To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
The following text is adapted from 'Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
Livingstone Joins the Jet-set
In 1950 Livingstone Aerodrome was significantly redeveloped with a fully modernised control tower and tarmac runway, in advance of the emerging generation of jet aircraft. It was proudly reported that the spray from the Victoria Falls could be seen from the control tower. The opening ceremony for the new £1 million facility was performed by Lord Pakenham, Northern Rhodesia Minister of Civil Aviation, on 12th August 1950. Lord Pakenham had arrived, interestingly, by the Solent flying boat service (Stirling, 2014).
“The inaugural flying display which followed caused immense interest; many of the spectators had never seen a jet aircraft, so it can be imagined that a fine exhibition of formation aerobatics by four South Africa Air Force Vampire pilots... caused something of a sensation.” (Flight Magazine, August 1950)
Four Vampire FB9s (Rhodesian Air Force) over Victoria Falls (mid 1950s)
The airport was the main international airport for the region until the opening of Salisbury Airport in 1956, including for tourists visiting of the Falls Hotel, until the opening of the Victoria Falls Airport in 1967.
In the same year as the new airport opened, Mr H D Bridge, was appointed Northern Rhodesia’s first Tourist Officer as the country attempted to capitalise on its new aviation advantage. Based in Livingstone Mr Bridge’s brief was to promote the country’s tourism attractions at home and abroad.
Livingstone Airport control tower and buildings, 1950
Growth of Commercial Airlines
The growth of long-haul commercial air travel opened up direct, and faster, travel to the Falls, further boosting tourism. For a period all passengers disembarked at Livingstone Airport to stay overnight at the Falls Hotel before either continuing their flight to South Africa or travelling by land to many of the National Parks and other destinations within the region, before the increasing range of international flights shifted the centre of activity southwards to Johannesburg. International carriers serving Livingstone soon included BOAC, Air France and South Africa Airways.
The introduction of regional aviation routes, including those of Central African Airways during the 1950s, marked a significant development in tourist travel, breaking nearly fifty years of railway dominance. Despite this, the Falls Hotel continued to flourish during this period.
“One of the most remarkably successful innovations has been a Sunday excursion trip from Salisbury to Victoria Falls and back, 680 miles [1,094 km] for a return fare of £10, which includes a box lunch, a boat trip up the Zambesi to see elephant, hippo and crocodile, a coach trip to the Falls, and tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel before returning to Salisbury.” (Flight Magazine, October 1951)
In order to integrate the arrival of passengers on commercial flights, a new railway time-table was released.
“The new train time tables now in operation have completely reversed the routine at the [Falls] hotel. Instead of the majority of passengers arriving at night they now get in before breakfast. All visitors from the south and from overseas are now making their reservations in good time rather than risk being disappointed.” (Rhodesia Railways Magazine, July 1952)
On 2nd May 1952 the ‘Yoke Peter,’ a de Havilland Comet Mark 1, took off from London Heathrow to Johannesburg on the world’s first commercial passenger jet flight, proudly operated by BOAC and heralding the new age of jet travel. The flight stopped for refuelling at Rome (Italy), Beirut (Lebanon), Khartoum (Sudan), Entebbe (Uganda) and Livingstone before arriving in Johannesburg, a distance of 6,700 miles (10,782 km) in 18 hours 40 minutes flying time - and a total journey time of 23 hours 20 minutes.
Comet at Livingstone Airport, 1952.
External Link: Pathe News Report - On board the Comet.
Victoria Falls Aerodrome
After the war Mr Coleman Myers, from Bulawayo, purchased a surplus Tiger Moth (VP-YJN) and in 1946 started advertising scenic flips at £1 a head. He recouped the £160 cost of his investment in the first weekend of flying. Myers soon purchased a new Piper Cub (VP-YFK) and started his own charter company, expanding his business with the acquisition of Spencer Airways and operating under the name Victoria Falls Airways Ltd.
Through the 1950s Victoria Falls Airways operated tourism flights from the Victoria Falls Airfield on the south bank, now boasting a hard surface runway of 800 yards (730 m). The parent company, Air Carriers Ltd, continued to grow with the acquisition of smaller charter companies, ultimately resulting in the formation of Rhodesia United Air Carriers (RUAC) in 1957. In January 1955 a freak storm destroyed the hanger, two de Havilland Rapides and damaged several other aircraft. Six months later the company was back up and flying.
