The Zambezi River flows across a plateau of basalt, which contains cracks made of weaker sandstone. As the water exploits and erodes the cracks, it creates a chasm, then a cliff over which the water flows, then finally a gorge. As the Zambezi slowly recedes, the process repeats itself again and again; Victoria Falls' current point actually represents the tenth time the process has been repeated: the zig-zaging gorges downriver are evidence of previous erosion of the sandstone cracks.
Archaeological evidence around the Falls indicates that Stone Age hunter-gatherers were some of the first inhabitants of the area. Europeans first came upon the Falls in 1855, when David Livingstone discovered them during his exploration of the Zambezi River. Railway service in the area began in 1905 with the completion of the Victoria Falls Bridge. War between Zimbabwe and Rhodesia disrupted activity around the Falls starting in 1964, and the government did not allow civilians to enter the area again until 1980. Since then, tourism to the Falls has steadily risen.
Victoria Falls drops from a plateau, measuring 262 feet high on the Falls’ western edge and stretching to 360 feet on the eastern edge. Two islands – Livingstone Island and Boaruka Island – cleave the falls at the base and separate it into individual streams. The rainy season takes place between November and April; at its peak, some 19 million cubic feet of water passes over the Falls each minute. This amount drops considerably during the dry season. A plume of spray from the Falls rises up to 1,300 feet in the air during peak flow times.
Two national parks, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and Victoria Falls National Park, protect the area. Both extend into the rain forest surrounding the falls, providing refuge for elephants, zebra, antelope, giraffe, rhinoceros, water buffalo and gazelle. Crocodiles and hippopotami inhabit the river above the falls, and the dry season facilitates river crossings for the elephants as well. Both parks contain lodges, fishing sites and camping sites, as well as walking tours along several jungle paths.
Visitors can access the Falls through the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side and the town of Livingstone on the Zambian side. Victoria Falls Bridge provides a view of the Falls and the river below, while Knife Edge Bridge provides panoramas further along the river. Both National Parks contain walking paths which afford views of the Falls, and helicopter charters are available from United Air Charters.
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