The Raft of the Zambesa

When Livingstone first viewed the Victoria Falls in November 1855, he commented ‘’scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’’. He may have also thought to himself ‘’my God I have never seen such turbulent rapids – they are completely impassable’’. He would never have guessed that 130 years later a man named Paul Connolly (with wife Marie, the Shearwater founders) would start promoting commercial trips down the lower river and over these very same rapids in inflatable rubber boats – and that more amazingly people would eagerly pay for the privilege. Of course what we know of Livingstone – he would have been one of the first to do it, and in the scheme of his level of derring do, it would have all been matter of fact.


Nothing in the way of things to do in Victoria Falls quite compares with white water rafting, none of the exceptional activities in Victoria Falls is nearly as fundamentally elemental. There are legions of veterans who have taken part in this incredible adventure years ago, who would still rate it as the most exciting activity in which they have ever participated.

At low level times, the day starts early with a muster at the Shearwater town office, and then a short open truck ride out to the top of the gorge by the Rainforest. Having gathered paddles, life vests and helmets, new recruits listen in on a safety talk by guides: Titanic, Kamikaze etc – you know this is going to be a little hair raising to say the least. Then begins the steep, steep descent down into the depths of pre history of the beautiful Batoka gorge. Having reached the bottom of the gorge, you instinctively look up and let out an involuntary ‘’wow’’ – the sheer sides of the gorge bathing in morning sunlight, and then the complete madness of the iconic Victoria Falls bridge spanning an impossibly vertiginous ravine so high above you – notwithstanding the insanity of bungee jumpers flying off the bridge and hurtling towards you (another of the not – for – cissies things to do in Victoria Falls, yet another of the red blooded activities in Victoria Falls).

Cambering over massive basalt boulders dislodged way before Livingstone ever visited, you embark your raft. It begins to be utterly surreal – here you are at the bottom of the worlds most exotic waterfall. You paddle out and peer around the corner of the Falls themselves – there they are from the bottom up – a reverse perspective you just were not counting on when you decided this might be one of the things to do in Victoria Falls you would participate in – the view and feeling is spellbinding. You haven’t even started your chosen activity yet!

Then it starts, you are paddling your way to your first rapid, heart pumping, nerves jangling and brow perspiring. It looks so big, it seems so angry, my god there’s like a steep drop (the crease) – a quick gulp as you are involuntarily pulled into the watery Wurlitzer. The boat buckles and bumps, water flies up and in, the raft tilts one way and then the other every one squeals and yelps. That was incredible. You then learn you have just traversed a grade 3.5 rapid, and today is mostly about grade 5’s.

You spend the next 4 hours either gliding serenely along this majestic mind blowing river feeling you are really connecting with raw mysterious Africa, or in pitched battle with each of the eponymously named rapids: highway to hell, the mother, overland truck eater. It is imperious as a combination of adventure and exploration. The exertion required to climb out of the gorge at trip end, only serves to remphasise the scale of achievement.

You could write a separate account of each of the 20 odd rapids describing each one as worthwhile in terms of things to do in Victoria Falls, each one in its own right as one of the most awesome activities in Victoria Falls. There is not a soul who will have completed the White-water Rafting who won’t rate it amongst the most exciting experiences of their lives

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