A Travellerspoint blog

The Largest Waterfall in the World

On 28 September 2012, we stood at the border of Brazil and Argentina marvelling at the majestic Iguazu Falls. Consisting of almost 300 individual falls (depending on water levels) spanning 2.7 km with a maximum height of 82 meters, no other waterfall in the world comes close to being as impressive as that. Except one.

Fast forward 3 years and we find ourselves standing at another border – this time between Zambia and Zimbabwe – marvelling at another waterfall that’s possibly even more impressive than Iguazu. Victoria Falls.

True, it’s not as wide as Iguazu. But here what’s so spectacular about it – at 1.7 km wide and 108 meters high, it is the single largest sheet of water anywhere in the world.

We had two options to get there from where we were staying in Kasane, Botswana – book a direct transfer which would cost USD 55 per person or find our own way there for a fraction of the price. With our haversacks on our backs and limited cash, we decided to try our luck and go with the second option. It started with a short taxi ride to the border (USD 5). At the border, we jumped on what looked more like a floating platform than an actual ferry to cross the 400 meter wide Zambezi River that separates Botswana from Zambia (USD 2 per pax). Soon after we set foot in Zambia, taxi drivers descended on us like vultures, offering exorbitant prices to get us to Victoria Falls. One driver opened negotiations at around USD 30. We asked for about USD 23. He initially declined, but when another driver tried to swoop in for our business, he quickly agreed and that ended the negotiations. We probably still paid double what a local would have paid but it was still a lot less than the first option.

The hotel where we stayed – Zambezi Sun – is located right next to the Falls. It’s a nice, comfortable hotel. But what we love most about it are the animals that roam freely within the hotel compound. Zebras were eating the grass right outside our room. As we were leaving our room one night, we almost walked into something huge – all we saw was a huge silhouette in front of us before it galloped off into the dark. Took us a second to realize it was a giraffe.

Anyway, back to the Falls. Like Iguazu, it can be seen from both sides of the border – about one third of it from the Zambian side and the rest from the Zimbabwean side. While it’s definitely worth viewing the falls from both sides – which we did – it does however mean that we could not see the entire Falls at one go. At least not from the ground. The Falls is so large that the only way to see it in its entirety is from the air.

So that’s exactly what we did. But we didn’t fly over the Falls in a helicopter – that would have been too “safe”. We opted to fly in a “microlight” instead – a motorized glider with two chairs, one for the pilot and the other for the passenger. No floor, no walls, not much else. There is the inevitable fear of falling off when we first took off but my pilot did a good job distracting me with facts about the Falls as we flew over it. He also pointed out the occasional elephant, hippo and buffalo that we could see 1,600 feet below us. I believe it’s the best way to see the Falls. Plus, we didn’t have to get wet.

The “Moonbow” Every once in a while, when the moon is full, the skies are clear and the water levels are high, a very unique phenomenon occurs at the Falls. Nope, it doesn’t involve werewolves. When the conditions are right, the moonlight is so bright that a rainbow can be seen over the Falls at night. That’s what they call a “moonbow”. Personally, I don’t think it’s as spectacular as a regular rainbow (which by the way can be seen at the Falls throughout the day), it is however quite a rare phenomenon. In order to capture it in a photo, we had to set the exposure on our camera to over 5 seconds to allow sufficient light in. And be really still. Despite our best efforts however, we could not get a really sharp photo.

With Victoria Falls, we’ve been blessed to have laid eyes on three of the most impressive, commercially-accessible waterfalls in the world – Niagara (US-Canada), Iguazu (Brazil-Argentina) and now Victoria.

Next: The Big Five!

Crossing the Botwana - Zambia border on a ferry

Crossing the Botwana - Zambia border on a ferry


Zebra chilling outside our room

Zebra chilling outside our room


Giraffe crossing

Giraffe crossing


Getting drenched by the splash from the Falls

Getting drenched by the splash from the Falls


A small section of the Falls

A small section of the Falls


Rainbow

Rainbow


Moonbow

Moonbow


Moonbow - long exposure photo

Moonbow - long exposure photo


Microlight

Microlight


Flying 1,600 feet about the Falls

Flying 1,600 feet about the Falls


Microlight - best way to see the Falls

Microlight - best way to see the Falls


Microlight - best way to see the Falls

Microlight - best way to see the Falls


Microlight - best way to see the Falls

Microlight - best way to see the Falls


Microlight - best way to see the Falls

Microlight - best way to see the Falls


Notice the elephants?

