Travel Bucket List with a Twist #4 (Vic Falls + Makgadikgadi)

Victoria Falls + Makgadikgadi Salt Pan

I recently went on a trip through Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, and of all the very wonderful places and things I saw, my two undeniable favourites were the mighty Zambezi River, with its showstopper waterfall, and Botswana’s otherworldly Makgadikgadi Salt Pan. I liked the astonishing overabundance of water at the Falls contrasted with the complete absence of any at Makgadikgadi.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is world-class for such obvious reasons. For those that have seen Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls is double the width, double the height, with double the amount of water gushing over it. It is SPECTACULAR, with all the import that this now overused word originally implied. I am so appreciative I was able to see it for myself.

The main thing that distinguished merely seeing a photo of the Falls from actually standing there in front of it was the thundering sound as its recently flooded waters powered over the edge. It’s a reducing, awing sound. I also loved the perfect rainbow arching up through the mountain of spray; the Falls sends water shooting straight back up into the air when it hits the rocks below (this mist is higher than even the Falls themselves, so that from a distance, even though you can’t see the Falls, you see what looks like smoke or clouds).

IMG_0378

Part of Victoria Falls, seen from the Zambian side.

The further down the path you walk to better see the Falls, the wetter it becomes, like walking through a dripping rainforest. Eventually, as you walk towards the bridge directly in front of the Falls, it’s like you are standing in an enormous shower. I came away from my viewing completely soaked, and smiling.

Makgadikgadi Salt Pan

“It is the nothing-ness that attracts. This is God’s own minimalism.” (A.A. Gill)

Africa | The dried up salt pans of the Makgadikgadi in Botswana crack in the heat of summer forming wonderous patterns and shapes. | © Mark Dumbleton

Africa | The dried up salt pans of the Makgadikgadi in Botswana crack in the heat of summer forming wonderous patterns and shapes. | © Mark Dumbleton

Not far from Vic Falls (relatively speaking for international visitors), in neighbouring Botswana, is the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan, an ethereal landscape that came as a complete surprise to me. At the time we visited it was as dry as it comes – not a speck of moisture anywhere. You reach the pan by walking through bush and scrub, wondering how far it might be, and then all vegetation abruptly ends and you are thrown onto hard, crusty, salty earth, as flat and featureless as anywhere on Earth can be.

The glory of the pans is its vastness, its featurelessness, and its all-consuming silence. I’m told the wind often howls across it, but that day it was utterly still, and I ran out for a kilometre or so (keeping my starting point in sight, because if I lost track of that I could become another bony, bleached statistic), soaking up the feeling of possessing all that silent vastness to myself.

I watched a beautiful, blinding orange sunset in an otherwise empty sky. The low sun created the longest uninterrupted shadow of me I’ve ever seen – I had the legs of a runway model on steroids stretched out across the sand. The eastern sky was a serene, soft blend of pink to purple to midnight blue. It was the perfect moment.

Zebra migrate from the Okavango Delta to Makgadikgadi (photography.nationalgeographic.com)

Every year, during the wet season, zebra and other animals migrate from the Okavango Delta to Makgadikgadi and then back again (photography.nationalgeographic.com)

So if you’re planning a trip to Victoria Falls, why not add the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan and make it a bucket list with a twist?

***

If you liked reading this, you would probably also enjoy:

Shorty on the ski slopes

Travel Bucket List with a Twist #3 (Machu Picchu + Lake Titicaca’s floating islands)

Travel Bucket List with a Twist #2 (Sydney + Blue Mountains)

Travel Bucket List with a Twist #1 (Grand Canyon + Antelope Canyon)

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