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 due for publication in early 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Groups of passengers from cruise lines continued to fly up to the Falls Hotel from South Africa. In 1965, 160 guests flew up from two cruise ships in the month of February alone.
“Travellers to the southern half of the African continent will find it easy to get here. Central African Airways offers daily Viscount service from Salisbury, with connections from flights up from South Africa or down from East Africa. There is good rail service or one can rent a car and drive here over good paved roadways.”
“Once here visitors will find excellent accommodations and food at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a venerable but extremely well maintained Hotel operated by Rhodesian Railroads. The hotel dining room is the best we have encountered anywhere in Africa and the menu would do justice to the best restaurants in Europe or back home.” (The Sunday Denver Post, 9 May 1965)
The momentum for independent majority rule in Southern Rhodesia was growing. However, against rising calls for democratic majority rule, the white-minority government led by Ian Smith made its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on 11th November 1965.
Smith made the Declaration after days of tense negotiations with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who was only prepared to permit independence on the basis of giving the black majority population a fair share of power. The British Government, Commonwealth, and United Nations condemned the move as illegal, leaving Rhodesia unrecognised by the international community.
The Zambian customs and immigration post was built soon after Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
“On the north bank, the area immediately before the approach of the bridge was cleared. It had a magnificent view down to the Boiling Pot and across the Knife Edge, and became known as ‘scandal alley’: Livingstone residents would go down there on Sunday afternoons to drink and revel in the week’s gossip. The Zambian customs and immigration post was built on the... site soon after Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1965” (Teede & Teede, 1994)
Strict visa regulations introduced by the Zambian immigration department in 1966 negatively affected tourism, with it being recorded that tourist arrivals declined by 18 percent in 1966 (Moonga 1999)
On the south bank the Rhodesian Government announced a review land tenure at the Victoria Falls. Land use policy up to this date had effectively restricted development and protected the natural environment of the Victoria Falls, but the changing political landscape made infrastructure development inevitable.
Victoria Falls Casino
The Victoria Falls Casino, later known as the Makasa Sun Hotel, was built in 1966 on the site immediately next to the Victoria Falls Hotel. The casino was the first in the country and an added attraction advertised even by the Hotel itself;
“The modern, luxurious Casino Hotel was opened in 1966. It is air-conditioned throughout and has a bank, hairdressing salons, jewellery and other shops for the convenience of its patrons, besides a la carte restaurants serving breakfast 24 hours a day.” (Rhodesian National Tourism Board, 1967)
Controversially the development broke the local skyline of the Falls, infringing a local council building requirement that no construction should be built above the tree-line, and so be visible from the river and Falls. A small section of the old trolley line down to the Falls was preserved in the grounds of the Hotel.
The Casino was extended in 1969 with the addition of a new wing comprising 54 bedrooms and three luxury suites, at a cost of £175,000, and by 1979 the Hotel boasted 102 bedrooms all with private bathroom, shower, radio and telephone and four luxury suites.
The Victoria Falls Casino.
Victoria Falls Airport
The Victoria Falls Airport was opened in 1967. With Zambian independence in 1965 the resulting customs and immigration formalities had become an inconvenience to travellers staying at the Hotel. The new airport was built at some distance, 20 kilometres, from the Victoria Falls and the growing tourism town.
Groups of passengers from cruise liners arriving at the Cape now flew up to the Falls, and with the establishment of the Victoria Falls, Kariba and Hwange National Park domestic air routes, regional tourism operators flourished, such as the Flame Lily air holiday packages, helping boost arrivals at the Hotel to record levels in 1967.
“From Johannesburg, Bulawayo, Salisbury, Kariba and Wankie, more than ten flights a week serve the new airport 15 miles south if the Falls. Visitors from the north come via Livingstone airport, nine miles north of the Falls, in Zambia. All exclusive Flame Lilly holidays starting from most centres in Southern Africa are on sale all over the world.” (Rhodesian National Tourism Board, 1967)
A 1967 tourism information leaflet, produced by the Rhodesian National Tourism Board, promoted new services to the Falls by air. The Falls were still presented as still unaffected by man and as Dr Livingstone first saw them:
“Today the Falls are almost exactly as Livingstone first saw then, unspoilt in all their grandeur. Nothing has been allowed to mar the natural beauty of the surrounding; even the disfiguring precaution of guard rails has not been permitted. As Livingstone stood, lost in wonder, so do many thousands of visitors each year.”
The town now boasted a modern Post Office and banks, including the distinctive Standard Bank building. New tourist attractions grew with the development of the Falls Craft Village (established in 1967), Snake Park and Curio Markets.