Notice the elephants?

Posted by siauwei 17:00 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Our First African Safari Experience

If I were to liken our trip to a three-course meal (it's always about food), the safari would be the main course. As with all three-course meals, there is the appetizer. Botswana – or more specifically the Chobe National Park in Botswana – was the appetizer to the main course of our trip. Not because the national parks in Botswana is inferior to the ones in South Africa, but because we only had one full day there, versus an entire week in the South African national parks later in our trip.

Upon completing the 800-km drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, we flew to Kasane, a small town at the edge of the Chobe National Park. We stayed at a simple, self-catering accommodation just outside the national park – nothing as fancy as the game reserve lodges that’s usually located within the park itself. That just means we needed to take care of our own food and organize the game drives ourselves. It is however a significantly cheaper way to see the animals.

Our day started very early – at 5.30 am before the sun was up. We were picked up in an open-top Land Rover by our driver / guide. That’s when we realized it gets bloody cold in Africa. It was probably 7 to 8 Celsius but felt more like 0. Because it was open-top, the wind intensifies the cold. We had our winter jackets on but we still couldn’t feel our fingers and ears after just a few minutes. Thank goodness for the thick blankets that our guide provided us. We’re such noobs.

We spent a good 3 hours driving around a small section of the national park. It’s nothing like a zoo or even the city safaris we’ve been to, where we would expect to see different animals around every corner. Here, we spent a good 90% of the time driving around looking for the animals. And when we do find an animal, it would usually be too nervous to hang around for long. The Chobe National Park is well over 10,000 square kilometres so it does provide a lot of space for the animals (excluding the birds which we saw plenty of throughout the drive) to roam around.

During the 10% of the time that we did see the land animals, there were impalas, kudus, baboons, buffalos, warthogs (Pumba from the Lion King), elephants and hippos. The highlight for me were the hippos. Here are some fun fact about them – hippos have killed more humans than any other species in Africa. They are by far the deadliest animal here. They kill their victims – animals and humans alike – by chomping down on them with their massive jaws and teeth (their canines can grow to well a foot long!). They are incredibly fast on land, being able to run up to 30+ km/h on their short legs. They’re also extremely protective of their babies. So you can imagine our excitement – which quickly turned into apprehension – when we came across a mother and her baby making their way into the water. When the mother noticed us approaching, she turned towards us and threatened to charge us. Our guide slammed on the breaks. We then watched both mother and baby continue their way peacefully into the water.

In the afternoon, we opted to see the animals on the Chobe River that flows through the national park. As it’s the dry winter season, the animals tend to gravitate towards the river to drink. Hence, the river is a great way to see the animals during this time of the year. Elephants, buffalos, giraffes, crocodiles, many species of birds. The highlight was watching an elephant swim across the river. Didn’t know that elephants could swim? Neither did we. Elephants actually use their trunks as a snorkel to breathe while underwater. It was really cool to watch.Overall, our one day at Chobe was a great start to our main safari experience. We look forward to what the one week at South Africa’s Kruger National Park have in store for us.

Hippo & baby - stay away!

Hippo & baby - stay away!


Warthogs doing the nasty

Warthogs doing the nasty


Guineafowl - tastes like chicken

Guineafowl - tastes like chicken


Impala - nice horns

Impala - nice horns


Kudu - distinguishable stripes

Kudu - distinguishable stripes


Babboon & baby

Babboon & baby


Elephant - the biggest animal in Africa

Elephant - the biggest animal in Africa


Elephant going for a swim

Elephant going for a swim


Elephant using its trunk as a snorkel

Elephant using its trunk as a snorkel


Elephant & baby

Elephant & baby


Elephant successfully crossing the Chobe River

Elephant successfully crossing the Chobe River


African / Cape Buffalo - one of the The Big Five

African / Cape Buffalo - one of the The Big Five


Crocodile!

Crocodile!


