Shenton Safaris

The six most memorable rapids on the Zambezi

Written by: Jessica White

Imagine the most thrilling rollercoaster you have ever been on – with its sharp turns, steep drops, unexpected twists and ability to temporarily rearrange your organs. Now, imagine that Mother Nature has redesigned it using the full extent of her resources. Add white water, swirling eddies and upside-down rafts to the picture, and that’s when you’ll come close to imagining the Batoka Gorge Rapids, which lie not far downstream from Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River.

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Just taking one trip between the walls of this cavernous gorge, down a river with a mind of its own, leaves rafters feeling euphoric and hungry for more. If you are having trouble deciphering whether you are being churned through “The Washing Machine” or tripping up “The Stairway to Heaven”, here’s all you need to know about the six rapids that are sure to still be running through your mind long after they have spat you out.

1. The Stairway to Heaven

As one of the biggest rapids in the world, the fifth rapid is fondly referred to as the Stairway to Hell by those who have been on her bad side. Beware not to be lulled into a false sense of serenity, as the drop into the frothing water is so steep that, only at the moment when your raft is balanced precariously on the edge, do you realise what a steep plummet you are in for. One minute you will be staring at a smooth horizon, the next your heart is in your throat and your paddle is frantically snatching at the water as you attempt to launch yourselves to the other side. Fortunately, at the base is a massive standing wave, named the Catcher Mitt, ready to hurl you out and on to the next one.

Grade 5 – Large and irregular waves, long and violent rapids with many obstructions in the forms of stoppers or rocks. May have big drops or steep gradients.

2. Gulliver’s Travels

True to its name, this rapid is bound to take you on the journey of a lifetime. Much like Gulliver’s Travels, this rapid is long and complex, and requires careful navigation of features such as Indicator Rock, which helpfully alerts you to turn right in order to avoid being flipped into the tsunami-sized waves known as Land of the Giants.

Grade 5 – Large and irregular waves, long and violent rapids with many obstructions in the forms of stoppers or rocks. May have big drops or steep gradients.

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3. Commercial Suicide

This is the only grade six rapid that you will encounter, and it is the unrunnable rapid. However, it is still an incredible spectacle, as it is impossible to tell which direction the enormous and furious waves are crashing from. Whether it was with rage or love, Mother Nature poured a lot of powerful emotion into the creation of this awe-inspiring rapid.

Grade 6 – Commercially unrunnable in a raft. We carry our rafts around these rapids.

4. The Washing Machine

An ominous black rock lurks in the middle of this rapid, causing the water to churn into a frenzy of agitated waves, which resemble the inside of a washing machine that’s gone into overdrive. This rapid will snatch you up, spin you around and squirt you out, cleaner than you have ever been.

Grade 5 – Large and irregular waves, long and violent rapids with many obstructions in the forms of stoppers or rocks. May have big drops or steep gradients.

5. The Terminator

This rapid is a genuine traffic-stopper. A solid wall of water builds up and crashes back on itself, bringing rafts to an abrupt halt before tossing them over, scattering paddles and rafters across the Zambezi.

Grade 4 – Many irregular sized waves and obstacles including rocks and strong eddies

6. Oblivion

This is the most photographic rapid on the river and it has caused more rafts to somersault than any other on the planet. This rapid comprises of three waves, and the star of the show stands at an impressive four to five metres. If you don’t capsize, then it is possible to surf the wave for up to 45 seconds. Rafters who do abruptly disembark are quickly flushed to safety.

Grade 5 – Large and irregular waves, long and violent rapids with many obstructions in the forms of stoppers or rocks. May have big drops or steep gradients.

These are only six of the rapids to be found on the Zambezi, and it’s up to you to come and discover the rest with Bushtracks Africa. All their raft guides are professionals who can navigate the river better than their own homes, making this experience not only the most fun you will ever have, but also extremely safe. Do yourself a favour and come white water rafting in Victoria Falls. Just one trip and you will be hooked. Warning: Rafting is highly addictive.

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Bushtracks Africa

Bushtracks Africa is perfectly positioned in the rapidly expanding tourist region of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. We have the depth and experience to design and execute our own core products as well as sell exclusive upmarket products as a DMC. We also have a leading, efficient FIT department for world class meet-&-greet transfers.

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