO World Heritage Site has emerged in recent years as one of the region’s newest must-see destinations. It’s not the blockbuster sights that make Luang Prabang such a fantastic place to visit. It’s the simple act of walking and observing that becomes the focus of your stay: exploring fading French villas and evening handicraft markets, sampling the town’s fresh-baked baguettes or watching a procession of orange-robed monks silently march down the road.

This sensory overload is what makes Luang Prabang a must-see for any Southeast Asian traveler’s itinerary. Curious about visiting this underrated Laotian capital of French/Asian style, vivid color and Buddhist serenity? Let’s take a look at some of the essentials and highlights of any Luang Prabang visit. Keep reading below for more.

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Getting There
Luang Prabang is located smack-dab in the middle of Northern Laos, making it easy to reach from points North or South. Overland travelers from Thailand will often stop in the Laos border town of Huay Xai, where a two-day “slow boat” plies the Mekong River all the way to Luang Prabang. From within Laos, frequent buses connect Luang Prabang with the nation’s capital in Vientiane and backpacker hub of Vang Vieng. Luang Prabang’s airstrip is also served by a number of Southeast Asian regional airlines including Bangkok Airways and Lao Airlines.

What to Do
Due to its unique location at the confluence of two rivers, Luang Prabang has long been an important religious, political and economic hub. You’ll find the town reflects this historic grandeur, dotted with ornate Buddhist temples and lavish royal palaces. The main highlights include:

  • Wat Xieng Thong – in a city studded with important Buddhist “Wats,” Wat Xieng Thong is perhaps Luang Prabang’s most ornate and well-known temple complex.
  • Royal Palace – until they were deposed by the Lao Communist Revolution in 1975, the Lao royal family made its home in Luang Prabang. Visitors can tour the ornate royal complex, peering into the King and Queen’s teak-lined living quarters. Out back is a collection of vintage cars gifted by the French and American governments.
  • Night Market – as the sun begins to set each evening, Luang Prabang’s main street is crowded with an huge array of vendors, selling everything from grilled fish to locally made textiles to handicrafts.
  • Kuang Si Falls – about an hour’s ride outside Luang Prabang you’ll find an impressive series of waterfalls at Kuang Si, as well as a swimming area and a “Bear Rescue Center” for mistreated animals.

Keep in mind that “seeing the sights” of Luang Prabang is only half the story: the longer I spent wandering this picturesque river peninsula, the more I enjoyed simply soaking in the town’s unique atmosphere. Make sure to leave some time to simply explore without purpose.

Where to Stay
There are accommodation options in Luang Prabang to suit just about any budget and lifestyle, from luxurious boutique resorts housed in ancient French villas to clean no-frills backpacker haunts. For those on the thrifty side, you’ll find plenty of simple and clean guesthouses (under $10/night) clustered around Sisavong Street near the Joma Bakery. Those looking to splurge should check out 3 Nagas, a beautiful mansion nestled in the heart of Luang Prabang’s historic district (rates start at $125/night).

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Hugo Chavez wants to rename Angel Falls

Standing at a height of 3212 feet, Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world. Located in southern Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, the falls are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are named for Jimmie Angel, an American pilot who first spotted them from the air back in 1933. He would later bring photos to the world of that astounding sight, making the falls famous across the globe. Now, however, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is looking to rename the falls, restoring their indigenous name.

Amongst the local Pemon people, Angel Falls is known as Kerepakupai-Meru, which means “waterfall of the deepest place” in their tribal language. On his weekly television show, Chavez, who has a contentious relationship with the United States, asked his countrymen how they felt about the falls being named after the American aviator, and then proposed the change after fumbling with the pronunciation a few times. The Venezuelan President went on to say that the landmark, which is one of his country’s biggest tourist attractions, had been seen by many indigenous people before Angel ever arrived on the scene. He concluded his declaration by saying “No-one should refer to Angel Falls any more.”The falls are fed by the Kerep River, which plunges over the side of the Auyan-tepui. The drop is so massive, that strong mountain winds actually atomize the water before it reaches the ground, turning into a fine mist. That mist does reform at the bottom however and continues the flow of the Kerep, which eventually empties into the Churun River further down stream.

Despite the fact that the falls are a major draw for tourists, there are few resources available to make it an easy place to visit. Going to the falls requires a flight to Canaima camp, where visitors can board small wooden boats during the rainy season, and approach the falls from below. Those that make the trip, are treated to quite the natural wonder.

The current name for that natural wonder is now open to debate.

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