Egyption Goose

Egyption Goose


Marabou Stork - not the prettiest bird

Marabou Stork - not the prettiest bird


Kori Bustard - largest flying bird in Africa

Kori Bustard - largest flying bird in Africa


Red-billed hornbill

Red-billed hornbill


Sunset over the Chobe River

Sunset over the Chobe River

Posted by siauwei 17:00 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Jumping Off The Highest Bridge in Africa

On 31 December 2011, an Australian tourist bungee-jumped off the Victoria Falls bridge at the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. At 111 meters, it’s one of the highest bungee jump in the world. She was the 105th person to jump that day. Everything leading up to the point of her jump appeared routine. And then, every thrill-seeker’s worst nightmare happened – the bungee chord snapped. She plunged into the raging Zambezi river below. Although she miraculously survived, it was a grim reminder of what could go wrong. To be fair to the company who run the bungee at Victoria Falls, it was the first such incident in 17 years of operations. Following the incident, a thorough investigation was conducted (apparently the strength of the chord was not as strong as it was meant to be) and additional safety measures were put in place. Within days, they were back in operations. And to demonstrate the improved safety measures, high profile jumpers including Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Bear Grylls (of Man vs Wild fame) took the plunge. For those who are curious, here’s the YouTube link of that incident: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igt_PTi7EUM) – just don’t watch it if you plan on doing a jump any time soon.

Victoria Falls was on the itinerary of our trip. After reading about the incident, we did what any sane traveller would do – not jump. So we signed up for the Blaukrans Bridge bungee instead. At 216 meters (about 70-storeys high), it is nearly twice the height of the Victoria Falls Bridge and the highest bungee bridge in the world (list of highest bungee jumps in the world: http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/worlds-15-highest-bungee-jumping-sites-479316). Plus, it’s along the Garden Route – we had to drive cross the very same bridge on the way to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town. So we really had no excuse. Other than the fact that accidents do happen, of course.

It started out as mild anxiety that got progressively worse. We were making our way to the bridge from the lodge we were staying at nearby. The palpitations began when we caught our first glimpse of the bridge – arch-shaped, white and oh so high – the highest bridge in Africa. We spent a split second marvelling at the bridge before we remembered we were about to jump off it. The only comfort we got came from the jumpers who had just done the deed – they were walking off the bridge with bewildered, half-smiles on their faces.

To get to the jump off point at the middle of the bridge, we had to traverse a narrow metal walkway underneath the bridge. While it was completely sturdy, its floor is made of steel mesh which means we could see the 200+ meter drop right beneath our feet. That’s when the panic started. I had to keep my eyes forward, lest I freeze in my tracks out of fear.

The safety briefing was…well, brief. Loud up-tempo music was playing to get the adrenalin pumping. As well as our hearts. The crew asked us where we were from and when we replied “Malaysia”, they told us with full confidence that the chord that will be literally keeping us alive is made in Malaysia. We didn’t share their confidence.

There were 6 jumpers in our group. We were number 4 and 5. Within minutes, they were tying the bungee chord on to the feet of the first jumper – a big, tall European dude. And a few minutes after that, they did the customary “3, 2, 1, bungee!” countdown and he was gone. No time was wasted. After all, they do close to 200 jumps per day during peak season.

My turn came. I tried distracting myself by checking & re-checking my GoPro settings to ensure I capture my virgin bungee jump. Before I know it, my feet were strapped and 2 crew members were helping me to the edge of the bridge. I looked down and immediately regretted it. I kept my eyes forward after that. I was about to go into an all-out panic when the countdown started. Before any other thoughts could creep into my head, I jumped.

I don’t recall screaming. But the video later confirmed that I did. The first few moments of free fall were completely disorienting. And thrilling. Then the feeling of plunging to my doom set in. By this time, I felt the chord slowing my fall and that’s when I became aware again. The world was upside down by this time but only for a moment – coz then I realized I was being pulled back up by the elasticity of the chord and went into another free fall.

The whole thing lasted for a grand total of 5 seconds. It felt a lot longer. After I was done bouncing around, a member of the crew repelled down to get me. Altho I still had the presence of mind to keep the GoPro going throughout the “recovery” process, nobody was happier to have a solid ground beneath my feet again than me. I got back on the bridge just in time to see Siau-Wei jump off and go thru the exact same incredible experience.

Walking off the bridge after that, we had a bewildered, half smile on our faces.

Bloukrans Bridge - world's highest bungee bridge

Bloukrans Bridge - world's highest bungee bridge


Siau-Wei: Recovery

Siau-Wei: Recovery


Certification from the Guiness World Records

Certification from the Guiness World Records


Before the jump

Before the jump


Kell Jay: Getting ready

Kell Jay: Getting ready


Kell Jay: AHH...

Kell Jay: AHH...


Kell Jay: ...AHH...

Kell Jay: ...AHH...


Kell Jay: ...AHH!!

Kell Jay: ...AHH!!


