Clinging on for dear life as we enter one of the unforgiving grade XV rapids, gravity and the sheer force of Mother Nature finally combine to send me from the relative safety of the raft and plunging into what seems like an endless abyss.
Time almost appears to stand still as the washing machine effect of the powerful rapid plunges its latest victim below the water’s surface before finally spitting me back out to mercifully grab a much-needed breath, before clamouring back on board.
As one of the safety guides on a nearby kayak glides by, he offers a wry smile before offering a cheeky one-liner: “Did you enjoy your swim?” All I can muster in return is a relieved chuckle. After all, this is simply all part of the unpredictable white-water experience that is synonymous with adventure activities on the iconic Zambezi River.
While it’s not an activity for the faint-hearted, there are few adrenaline-inducing adventures that offer such thrilling unpredictability, with the varying nature of the water levels ensuring there is no telling what the rapids might dish up on the day.
Yet, in between negotiating the Zambezi’s unforgiving rapids, there is also the opportunity to appreciate the serenity of gliding down Africa’s fourth longest river while shadowed by the towering surrounding cliffs of the majestic Batoka Gorge. As one of our rafting companions quite rightly points out to our guide: “You have the most beautiful office.”
One of the world’s best rafting adventures
The opportunity to take in the surroundings is particularly possible if partaking in the full-day tour, which encompasses all 25 rapids and includes a riverside lunch break. However, adrenaline-seekers who are on a budget, or with limited time, can opt for a half-day trip that negotiates the first 10 rapids, and which includes the most challenging sections (as experienced on my “swim” down the aptly named Gulliver’s Travels).
Offering numerous accounts of such thrills and spills, rafting on the Zambezi has understandably been acclaimed as one of the best one-day white water trips available in the world, and can be conducted from either the Zimbabwean or Zambian side.
Over in Zambia, Safari Par Excellence adventure specialists have been operating white water rafting trips since 1991, with their offices situated at the lively Victoria Falls Waterfront lodge in the heart of Livingstone. Offering a wide variety of accommodation, it’s here that we settled in to take advantage of other popular activities offered by Safpar such as a canoe safari, sunset cruise and tour of the majestic Victoria Falls.
We were also introduced to a hidden gem on the banks of the Zambezi, where the exclusive Elephant Café serves as the centre point of a unique riverside location that is also home to a herd of rescued elephants. Guests to the café are provided with the opportunity to interact with these gentle giants before sitting down to a fine-dining three-course meal.
It’s here that head chef Annabel Hughes comes into her own as she offers a delectable array of “bush gourmet cuisine” through the use of African fusion food created with only wild and locally-sourced ingredients. Dining under the stars just mere metres away from such mild-mannered elephants is a surreal experience, but there are few better places to view these creatures in their natural habit than to do so in the Chobe National Park.
Land of the giants
Just over a 100km from Livingstone, we moved onto the opulent Ngoma Safari Lodge, which is situated within the Chobe Forest Reserve and adjacent to the national park that is also know as the Land of the Giants due to its prolific elephant population.
Positioned on a ridge overlooking the game-rich Chobe River and floodplain, which changes dramatically with the seasons, the boutique lodge serves as an opulent gateway to unique game viewing as kudu, giraffe, zebra and elephants frequently traverse the plains directly below the dining area.
Ngoma’s full-day safaris also present the opportunity to view an array of wildlife from both land and water. As our affable guide, Bevan, quite rightly points out at the start of our day trip: “Don’t worry folks, Chobe never disappoints.” Rather prophetically, it was while on board a boat cruise on the Chobe River that we were left enraptured by wallowing hippos, before later finding ourselves staring down a majestic trio of male lions, who took exception to being woken from their afternoon slumber by our game vehicle.
And while Ngoma lodge’s major drawcard may be it’s abundant wildlife and luxurious accommodation, there is also a commendable commitment to making a sustainable difference to local communities and their environment. A worthwhile visit available to guests provides some meaningful insight into a joint community and privately funded initiative developed with the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT).
As part of the mutually-beneficial relationship, the lodge looks to draw employees from the local communities, who also benefit socially and economically from each and every booking made. One such story is of a young local, Peter, who helped build the lodge’s foundation before moving on to work as a gardener, dish washer, maintenance man and then as a waiter. He is now a safari host.
On African time
Coming across such stories are all part of the charm that regularly accompanies travels around Africa. Indeed, it was while spending time in Victoria Falls that we were pointed in the direction of the Boma dinner and drum show, which tells the story of the food and culture of Zimbabwe.
Relaunching in 2017 with a focus on the refreshment and modernisation of its food and entertainment elements, it’s here that we were treated to a four-course meal, made up of starters, soup from the campfire and a braai buffet featuring Zimbabwean delicacies such as mopane worms, warthog steak and Zambezi bream.
The vibrant dinner venue can be found at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which also plays host to a “dining” experience of a different kind. As part of a conservation project, the lodge offers a vulture culture experience that is open to the public, enabling visitors to witness a frenzied feeding where vultures are fed meat scraps and bones as an artificial, but safe food source for these endangered birds.
It serves as yet another reminder that so often, Africa offers up the unexpected. And as one of the safari guides quite aptly summed up during our travels: ‘Relax, enjoy, explore. After all, we’re on African time.’
The Contact Box:
Africa Albida Tourism: Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, offering the Boma dinner and drum show, and vulture culture experience. Contacts: +263 13 43211-20, www.africaalbidatourism.com, www.victoria-falls-safari-lodge.com
Ngoma Safari Lodge: Contacts: +263 4 885 200, +263 13 43211-20, www.africaalbidatourism.com/safari-lodges/ngoma-safari-lodge/
Safari par excellence: Service provider for white water rafting, and owners of the Victoria Falls Waterfront. Contacts: +260 213 320606 – 08 (landline) or +260 968 320606 (cell), www.safparrafting.com, www.thevictoriafallswaterfront.com
Zambezi explorer cruise company: Contacts: +263 134 2475, www.zambeziexplorer.com
Victoria Falls Tourlink: Specialising in airport, inter-hotel and cross-border transfers, private transfers, coach and minibus hire, Chobe full day safari trips, Hwange full day safari trips, and personalised pre-booked tours, and organised tours throughout Zimbabwe. Contact: www.victoriafallstourlink.com
By Craig Lewis (email@example.com)
About Craig: I’ve had a passion for sport, travel, adventure and writing for as long as I can remember. Having attained my journalism degree from the University of Technology, I have been fortunate to work as a journalist for the better part of the last decade. While much of my initial work experience entailed working as a news writer, I quickly moved into the field of sports writing. This has fortunately involved a fair amount of travel around South Africa and overseas. I have also remained an avid traveller (having visited 25 countries worldwide), and continued to conduct work as a freelance travel writer. I have gained experience writing on various topics, for various publications and platforms, while also acquiring marketing and social media experience. I’ve worked in various teams and also gained experience as a manger of junior writers. I am a people’s person, quick learner and have a passion to continually broaden my horizons through new experiences and travel.