The geology of Victoria Falls is very interesting. The length of this incredible waterfall has been divided into 5 separate sections each with their own distinct characteristics.
The Geology of Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is one of the most impressive, awe-inspiring sights in the world and one of the most famous tourist destinations in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Otherwise, known as “Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – The Smoke that Thunders, the waterfall is a natural wonder famous the world over, and a heritage site protected under UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
We will explain the geology of Victoria Falls and the different parts of the waterfall that make up its whole vast length.
Victoria Falls Description
The waterfall is 1,708 metres wide at the precipice, falling between 70 and 108 metres at its deepest point, in a vertical fall of water into a gorge of thunderous noise and raging water.
It is not the widest or the highest waterfall in the world, but calculating the dimensions, by the incredible flow rate of the water, this categorises it as the largest curtain of falling water on Earth.
What Type Of Waterfall Is Victoria Falls?
What is spectacular about this landmark is that the surrounding African landscape is flat, with the waterfall not visible. The falls do not fall from a mountain or cliff from a plateau down to a valley like a traditional waterfall, but plummet off a knife-edge into the earth.
Because of this, we define Victoria Falls as a cataract waterfall.
The only way to view this immense sight is to stand on the edge of a chasm of raging water and rising mists, and look down into an eroded gash in the earth. A truly incredible sight.
Victoria Falls Features
The span of nearly 2 kilometres is made up of five different sections.
At its peak flow during the rainy season between February and March, the sections are not easily differentiated from each other because the high volume of water flowing in such massive quantity every minute creates a solid wall of water. This flow can reach a remarkable volume of up to 540 million cubic metres of water per minute.
In the drier months between April and October, when the flow is reduced, these “falls” can be identified as:
- The Devil’s Cataract
- Main Falls
- Rainbow Falls
- Horseshoe Falls
- The Eastern Cataract
At its lowest in the month of October, the water can be just a trickle, making the view of the basalt rocks a feature in itself. Four of these sections are in Zimbabwe with The Eastern Cataract in Zambian Territory.
Low waters expose the geology of Victoria Falls found behind the water. The cliffs have their own stark beauty and can be just as stunning to view in their own way.
Being one of the natural wonders of the world has put the waterfall onto the world heritage list and joins an illustrious group of spectacular destinations to visit.
The Five Waterfalls
Over the life of the waterfall at its current position, Victoria Falls geology has changed very little.
The only real exception is the Devil’s Cataract. The cataract is the first sight you have of the waterfall as you emerge out of the rainforest walk at the start of your walk to view the cascade of water.
The description of the 5 sections of the waterfall will start panning from this point left to right as you stand in front of the waterfall.
We will describe Victoria Falls the best we can in words, but it is very difficult to convey the power and beauty of such a huge natural wonder.
We will take you across the waterfall as you see it as you progress through the famous Victoria Falls National Park along the designated path.
The Devil’s Cataract
Your first sight of the waterfall is a waterfall in its own right – the Devil’s Cataract. The waterfall is 70 meters high and is the narrowest section of the falls.
The powerful sound of the cascading water is almost deafening when you first hear it. The sheer volume of water crashing into the chasm is quite astounding.
When the Zambezi is flowing at high volume the volume of spray created makes visibility very poor. But experiencing that on its own is fun – and drenching.
What Is A Cataract Waterfall?
The Roman word “cataracta,” which means waterfall, is where the word “cataract” originates.
A cataract waterfall describes a large volume of water that falls over a precipice in a single drop without any hindrance until it hits the base pool.
The Devil’s Cataract is exactly this.
What Inspired The Name Devil?
Missionaries who came to this area described the traditional ceremonies that took place on the nearby island in the river by the local tribe, as “devilish”. Hence, the name given to this cataract at the edge of the chasm.
The local tribe revered the waterfall and would have ceremonies to honour the river, the waterfall and its bounty.
This part of the waterfall is the largest section and makes up the main central view of the waterfall.
With an impressive peak flow rate of 700 000 cubic metres per minute this incredible volume of water flowing over the edge is so great it creates a phenomenon that is famous in itself.
The rising winds created from the force of the water hitting the rocks at the base of the gorge, pushes mist up the 93 metre high chasm and into the air creating a mist plume over 400 metres, and sometimes twice that height, high in the African sky.
This mist cloud of spray from the falls can be seen up to 50 kilometres away and is the only indication that there is a phenomenon of nature nearby.
The name is derived from the shape of this section of the waterfall.
This part of the waterfall has the least volume of water with a height of 95 metres. This is the first section of the waterfall which could dry up in the drier seasons of October and November, revealing the distinctive shape of its namesake.
These months would be the best time to visit to see the horseshoe shape exposed, although the volume of water across the whole waterfall would be very low too.
At 108 metres, this is the highest section of the waterall. The long drop into the chasm creates the mist and the angle of the sun at certain times of day shining through the mist droplets form a spectacular rainbow rising out of the depths of the gorge.
A rainbow is a common sight at this point of the waterfall, showcasing one of nature’s wonders.
Similarly, a lunar rainbow is visible during a full moon at night, a moving sight to behold. The “moonbow” as it is often called can only be seen at certain times of the month when the moon is full, therefore the park is only open at night during the full moon cycles.
It can be an eerie sight as the whole waterfall takes on a different appearance and almost unearthly atmosphere. Definitely worth a viewing if you are visiting at the right time.
The Eastern Cataract
This is the second highest fall of water at 101 metres high.
Although these falls are in Zambia, there is a stunning view point from the Zimbabwe side of the gorge of this part of the waterfall.
The Eastern Cataract is at its best during the high season when the water is flowing at its fullest of the precipice. During the dry season this is the first part of the waterfall to dry up.
During this period the cliffs are on view and you may glimpse plants growing in the cracks.
The Ancient Geology Of Victoria Falls
Describing the geology of Victoria Falls cannot in any small way convey the immensity of the waterfall, or the noise and the sheer power emanating from the spectacle.
Standing in front of this huge volume of falling water on the ancient Zambezi River evokes emotions in your soul. Experience how small nature makes you feel and the awe that overcomes your senses.
A remarkable and unforgettable experience that has to be seen first-hand to comprehend!