Preview our upcoming issue of BESPOKE magazine with a tribute to David Livingstone: pioneer, humanitarian, and the man who discovered one of Africa’s greatest natural wonders, Victoria Falls. Follow in his footsteps at Royal Chundu on the Zambezi, and see the beauty of the Falls for yourself.
This year marks the 200th birthday of Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who traversed the width of southern Africa and happened upon Victoria Falls, one of the great wonders of the natural world. As we celebrate his birthday, we remember how instrumental Livingstone was in opening up the interior of Africa and the mighty Victoria Falls to the Western world.
Born on March 19, 1813 in a Glasgow slum, David Livingstone grew up with a bleak-looking future. He, like most working-class children of the time, would almost assuredly follow in his parents’ footsteps as a factory worker. By age 10 he was working in the factory for 10 hours a day, six days a week – grueling work that left little time for studying. Seeking to improve the education of the young working class, the Scottish church began teaching children on Sundays. Young Livingstone showed determination in his studies, teaching himself Latin – this drive would characterize the rest of his life.
Resolved to leave the appalling living and working conditions of industrial Britain and empowered by his education, Livingstone entered Anderson College at age 19 and studied medicine with the hope of becoming an overseas missionary. The London Missionary Society trained him as a pastor, and in 1841, at age 28, he landed at the Kuruman mission station in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. There he met his wife, Mary, daughter of Robert Moffat, the founder of the Kuruman mission station. David and Mary moved to Mabotsa, Botswana, where they lived and worked for 10 years without a single recorded convert.
Despite his lack of success, Livingstone’s spirit was not diminished, and he became determined to find a better way to spread Christianity in Africa. He chose to serve the Makalolo people who lived in the Linyanti area, one of the most remote locations in Africa. Since his new home was bordered by the Kalahari Desert to the south and impassable for eight to 10 months of the year, Livingstone embarked on a quest for a trade route into Linyanti that could be used year-round. He reached the western coast and determined that the trek was too difficult for a sustainable trade route, so he retraced his steps back to Linyanti and set out east along the Zambezi River, eventually arriving to the east coast. His journey took four years and ended with 6,000 miles of uncharted territory, including most of the Zambezi, having been mapped by hand, and Livingstone becoming the first European to traverse southern Africa. It was also during this journey that Livingstone came across Victoria Falls, which he named after his sovereign, and about which he would later write that a “sight so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
The indigenous name for Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, means “Smoke that Thunders,” and this effect is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular characteristics of the falls. Livingstone recounted his first exposure to the sight in his journal: “We came into sight, for the first time, of the columns of vapor appropriately called ‘smoke’… The tops of the columns at this distance appeared to mingle with the clouds. They were white below, and higher up became dark, so as to simulate smoke very closely. The whole scene was extremely beautiful.” The mile-wide Zambezi River plummeting 350 feet into a chasm that separates Zambia and Zimbabwe creates this stunning display. Half a century after Livingstone stumbled upon the falls, the Victoria Falls Bridge was constructed, opening them to tourism. Today the falls are counted among the Natural Wonders of the World, have been named to the UNESCO World Heritage list, and continue to be among the must-see sights for visitors to southern Africa.
This magnificent region and the spectacle of nature’s raw power can be witnessed as they were through Livingstone’s eyes at the lodges of Royal Chundu. On nine miles of private waterway along the banks of the Zambezi River, and just a short drive from the magnificent falls, Royal Chundu provides guests the opportunity to explore the surrounding area and falls as the explorer did 150 years ago. The two luxurious lodges of Royal Chundu, the River Lodge and the Island Lodge, sit on the convergence of Zambia and Zimbabwe between Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls. At the main River Lodge, 10 spacious river-front suites look out onto the Zambezi, and private decks provide spectacular views.
For a more intimate getaway, the exclusive Island Lodge is located on the private Katamura Island and is reached by a short boat ride from the main lodge. Surrounded by river channels and jackalberry trees, the four villas have private decks, open-air bathrooms, glass-walled showers, and large, cozy beds. Beyond the drama of the falls, the Zambezi is alive with various wildlife, including abundant hippopotamuses, crocodiles, African fish eagles, egrets, and herons. A sunset river cruise provides the perfect opportunity to relax while keeping an eye out for elephants and buffalo on the banks, and hippopotamuses and crocodiles emerging from the river for a breath of air.
The river breathes life into the region, with canoeing and excellent fly-fishing possible. A short mokoro ride to a local village lets guests interact with villagers as they go about their daily tasks. Guides are well educated in local customs and traditions and can provide insight into making necessities such as soap, cooking oil, and medicines from plants and herbs. Guests of Royal Chundu dine on traditional pan-African and Zambian dishes prepared by the executive chef in the intimate outdoor boma. Fresh, local ingredients bring out Zambian flavors to reflect the heritage of the region.
Indeed, it is a region steeped in history and wonder that goes back much farther than 150 years. The glory of Mosi-oa-Tunya captivated David Livingstone and has been captivating travelers ever since. When visiting Victoria Falls with Ker & Downey, you have the chance to experience this wonder with Russell Gammon, the foremost authority on Livingstone and the falls. A native of Zimbabwe with 25 years of guiding for the likes of National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute under his belt, Gammon will paint the perfect picture of Livingstone’s journey on a private tour.
As we celebrate the life of David Livingstone, we are grateful for a man whose determination led him across southern Africa and introduced the world to Victoria Falls so that we, like the angels, might gaze upon their beauty.