Written by Jessica White
If rivers are the earth’s renegades, then the Zambezi River is leading the revolution, defying gravity and singing the earth’s song.
The rapids race uninhibited through the gorge, and the first glimpse of this natural roller coaster will awaken your inner adventurer. The atmosphere above the river is thick with the promise of exhilaration, and with every churn of water, the Zambezi dares you to come a little closer.
The moment your raft slides off the coarse rock and onto the glistening surface, you are addicted. They say the first river you raft runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in you, the memories swirling like eddies in the pit of your stomach each time you remember it.
Different seasons cloak the Zambezi in different rapids, but you always leave with your arms aching to paddle through the white water once more.
Between August and December, the water levels drop and the thrill levels soar. The river plunges between the lips of the gorge, cascading dramatically around very boulder and corner. It toys with the rafts with such precision, that every flip seems pre-meditated.
Expeditions begin at rapid number one, the “Boiling Pot”, at the factory of white water rapids – the base of the Victoria Falls. The roar of the river diving down 100 metres of black basalt rock creates an ambience of adventure, and the mist that curls around the rock face floats onto rafters creating an image that feels ethereal.
If you are after a trip that will get your heart pumping and jaw dropping then this is the right time to tackle the river.
During the high water seasons (January, February, March, May, June, July), gallons of water crash down the Victoria Falls, streaming into the thirsty gorge, and flooding the rocks and outcrops that form the rapids. When you dip your fingertips in to rippling water, you touch the last of what has gone before, and the first of what is still to come.
At these times of the year, the river is more subdued, relaxing after a thunderous low water season. However, the sheer volume of water makes the first ten rapids unrunnable, and thus rafters will only tackle rapid 11 (“The Overlander Eater”) through to number 23 (“The Morning Shave”).
As the water levels continue to creep higher and higher around March, rafters respectfully leave the Zambezi to her own devices, until they drop again around June.
The Zambezi was designed by the dare devil in Mother Nature, and there is no theme park in the world that could ever compete. Contrary to popular belief, the river is not one long, frothing rapid.
The “Devils Toilet Bowl”, “The Stairway to Heaven” and “Mothers Revenge” (just to name a few) spring before you in short, dramatic bursts. The stretch of water between them is gentle and smooth – the calm before the storm. They are just long enough to allow you to drink in the incredible scenery and let the sun soak up the water on your skin.
The slosh of water against the rafts is accompanied by exhilarated shouts and laughs that bounce off the walls of the gorge, as euphoric rafters share their stories and psych up for the next rapid.
Cruising down this channel of water feels like cruising through a postcard. The most experienced photo editor in the world couldn’t enhance the beauty of the looming gorge stretching skywards to talk to the clouds.
Paddling through an exquisite crevice in the earth, flanked by indigenous flora and passing by inquisitive fauna, is humbling and breathtaking in the same moment.