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White Water rafting on the Mighty Zambezi River – Are You Game?

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While in Victoria Falls, I decided to sign up for a day white water rafting down the famous Zambezi river. I had seen a few reports about this river, and it had a reputation to live up to. I had white water rafted in other areas while travelling but this river was meant to put the others to shame. I signed up for it along with a group of others I had recently been on safari with and we were all pretty excited to be able to claim we had a swim in the river under Victoria Falls and completed what is described as the wildest white water rafting experience in the world.

I booked with Shearwater Victoria Falls tour company and that morning they picked us up from our accommodation and transferred us to their office for the safety briefing and information meeting. It was a chance to ask any questions about the day or the river in general. From there we returned to the buses and headed down towards the starting point, right underneath the famous Victoria Falls.

Would you take on the wildest white water rafting destination in the world

In fairness, you can only see one section of the falls because of a corner in the river, but you know that it’s there. We get organised into our rafting groups which luckily enabled us that had been on safari together, the chance to share a raft. We then were fitted with safety equipment and directed to the walk down to where our rafts were waiting. It was a longish walk and at times involved some steep stairs and bit of rock hopping. This is easy enough if you take your time though and once at the bottom it’s time to meet your rafting guide.

First things first, we paddle upstream a little bit and into some calm water away from the fast current. We were taught our signals for the day and what to do when each one was called out. We practised these until the guide was happy that we had some sort of rough idea of what we were doing. We then all jumped overboard and got climatised with the water, which was pretty refreshing but very nice. We then practised how to get back in the raft and how to help others get in if you were already on board the raft.

Knowing I was white water rafting under this huge waterfall had me nervous
Knowing I was white water rafting under this huge waterfall had me nervous.

After this, we were ready to begin our white water rafting journey and hit our first rapid, albeit a pretty small and gentle one to start with or so we thought. All the practice we had just done seemed to go out the window and in no time at all, we were going down backwards. Not a great start to our first rapid as a team. It did get worse, once through the rapid, we notice one of our members had dislocated his shoulder and lost his paddle in the process. He had a history of bad shoulders and after calming himself down was able to get it back in the right position. After a long consultation with numerous guides, he convinced them that he wanted to continue but not paddle any more. We were a member down on the first rapid, certainly not a great start at all.

From there we slowly but surely improved as a team and after some trial and error with people in different positions, we had all found our ideal spot according to the guide. He must have known what he was talking about because we were now going down each set of rapids with a lot of fun and success.

There were times we didn’t take the best line but still managed to get through and not tip the raft or lose any members overboard. That was until about half way down when we finally lost a crew member. We had just finished going down a rapid and were all celebrating another successful passage through when we hit an unexpected rock. One member tried to stay on but ultimately lost his balance and fell in. The funniest thing about this was the fact that it was none of us from the safari and in fact a trainee guide who ended up in the water. He had joined our raft after our other member injured himself on the first rapid. We all got great satisfaction from the fact that he had ended up in the water before any of us and continued to remind him of this for the rest of the trip down. As did the experienced guide, trust me.

The rest of the day was a mixture of taking in the sights, remembering exactly where you are and what river you’re doing this on and negotiating rapid after rapid. The scenery in the middle of two giant rock faces was so beautiful and worth doing the trip just for that.

We were coming to the last rapid and were all getting pretty confident by now as the only member of our team that had ended up in the water was still the trainee. Let’s just say, maybe we shouldn’t have acted so cocky.

That rapid was the big one and packed a serious punch. We already know the chances of survival weren’t great when he moved our injured passenger to even safer territory but, on his command, we bravely paddled front first down this rapid. We went over the first bit of the rapid and this is where it all went horribly wrong. As we hit the second section of the rapid and our nose sunk into the water causing the raft to almost fold in half. Everything from there went super quick and before I knew it, I was underwater getting thrown around like a piece of clothing in a washing machine.

Once I finally got to the surface of the water, which felt like a lifetime but in fact was probably only a few seconds I looked back to find our once unsinkable raft upside down. The water was super strong, and it carried you along with lots of speed. Members of our crew were everywhere. It was carnage, as each raft come down the final rapid history kept repeating itself and almost every member that was rafting that day was now floating down the Zambezi river.

The guides quickly made sure all members of their crew were accounted for and we got back in for the last few hundred meters of the river before we pulled over and this marked the end of our day on the water. While paddling down the guide did let slip, he “accidentally” misjudged the last rapid.

We climbed out of our raft at the end and walked our way up the steep rock ledge cliff to the top where an amazing barbeque was prepared for us along with sides of salads and vegetables. It was just the right way to end our day as we had certainly worked up one good appetite.

From there we bussed back to our accommodation and said goodbye to our guides and other members of the tour. That evening at our accommodation they presented a well put together a video of our day white water rafting, that included plenty of funny pictures, especially from the last rapid of the day.

It was a great day out with Shearwater Victoria Falls and I couldn’t recommend these guys highly enough if you were interested in doing something similar while you’re in Victoria Falls. Like with all things in Africa it was only fair that after such a great day we showed our appreciation by tipping our guides from the raft. This is something that when in Africa you will find happens everywhere. All in all, one of the highlights of my trip and time in Africa.

Check out the rafting tour I done and judge for yourself whether you are up for the fight of white water rafting on the mighty Zambezi River.

If you’re heading to Victoria Falls then be sure to read some of my “Best Tips” before arriving to ensure you have the best time possible. If you want to find some more inspiration to travel to Africa for yourself then be sure to read through my complete section of “African Blogs” on offer.

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White Water rafting on the Mighty Zambezi River – Are You Game

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Happy Travels, Brodie

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