Victoria Falls and the Zambezi river

The poncho and the rapids

You know that Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and somewhere that appears on many lists of things to do before you die, but to stand on the ridge opposite the falls is to feel the power and awe that no words can adequately describe, but I’ll give it a try.

Mist from Victoria Falls from the airThe falls mark the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and the water flows from the Zambezi in Zambia, so we observed the falls from the rim of the gorge on the Zimbabwe side. Entrance to the falls is currently $30pp for UK citizens and with your ticket comes a handy map showing the various vantage points along the route. It’s commonly known that beside the falls you will get wet, so depending on your desire to get wet, you can either bring a raincoat or poncho (some are available to hire at the falls) or go with full waterproofs if you desire. It was a gloriously warm day, so we went with just the poncho (big mistake).

At the point where the water from the Zambezi cascades over the edge, the falls are 1.7km wide and 1 million litres of water plunge 108m down into the Batoka Gorge below. Such is the force with which this deluge hits the bottom of the gorge, some of the water rockets back up into the sky higher than from whence it came. The effect is huge clouds of mist that can be seen from miles around, looking from a distance, a bit like white smoke from a forest fire. All this is set to a low rumble or roar, like a deep rumbling of thunder that you can feel in the pit of your stomach, awesome. As well as the white foaming of the water there are some natural colours to enjoy, largely shades of brown from the rocks behind the falls and the sediment from the river. Victoria FallsAt the early view points along the ridge the mist from the cascade is fine, so you can take the odd photo of the Zambezi and the edge of the falls, but after that, if your camera or phone isn’t waterproof, put it away in a plastic bag or waterproof container. The further along the ridge you go, the thicker the mist can become and all that water that has bounced back into the sky above your head, falls back down like heavy rain. Fear not though, it’s not like at home, the water is warm(ish). From time to time the falls were completely obscured by the mist, but as the breeze shifts  the full majesty of it all was revealed. Be quick though, as the breeze shifts again, so the spectacle is lost. So intent was I to get the shot, that I didn’t notice my poncho was being blown upwards until it was over my head, soaked to the skin in seconds but all part of the fun.

Victoria Falls BridgeAt the far end of the walk is the Victoria Falls Bridge, a parabolic arch structure, which opened in 1905 and soars 128m over the gorge. From this point there is a quick path back to the exit and there we grabbed a coffee and absorbed all that we had just seen and experienced. We’re so used to being charged rip off prices at tourist attractions that the beautifully presented cappuccino, glass of iced water and a shot of Baileys (local equivalent) at $3 was a welcome surprise. Another large tick on the bucket list and canoeing on the Zambezi to look forward to.

A 7am pick up saw us heading to the Zambezi National Park and the journey included a short game drive where we managed to see impala, waterbucks, warthogs and a beautifully coloured bee-eater. Breakfast was served by the river, followed by our safety briefing. Now I know these briefings are vital and necessary but it’s at this point that I started to get concerned. Silver Travellers in syncYes I know that we may encounter crocodiles or hippopotamuses and have to steer away from them but I never thought about hippos surfacing underneath our canoe and biting it in annoyance. No time to ponder though as it was time to launch into the river. Our entry point was about 25km up river from the falls, from where we paddled around 18km downstream (with the flow, our arms were very grateful) giving us 7km safety margin to get to shore before we plunged over the falls.

There is a beauty and tranquility about paddling down river amidst such beautiful scenery. The wildlife wasn’t prolific but we did manage to see a python in a bush, hornbills, a croc and the back of a hippo. Bush barbecueExcitement was added, however, by the numerous grade one/two rapids we encountered along the way. It took a while to master synchronising our paddles (just Linda and I in the canoe) and lining up our canoe for the rapids but we managed it eventually. We were very grateful for that little snippet at the safety briefing about the canoe having independent inflatable compartments, as we smashed sideways into a large rock at the first rapids. An unforgettable experience and a huge amount of fun, all finished off with a BBQ lunch beside the river before heading back.

A very special couple of days in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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