Zambezi River - The Reluctant Adventurer’s Guide26 September 2019
Before plummeting in a single vertical drop—the whole volume of the river pouring into the Victoria Falls gorges from a narrow cleft—the Zambezi flows broad and shallow over a level sheet of basalt. Here, upstream, at a safe distance from the falls, we are on a flat plateau extending hundreds of kilometres in all directions. All that water, our shuttle boat but a floating speck on its surface, headed towards a chasm where it will explode in an avalanche of spray and rainbows.
Wait, what?! As we size up our suitcases for buoyancy, the vessel changes course and we dock at The Royal Livingstone Hotel by Anantara leaving the Victoria Falls meet-and-greet experience for later.
At 108 metres (354 ft), it falls short of being the tallest waterfall in the world (this honour belongs to Angel Falls in Venezuela). Yet thanks to humankind’s desire to measure, classify and catalogue everything, Victoria Falls still occupies a top position on the waterfall totem pole - by virtue of being officially the largest.
Another human obsession seemingly unknown to the more evolved animals is our love of chasing adrenaline-pumping thrills. You know the kind - bungee jumping 111 meters off the Victoria Falls Bridge, fraternising with crocodiles or clinging on to the lip of Devil’s Pool on the very edge of the waterfall as the raging waters of the Zambezi crash over the cliffs a few feet away.
While the daredevils have claimed the upper reaches, below the falls the Zambezi offers an adventure of a different nature. Anantara offers guided wildlife river safaris which promise excellent game and bird viewing. Specially designed safari boats are able to traverse the rapids safely and comfortably and can even cruise in water as shallow as 200 mm. The experience takes place at sunset, so all those photogenic hippos, crocodiles and bush elephants in your snaps will be bathed in the golden hour glow.
So far, so tame. But that’s before we got chatting to local river guides and let ourselves be talked into giving white water rafting at the Batoka Gorge a go. The scenery is magnificent. The river flows swiftly through the gorge, the current being continually interrupted by reefs. It has been described as one of the world's most spectacular whitewater trips for a reason.
Dr. Livingstone, I presume?
Now, if a severe case of FOMO leaves you crippled with anxiety and suspicion that people might be having more fun upstream, consider a canoe safari. You’ll be following the route of explorer David Livingstone in search of the rising mist of the Victoria Falls by paddling and canoeing down the river. On the opposing banks of the river, two life-size statues of the man (on the Zimbabwean side -weariy leaning on his walking stick, on Zambian - anxiously clutching a travel journal) gaze upon the falls, keeping you company from afar.
On the border of the great central plateau of Africa, the rushing water of Zambezi dotted with jungle-shrouded islands as far as the eye can see, we lay prostrate on a massage table at Anantara Spa. No piped spa music here. Instead, chirping birdsong and the calls of wildlife provide an uplifting soundtrack. As the therapist uses warm towels in kneading and compression movements, we feel tension drain. Off it goes, with the current.