“The Victoria Falls fleet comprises two Rapides, each seating eight passengers, and four Piper Tri-Pacers, each of which has accommodation for pilot and three passengers. There is a booking counter in the foyer of the nearby Falls Hotel where tickets are issued - £5 for a game flight or 25s for a trip round the Falls. Passengers are taken to the airfield in one of the ubiquitous Volkswagen Microbuses which are appearing in increasing numbers in all parts of Africa. The ‘airport buildings’ comprise one new hanger, which has risen beside the ruins of one blown down in a gale last January with the total loss of two Rapides and damage to other aircraft, and a smaller hangar - used by private owners...”
“Back at the Falls Hotel, Mr Coleman Myers told be something of the background of the company as we relaxed over a refreshing glass. There are two other pilots - Mr J H Duplessis and Mr A E Rybicki - and the company flies about 10,000 passengers a year. Fifty percent of the work is accounted for by game flights, which continue throughout the year, and charter work makes up the other half.” (Flight Magazine, August 1955)
Victoria Falls National Park
Changes on the south bank in 1952 amalgamated the Victoria Falls Reserve, including the Special Area immediately around the Falls, with the larger Victoria Falls Game Reserve, covering an area upstream of the Falls, to form the expanded Victoria Falls National Park under Proclamation 25 (1952) of the National Parks Act (1949). The protected area covered 60,000 hectares, with the town of Victoria Falls an excluded enclave, surrounded by the National Park. The main road to Kazungula in neighbouring Botswana bisects the Park in two halves.
The Special Area of the Falls, including the river sections immediately above and below the Falls, was now effectively under the shared control of both the National Park Advisory Board (NPAB) and the Commission for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments and Relics.
“Although some duties were delegated to the NPAB in cases where the development of local amenities would be for the benefit of the visiting public, the Commission... by and large remained responsible for the management of the Special Area at Victoria Falls.” (Makuvaza, 2012)
Under the management of the NPAB tourism infrastructure and services on the south bank were developed, including the Rest Camp and Zambezi Camp, providing flexible accommodation options for independent travellers.
“On the Southern Rhodesian bank, where a National Park has been established, there are two Rest Camps - Main Camp, which is close to the Victoria Falls village, and the Zambesi Camp, which is situated four miles [6.5 km] up river in shady surroundings and commanding magnificent views of the river and islands. The Zambesi Camp consists of a single building with a number of large double rooms, comfortably furnished, and with adequate bathing and sanitary arrangements...
“The huts at Main Camp are substantially built and comfortably furnished with beds, mattresses, chairs, table and toilet set. Each bed is fitted with a mosquito net and the windows are curtained and mosquito-proofed. Bedding is provided at the option of the visitor. Crockery and cutlery may be hired from the Falls Supply Store, where a full range of groceries is also stocked. The butcher boy from Livingstone calls daily for orders. Food is cooked in open air fireplaces near the huts. If visitors do not care to undertake their own cooking they can meet their needs at a Restaurant situated on the edge of the National Park area adjacent to the main road and within a few minutes walk of the Rest Camp. Charges at Main Camp are 5s per day if no bedding is ordered and 6s per person per day with bedding. At Zambesi Camp the charge is 7s 6d. per person per day with bedding. Double and family huts are available at Main Camp.” (Southern Rhodesia Public Relations Department, c1955)
The Zambezi Camp was developed from the abandoned BOAC offices and staff residence for the short-lived flying-boat service. A riverside drive was established running upstream along the scenic stretches of the Zambezi that had so enchanted Livingstone.
“The main road in the Park is a gravel road and it has not been possible up to 1959 to make this an all-weather road, so during the rainy season this part of the park has unfortunately to be closed... Another 50 miles of loop roads were under construction in 1959 and these will give access to the country further away from the river and so open up new areas for the sightseer.” (Woods 1960)
The centrally located main Rest Camp would grow to offer 30 self-catering chalets, caravan park and camping, set amongst pleasant gardens and shady trees. The tourism town of Victoria Falls was beginning to take
“Ten stands had been occupied in the redesigned township to the north of the Police Camp. On one of these stands the Falls Supply Store had started business as a general dealer supplying the village. In addition, the Sprayview Cafe had been constructed east of the Railway Reserve.” (Heath, 1977)
The Sprayview Restaurant was owned and operated for many years by Mrs Green.