“The African Craft Village is unique in its conception. It is an exact replica of a nineteenth-century Matabele kraal, representing the home of one Matabele man and his three wives. A guided tour takes about 40 minutes and is a ‘must’ for every visitor to the Victoria Falls.” (Harris, 1969)
1967 saw another record year for the Falls Hotel, with close to 22,000 visitors to the Hotel. The record numbers were largely due to the growth of regional air travel, with Air Rhodesia’s successful ‘Flame Lily’ holiday packages linking Kariba and Hwange with the Falls.
Cocktails at The Victoria Falls Hotel.
A Birds-eye View
Scenic flights from the Sprayview Aerodrome offered by Rhodesian United Air Carriers now included two hour and 200 mile (321 km) flying safaris over central southern Africa. Flights could be booked from a reception counter at the Falls Hotel:
“Highlight of your stay is your flight over the Victoria Falls and surrounding countryside in search of the untamed game which roams this still primitive part of Africa. Not only do these dawn and sunset patrols offer glorious birds-eye views of the great Zambezi river, its zig-zag gorges and the mighty Falls themselves but, even more thrilling, your low flights over the broad savannah grasslands bordering Botswana and Zambia reveal great herds of stately sable antelope, zebra, tsessebe, waterbuck and many other types of antelope. As the vegetation patterns change below you, herds of buffalo arc seen in the dense bush, giraffe wander browsing in the sparsely-treed lands and along the luxuriant river banks the elephant, giant of them all, drink and cool themselves in the sluggish water. Nearby the hippo wallow and crocodile bask. Throughout your 200 mile air safari you swoop low, seeming to pirouette on one wing, for a closer view of these rare and magnificent beasts, at home in their natural habitat but undismayed by the low-flying aircraft. For amateur photographers this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for dramatic shots both of the Falls themselves and of the wild game populating the area.” (Harris, 1969)
On the Road
The reconstruction of the main Bulawayo to Victoria Falls strip road as a fully-tarred highway began in 1963 and the official opening was celebrated in 1968 with a vintage car rally from Bulawayo to the Falls, with over 40 competitors, many of who stayed at the Hotel to recuperate.
The South African traveller and writer Lawrence G Green visited the Falls in the late 1960s on a road journey through Southern Rhodesia and published his writings in his 1968 book ‘Full Many A Glorious Morning’.
Green was not enamoured by the safari goers and relaxed clientele of the Falls Hotel, whose dress style he felt was at odds with the Hotel’s grand setting:
“People enter the Victoria Falls Hotel looking like dusty bands of dog-robbers. They simply have not got the sort of clothes that fit into a background of sophistication and elegance. Shorts do not go with chandeliers; bush shirts form a strange contrast with soft rugs and polished furniture. The final shock comes when you read this notice in the lounge: ‘Gentlemen are requested to wear jackets and ties in the evening.’ No doubt it is a necessary reminder though I have never encountered such a warning at a five star hotel...”
“It is a remote yet familiar corner of Africa, a place where you are bound to meet someone you know if you stay any length of time. This is the Café de la Paix, the Piccadilly Circus, the Capri of Africa… They come in by air and road and train and hasten out again to see the panoramas of this dramatic stretch of the Zambesi…” (Green, 1968)
Green also recalls his cruise on the river;
“I voyaged up the Zambesi to Kandahar Island in a large steel launch, hippo-proof and crocodile-proof, with powerful outboard motors. As we tied up on the island the girl in charge of the excursion led a party of natives on shore and called back: ‘No one is to land until I give the word.’ They searched the island and then allowed us to walk up to the tea shelter. These precautions were taken as a result of a tragedy earlier in the year. Mr Charles Graeme Young, a visitor from Durban, was standing on Kandahar Island when a hippo rushed out of the water and made for him… Mr Young stood his ground and tried to photograph the hippo. A few seconds later he was dead.” (Green, 1968)
Controversy rose to new heights over the proposed development of an observation tower on the southern bank overlooking the western end of the Falls:
“In 1968, a company called African Panorama Limited applied for three acres of land to erect a 320 ft (95 m) observation tower and a restaurant about 100 ft (30 m) from the western end of the Devil’s Cataract and adjacent to the railway line... The Victoria Falls Tower was to be modelled on the London Post Office Tower, with a restaurant below it to serve tourists.”
Despite being located within the core Special Area of the Falls, government ministers supported the development which was subsequently passed to parliament for approval.
