Some places linger in our minds forever. On the International day for Monuments and Sites, we share a few that have left us awestruck, inspired or touched.
VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE/ZAMBIA
It’s not the tallest waterfall in the world, or the widest, but it’s the grandest, most impressive cascading curtain of white water you could ever hope to see. It’s “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – the smoke that thunders, on the Zambezi River separating Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The poetic name bestowed upon it by the local indigenous people does it a lot more justice than the one Scottish explorer David Livingstone came up with when he “discovered” it in 1855: Victoria Falls.
Based on the sum of its parts (1708 metres wide and 108 metres high) by people who are good at doing sums, the falls produce the world’s largest sheet of falling water. If you haven’t seen them, put them on the top of your water bucket list.
They are gorgeous in more ways than one. The falls have been receding upstream – creating six zig-zagging gorges in the process – and now the river has started to dig a seventh, which will apparently be even wider. Alas, we will not live long enough to see the finished product.
Most of my schoolboy years were spent growing up in Zimbabwe, where my father worked for the national airline. Because of staff discounts, the tickets for the two-hour flight seemed more like bus fares. We’d visit regularly; often enough that when he’d say, “Shall we visit the falls next weekend?” my siblings and I would roll our eyes and protest, “Not again, Dad!” But of course, we’d always go.
How I wish we could all be together again, grinning at the lookouts in the Victoria Falls National Park all the while getting soaked by the water that roars, and having sundowners on the garden terraces of the grand Victoria Falls Hotel, mesmerised by the wispy dance of the smoke that thunders. TTW
TABLE MOUNTAIN, SOUTH AFRICA
The plane’s wing dips in homage to that imposing massif that cradles my beloved “mother city”.
“Can you see the white tablecloth coming over the top?” the pilot says in clipped tones, referring to the cloud formation caused by the south easterly wind.
Table Mountain is an iconic landmark overlooking the South African city of Cape Town and has been a welcome beacon for the original San people and later European explorers from Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain trying to find a navigation route to the East.
At over a thousand metres, it rises dramatically from the Atlantic Ocean and is flanked by Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak with the Twelve Apostles trailing behind it. Wherever you are in Cape Town “the mountain” is ever present, always in sight and residents often refer to it as a living being. “The mountain sunset is gorgeous tonight, the mountain is pretty wild today” and sadly, “oh no, the mountain is burning!” Wild fires are a natural phenomenon necessary to regenerative native fynbos but devastating for residents and fauna such as the baboon troops which call it home.
There are dozens of amazing hikes from a variety of angles, but my favourite is Skeleton Gorge which begins in the scenic Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which has an extraordinary display of indigenous flora.
Among the cliffs you can spot dassies (hyrax), small furry animals, basking in the sun, whose closest living relative is the elephant and I swear I once saw a caracal cat peering at me from behind a tree.
There is something magical about walking through a native forest, crossing streams and passing waterfalls trickling down the slopes as the frenetic city fades from view and traffic noises are replaced by bird song.
Reaching the top, you can push on to the cable car station above the city bowl and take a dizzying ride down and reward yourself with a glass of fine wine as you salute “the mountain”. TTW