Moonbows at Victoria Falls are just one of the natural wonders to be seen when you visit this special place.
The moonbow, which is also sometimes called a lunar rainbow or moonbeam, is an optical phenomenon that appears when moonlight shines from the surface of the moon and is reflected on mist and water droplets in the air.
Victoria Falls is one of a few places on earth where you can regularly see a moonbow and this blog post will explore what happens behind this incredible spectacle!
Feature Photo courtesy Calvin Bradshaw (calvinbradshaw.com)
What is a lunar rainbow or moonbow?
The moon's light at night time is a wondrous thing. It has the ability to create one-of-a-kind, natural phenomena like we've never seen before.
A phenomenon that looks more beautiful than anything else you could ever witness in nature and it goes by many names - Moonbow or white rainbow are just two of them.
The science behind these natural phenomena
"Moonbows," as they're popularly known, can only be created under very specific conditions on Earth when there are water droplets suspended in the air caused by rainfall or fog at night.
This happens during a full moon phase which produces enough brightness for these raindrops to scatter into all colors of visible spectrum. But not too much where any shadows would interfere with this effect; so if their color isn't pure white then chances are
Lunar rainbows are much fainter than solar rainbows, due to the smaller amount of light reflected from the surface of the Moon. Because they're usually too faint for human eyes to detect colors in a moonbow, it's difficult for the human eye-balls to see what color is being cast by this lunar phenomenon.
That said, long exposure photographs do appear with their own unique hues and shades which give away some secrets about these rare sights that nature has gifted us!
How to see a moonbow in person at Victoria Falls National Park and what you can expect
There is no better place to experience moonbows than the ones which can be viewed at the magical Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe in Southern Africa.
The moonbow is best seen when the Moon is at or nearest to its brightest phase, a full moon. The chance for this phenomenon to appear increases if it's low in the sky (elevation less than 42 degrees) and not obscured by clouds.
Though it is hard to predict exactly when they will occur, lunar rainbows can usually be visible two-to-three hours before sunrise or a few hours after sunset.
These conditions make moonbows much rarer than rainbows made by daytime sunshine. Moonbows may also be seen during a full-moonrise when it's winter in cold climates and there are more hours of darkness to allow the phenomenon to happen.
When is the best time of year to see a lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls?
As mentioned above, the best time to see this amazing phenomenon is when there are more hours of darkness, such as in the winter months in Southern Africa.
There are a few influencing factors to get an absolute optimal viewing of a moonbow at Vic Falls.
For starters, you need a full moon and no cloud cover. Also required is just the right amount of rising spray and water droplets in the air.
Historically these factors all seem to come together most commonly between June and August at Vic Falls.
The Victoria Falls National Park is open to visitors from the night before to the night after the full moon, 3 consecutive nights at each occurrence where the moon is full.
Below are the Full Moon dates for Victoria Falls National Park, Matabeleland North Province, Zimbabwe in 2022. Click here for the full detail.
Full Moon Table
2022 full moon
How much does a Vic falls lunar rainbow tour cost?
A guided lunar rainbow tour in Victoria Falls lasts approximately 2 hours and expect to pay approximately US$65 per person. There is also an option of taking the tour on your own, entrance to the national park is approximately US$40.
For more on one of the tours, visit our activities page Wild Horizons Lunar Rainbow Tour of the Falls
What are the best viewpoints to see Moonbows at Victoria Falls?
The waterfall runs in a similar direction as the moon rises and sets, which is from the east to the west. To get the best view of the moonbow, you would need to have the moon behind you as it rises and you would need to look towards the west.
The guides will take you to the best viewpoints, which from the Zimbabwe side in the Victoria Falls National Park is at viewpoint 7 looking west towards the Devils Cataract (viewpoint 1). Viewpoint 7 also happens to be one of the best viewpoints of the main falls.
The best vantage point is actually on the Zambian side viewed from the Eastern Cataract. If you are visiting between June and August, the view from the Eastern Cataract can't be beaten.
How do I take good photographs of a lunar rainbow?
Ten Tips for Photographing Vic falls Lunar Rainbows
To experience the moonbow, plan to travel on a night without fog or clouds (as these reduce visibility), and ideally, pick a cloudless night. The intensity of the light reflected decreases noticeably closer to both the day before and following full moons, so be aware that you might need longer exposures than normal as well.
For film cameras, start with a roll of fresh film and batteries. And for digital camera sensors, make sure it’s using fresh batteries and set the ISO to a low noise setting.
Look for your shadow! The moonbow will form an arc of 42 degrees around the point where your head casts a shadow.
The moonbows can be a very fuzzy subject, so make sure to get the best shot by using a tripod.
Get your spot! You want to be outside of the direct spray, but in a place where you can see mist (which is where the moonbow is most visible). This serves three purposes. It keeps you dry, prevents any dirt or grime from getting on your lens, and keeps everything as steady as possible during the long exposure.
The exposure for your camera should be the same as any other night time landscape photo. However, you need to make sure not to over-expose the photo because moonlight is always moving and so does the moonbow. The takeaway here is that if you're shooting with a long enough exposure, the colors will shift too much and turn into white light
Protect your camera gear from moisture! The easiest way is to use a small trash bag. Push the lens through and then pull the bag over your camera, sealing it tight with no air leaks around the lens.
To ensure that you capture the most vibrant photos of the night sky at Victoria Falls, be sure to bring a small flashlight. To make images more vivid, dry the lens of your camera between shots with a lint-free cloth or towel.
If you are having trouble focusing, manually change your setting. If that is not working for you, spin around and focus on the moon.
Comfort is important when shooting in these conditions. It's necessary to dress as you would if you were going on a long winter walk outside, even if it turns out that the weather ends up being clear and calm for your entire visit.
By the way, don't fret if you can't see the colors of the moonbow when you are standing in the wind-whipped spray of the falls. Many people can't. It depends on how many and responsive color sensitive cones you have in your eyes
LUNAR RAINBOW LOCATIONS AROUND THE WORLD
Here are some other places on earth where you can find lunar rainbows:
- Lunar Rainbow Yosemite: Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California.
- Kentucky: Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky.
- Lunar Rainbow Hawaii at the Waimea Canyon State Park
- Iceland Lunar Rainbow at the Skogafoss Waterfall
- Australia Lunar Rainbow at the Wallaman Falls
- Arizona Lunar Rainbow, Jerome, Arizona
Frequently Asked Questions
Camera and Tripod if you want to take photo's
Umbrella or Raincoat
Comfortable walking shoes with a good grip for walking on wet and slippery surfaces
Warm clothing, for the winter months
Yes, it is possible, however, the optimal months are from June to August when the sky is clearer and the water flow is not too strong or too weak. The light is usually too faint for the human eye during the other months because of cloud cover.