Kell Jay: Recovery

Kell Jay: Recovery


Siau-Wei: Getting ready

Siau-Wei: Getting ready


Siau-Wei: AHH...

Siau-Wei: AHH...


Siau-Wei: ...AHH...

Siau-Wei: ...AHH...


Siau-Wei: ...AHH!!

Siau-Wei: ...AHH!!


After the jump

After the jump

Posted by siauwei 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Faced a Great White & Lived to Tell The Tale

OK, fine – it wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds.

We were driving along the Garden Route, a popular, 800 km drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. One of the stops we made was Mossel Bay, at around the halfway point – the perfect place to break the long drive, not just for the seafood and great views, but also to go cage-diving with Great Whites. Yup, people do these things for fun. There are other spots throughout South Africa to do this but Mossel Bay boasts one of the highest probability of seeing these magnificent ocean predators (http://www.whitesharkafrica.com/).

The whole thing took about half a day. It starts with a briefing at their office where we learnt how misunderstood Great Whites are, no thanks to Hollywood. We’re more likely to be killed by a falling vending machine or a coconut than being attacked by a Great White. They are however still very wild and very unpredictable, so no diving with them outside the cage. In fact, there was a pretty scary incident while we were out at sea which I will get to in a moment.

Following the briefing, we were herded (there were 17 in our group) to the boat. We assumed that we’ll be going far out to sea to see the sharks but barely 10 minutes later, the boat stopped. We had arrived. Less than a kilometer from shore. You couldn’t have come up with a more “perfect” setting for the next instalment of Jaws.

After another quick safety briefing about how the cage works on-board, we were quickly suiting up. The waters in this part of the world at this time of the year (autumn, approaching winter) is below 20 C, significantly colder than the waters we’re used to diving in back home. We were given 5 mm-thick wetsuits to protect ourselves but even then, the icy water hit us like a punch in the gut when we first submerged ourselves. But what’s uncomfortable for us, were the perfect conditions for the sharks. And true to form, within minutes of the crew chumming the waters (the act of throwing mashed up fish into the water to attract the sharks’ keen sense of smell), we saw the first shark. It wasn’t the largest we would see that day but relative to the sharks we’ve dived / swam with (the largest being the Galapagos sharks), it was monstrous. Before long, we saw over 10 individual Great Whites circling our boat. Our cage that could fit 6 people at any one time measured 3.2 meters (roughly 1 storey if put on its side) – some of these guys were longer than that!

Apart from the chum, the crew also threw huge chunks of tuna heads connected to a long line into the water near the cage to further tempt the sharks. Most of the time, the crew would be able to see a shark approaching and would shout for the divers in the cage to go underwater to view them. Once in a while tho, the sharks would approach the tuna head from directly underneath and swiftly grab it off the line before anyone could react. The speed of which these animals move in the water, coupled with the slightly murky visability due to the chum, made for a number of heart-stopping moments when the sharks would appear out of no where right next to the cage. There were also a couple of moments when the sharks got too close and actually rammed the cage while we were in it. Most of the time, they swam close enough for us to actually touch them – not that we were crazy enough to stick our hands outside the protective enclosure of our cage.

Now about that incident. So the crew were working on both sides of the boat – on one side is the cage and the tuna heads while on the other side, they were chumming the waters. Naturally, most of us would have our attention on the side with the cage. We were out of the cage (we took turns to go into the cage given there were 17 of us) when it happened. While we were paying close attention to the sharks in front of the cage, for no apparent reason, one of the sharks made a full breach (jumping completely out of the water) behind us and nearly landed INSIDE our boat. One of the crew saw this and started shouting and pointing. I saw a flash of shark in the air. It all happened in a split second so there was no time to take photos / videos. One of the crew later told me that he’s never seen anything like it. There was however one occasion a few years ago where a Great White actually did land inside a boat at Mossel Bay (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbkOP96i1iU). We were sure to keep a safe distance from the edge of the boat until we left the sharks.

Great Whites are the most apex of all ocean predators. Simply magnificent animals. If you find yourself in Mossel Bay, South Africa, do dive with them – you’ll never forget the experience. Just don’t watch Jaws or any other shark movies before that.

Great White: Cage

Great White: Cage


Great White: Partial breach

Great White: Partial breach


Great White: Enjoying its snack

Great White: Enjoying its snack

Posted by siauwei 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Cape Town (Day 1 - 4)

About 14 hours after taking off from Singapore, we touched down in Cape Town, South Africa. And it didn’t take us nearly as long to realize that Cape Town is surprisingly…European. The street names. The large retail chains. Even the grey, English weather.