“During the debate some parliamentarians argued that the construction of the tower would promote tourism in the country while others strongly asserted that the tower would ruin the beauty of the Victoria Falls. After a considerable debate the parliamentarians eventually voted against its construction.”
In a separate proposal put forward in the same year the Railway Company applied for 4.5 acres of land on to develop a chip-and-putt golf course. In addition to the golf course, it was also proposed that bowling greens, tennis courts, a discotheque, a refreshments bar, and an amusement centre for children would be developed.
These and other development pressures resulted in the decision to reduce to size of the Special Area to concentrate on the core areas around the Falls.
“In order to preserve the beauty of the natural and cultural surroundings of the site, the Commission [for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments and Relics] made a decision in 1968 to reduce the size of the original boundaries of the Special Area. Accordingly, in order to change the boundaries of the national monument, the original site was deproclaimed as a national monument, cancelling the previous Government Notices no. 318 of 1937, no. 922 of 1947 and no. 453 of 1970. A smaller area was reproclaimed [under of the Monuments and Relics Act] as a national monument by Government Notice 640 of 1970.” (Makuvaza, 2012)
The Mosi-oa-Tunya Intercontinental Hotel, located less than four minutes walk from the Falls on the northern bank, was finally developed and opened in 1968.
The hotel consisted of 95 rooms in two double-story blocks, set out at angles to the separate main building, housing the public areas and hotel administration. Developed by Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, part of the Pan American Airways, the Hotel was operated in conjunction with the InterContinental Hotel in Lusaka.
Many mourned the development of a site so close to the Falls, Teede and Teede recording in later years:
“Lights from the Mosi-oa-Tunya Hotel in Zambia interfere with moonlight viewing of the Main Falls from Zimbabwe and have ruined the spectacular series of lunar rainbows visible over the Rainbow Falls. Any more lights and the almost transcendental experience of seeing the Falls by moonlight would be totally lost.” (Teede and Teede, 1991)
Boosted by the development of tourism over the decade the population of Livingstone was recorded as close to 49,063 in the census of 1969.
Neighbouring the Intercontinental was the Rainbow Lodge, a medium-sized 76-guest, resort hotel comprising luxury rooms and self-contained, traditional-style chalets.
Improvements were made to the tourism infrastructure for viewing the Falls on the northern bank. In 1969 the Knife-Edge Bridge was constructed, opening up access to views of the Falls to which tourists had previously struggled, resulting in many accidents as tourists scrambled over the slippery rocks under the spray of the Falls.
Under a Southern Sun
On 1st February 1970 operation of the Falls Hotel was leased by the Rhodesia Railways to external management, marking the end of over fifty years of direct management by the Railway Company.
Through its new managers the Hotel was operated under the umbrella of the Southern Sun Hotel Corporation of Rhodesia (Private) Limited, known as Southern Sun. As a member of the group the Hotel was now part of a portfolio of hotels across the country – resulting in significant benefits and gains in marketing terms, especially in the South African market. The group also had plans for a modern new hotel complex on the southern bank, which led to the development of the Elephant Hills Country Club, opened in 1974.
The early seventies saw a period of rapid growth in the development of the town, with the construction of new infrastructure and tourism facilities, including housing suburbs, commercial centres, industrial premises, office and staff accommodation blocks and a diversification of new hotels. The 40-room, fully air-conditioned, Peter’s Motel opened in 1969, later to become known as the Victoria Falls Motel (and later still the Sprayview Hotel). The riverside A’Zambezi River Lodge, with 65 double and 15 family rooms, opened in 1972, and the centrally located 44-room Rainbow Hotel in 1974. The Spencer Creek Crocodile Ranch was established in 1971, operating as both a commercial crocodile farm and tourist attraction. The ranch has grown into a major employer in the predominantly tourism based town. The old Sprayview Restaurant was demolished in 1970.
In 1969 the population of Victoria Falls town had grown to 3,450 (CSO, 1969). National annual tourism arrivals reached 270,000 in 1970, up from 250,000 in 1969. Arrivals peaked at 360,000 in 1972. In 1972 the town management board was upgraded into a Town Council. The Victoria Falls Main Camp accommodation, camping and caravanning facilities located in the town centre were taken over by the Town Council in 1974. By the mid seventies new visitor pathways had been developed running through the Rainforest and to the various viewpoints on the south bank.
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
On the north bank the Victoria Falls Trust was dissolved in 1972 and the Zoological Game Park redesignated as the expanded Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on 25th February 1972, managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Services - now the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA). The Natural Heritage Commission (now the National Heritage Conservation Commission) continued to manage the Falls and historic cultural sites within the National Park, including the Old Drift settlement.