As we checked into the Victoria Falls Hotel, we realized we were following in the footsteps of thousands of past travelers. Like our own CPR hotels in Ottawa, Quebec City, Banff and Jasper, the Victoria Falls Hotel was built on the railway line that Cecil John Rhodes dreamed would run from Cairo to Capetown. His continental vision was never realized, but the first, very modest Victoria Falls Hotel opened in 1904 soon after the first train made the run to the falls. Over the years, the hotel was improved and expanded into the gracious place where we stayed.
The bridge over the Victoria Falls was an integral part of the plan. and amazingly. Its cantilever design by Sir Douglas Fox was completed in just three years in the location Rhodes had specified, crossing the Zambezi "at the point where the spray from the falls would fall the train carriages crossing the bridge". The railway brought the tourists; the falls and the wonderful hotel gave them a reason to linger. In fact, by 1910, there were excursion trains operating from Capetown and by the 1920s, the hotel hosted about 3000 visitors a year.
A trolley service was introduced in 1920 to carry visitors from the hotel to a point near where the Livingstone statue stands today. Gravity mostly carried the trolleys downill to the falls, but staff were employed by the hotel to pull them in the uphill sections. Over a 37-year period, an estimated two million people used the trolleys.
In the 1940s, Victoria Falls was included on the itinerary of the Solent flying boat service between London and South Africa. These planes landed in the Zambezi River and the passengers spent the night at the hotel.
This vintage mural at the entrance to the hotel captures the era as does Duly, the head porter.
In 1947, the hotel hosted King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret on their African tour. Everywhere we looked there were photographs of past events and facilities within the hotel.
Walking the halls with their big game trophies and old lithographs, and taking a swim in the classic pool, we felt we were part of a grand tradition.