Fortunately for us, the similarities end there. Cape Town, where Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias once famously sailed around thus connecting the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, is located within quite the picturesque setting. On the day we arrived, we took the cable car up Table Mountain (we had the option of doing the 2.5-hour hike up but didn’t think it was a good idea in our jet-lagged state), which was voted one of the “New” Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011 (http://www.new7wonders.com/). At 1,086 meters, it’s not particularly high but what it has going for it is its flat top (hence, its name) and being made up of some really hard stuff which has helped it withstand 6 million years of erosion. We read somewhere that it’ll take another 10 million years before the mountain becomes completely eroded. How’s that for perspective?

Another not-so-European thing about Cape Town is its people – they are somewhat less “integrated” despite more than 20 years since the end of the Apartheid regime. Cape Town is a relatively wealthy city so we saw disproportionately more whites. When we do see non-whites, they are usually the working class – waiters, labourers, taxi drivers. Nothing symbolizes this part of their history more than Robben Island, a tiny 5 km-square island off Cape Town made famous by one Nelson “Mandiba” Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years of prison there. The tour of Robben Island took half a day, starting with a half-hour ferry trip to the island from Cape Town. Upon sight of the island, we could see that not much “upkeeping” has been done – perhaps intentionally – to add to the “prison” experience. In fact, half our tour was led by an ex-prisoner, Sipho Msomi, who spent 5 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner. He started the tour with a very candid account of his time there, including how he was tortured by electric shocks, getting his private parts squeezed, being suffocated with a wet cloth pressed over his nose and mouth. We learnt that Robben Island was also “home” to lepers and criminals, although the political prisoners were deemed most dangerous. The tour ended at Nelson Mandela’s cell. Measuring 8 feet by 7 feet, it’s not much smaller than our guest room in Singapore but at least we don’t force people to live in there for 18 years

Despite the recent urbanization, essential resources such as electricity and water continue to be scarce in Cape Town and other parts of South Africa. The government enforces something called “load shedding”, i.e. electricity supply is cut off in certain parts of the country at certain times. We’ve experienced a 2-hour spell so far and we’ve only just started our holiday. It’s also illegal to wash cars / water plants / use a hose outside designated hours of the day.

On the other end of the spectrum, the fine dining scene in Cape Town is quite vibrant. Literally hours after we arrived, we had the privilege to have lunch at Test Kitchen, South Africa’s no.1 restaurant and no.28 on the 2015 World’s Best Restaurant list. We eat quite simply but we do enjoy the occasional treats. And Test Kitchen was one such treat.

Next Up: Coming face-to-face with a Great White!

Table Mountain: At the top

Table Mountain: At the top


Table Mountain: View from the top

Table Mountain: View from the top


Table Mountain: Hiking

Table Mountain: Hiking


Table Mountain: View of the World Cup stadium

Table Mountain: View of the World Cup stadium


Table Mountain: View of the cape

Table Mountain: View of the cape


Robben Island: Entrance

Robben Island: Entrance


Robben Island: Limestone mine

Robben Island: Limestone mine


Robben Island: Our tour guide

Robben Island: Our tour guide


Robben Island: Nelson Mandela's cell

Robben Island: Nelson Mandela's cell


Robben Island

Robben Island


Table Mountain: With the "tablecloth" on

Table Mountain: With the "tablecloth" on


Test Kitchen

Test Kitchen


Test Kitchen: Open kitchen

Test Kitchen: Open kitchen


Test Kitchen: Bread selection

Test Kitchen: Bread selection


Test Kitchen: Pickled FIsh

Test Kitchen: Pickled FIsh


Test Kitchen: "TK Autumn Foie Gras"

Test Kitchen: "TK Autumn Foie Gras"


Test Kitchen: "Smoked Lamb Loin"

Test Kitchen: "Smoked Lamb Loin"


Test Kitchen: "Pork Belly"

Test Kitchen: "Pork Belly"


Test Kitchen: "Confit Duck Leg"

Test Kitchen: "Confit Duck Leg"


Test Kitchen: "Line Fish"

Test Kitchen: "Line Fish"


Test Kitchen: "Raspberries and Figs"

Test Kitchen: "Raspberries and Figs"


Test Kitchen: "South African Cheeses"

Test Kitchen: "South African Cheeses"

Posted by siauwei 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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