Victoria Falls, the majestic Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) sits pretty between two city airports — Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, formerly Livingstone Airport in Livingstone town in southern Zambia, and Victoria Falls International Airport, in northern Zimbabwe. The falls is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The two airports are just 25 minutes apart by air and compete for visitors to the natural wonder on the River Zambezi.
Victoria Falls was named after the queen of England by explorer David Livingstone, who also lent his name to the town and island on the river.
While Livingstone Airport is the closest to the waterfall, Victoria Falls Airport got an edge after a recent facelift and renovations gave it a new four 4 kilometre long runway and a new terminal, increasing its capacity to nearly 1.7 million passengers annually.
The renovations have already stirred interest, with Kenya Airways — which serves the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport with direct flights out of Nairobi — announcing that it will now operate three direct flights to the new look Victoria Falls airport starting this May. The Victoria Falls flights, like those to Livingstone, will be linked to the Cape Town route, making it six flights per week between Nairobi and Cape Town.
Late last year, Ethiopian Airlines announced it would start direct flights between Addis Ababa and Victoria Falls by March this year. This would be a turn-around flight to Addis Ababa via Gaborone, Botswana.
RwandAir, which already operates flights to Lusaka and has earmarked Harare for April 2017, has shown interest in Victoria Falls too. South African Airways will be launching Airbus A330-200 wide body flight to Victoria Falls Airport this week replacing the smaller Airbus A320.
What could have spurred the interest of East African airlines in this region?
According to statistics by Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, over 1.7 million arrivals from African countries were recently recorded, with a increase noted from Asian countries too.
For a regional airline, this is a piece of the pie not to be missed, especially because this corner of southern Africa is not adequately connected to the rest of the continent and the world.
Victoria Falls International Airport is within close reach of four key national parks: Kazuma Pan National Park, Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls National Park and the Mosi-ao-Tunya National Park just across the border in Zambia.
The Victoria Falls ecosystem is perfect for tourists on a short visit. From river cruises, water rafting, rain forest walks, bungee jumping, golfing in the wild, elephant-back tours to aerial tours, the region offers a rich menu for tourists and adrenaline junkies.
With a destination offering these kinds of activities, it is natural to find tourists travelling with special baggage like golfing gear, bicycles, scuba tanks, helium balloons, kayak and canoe, diving and filming equipment.
As you plan your trip, be sure to check with your airline if any of the items you intend to carry fall under the special baggage category.
Usually any baggage exceeding 32 kilogrammes in weight and over certain dimensions is considered bulky and may attract extra charges.
But even when below the maximum baggage weight threshold, certain types of baggage and equipment will attract a carriage fee, usually guided by IATA limits on weight or per-piece pricing.
Always keep in mind that the airline may refuse to carry certain equipment due to space restrictions, depending on aircraft type. For instance, a kayak or canoe may only be accepted as cargo and not checked-in baggage by some carriers.
Depending on the nature of the equipment, it is prudent to consider insurance for certain items as most airlines will not accept liability for damage or loss during transportation.
Even where they do accept liability, most airlines will limit the level of compensation to industry guidelines as set out in the conditions of the carriage, which in many cases will be below actual value of the item or equipment.
While many airlines say liability for delayed, damaged or lost baggage is limited unless a higher value is declared in advance and additional charges paid, what is offered as compensation often will not cover the associated loss and inconvenience.
In case of delayed arrival of the special baggage or lost equipment in transit, one is usually expected to raise a report with the airline immediately before leaving the airport.
Remember to plan early for trips that require you to travel with special baggage or equipment.
Looking forward to hearing your Victoria Falls experiences. Personally, I have the bungee jump at the top of my list and my helmet is already insured.
This post was earlier published in The East African February 18, 2017 Plan ahead for your holiday gear