The Zambezi River

The Zambezi River courses some 2,200 miles from northwestern Zambia to the Indian Ocean. Along the way, it is dammed at Kariba to form Lake Kariba (one of the world's largest manmade lakes), it falls 350 feet straight down over Victoria Falls, it travels for 45 miles through a 400 foot deep gorge after the falls, and it finally settles and becomes a wide, peaceful river that separates Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia from Mana Pools National Park across the river in Zimbabwe.

My first view of the Zambezi came at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, "the smoke that thunders." During my time in Victoria Falls, I visited the falls several times and took a helicopter flight over the falls. Those photos are on the Victoria Falls page.

Victoria Falls offers a number of other distractions as well (aside from the bars). One can – and I did – bungee jump off the 110 meter high bridge that joins Zimbabwe to Zambia. It was my first bungee jump and it was – to put it mildly – pretty exciting, at least as much as I remember of it. It was over very quickly.

In the town of Victoria Falls, there are also a number of companies offering whitewater rafting trips on the river. I spent several hours coursing through the rapids. When the participants assembled in the morning, the group was divided into "riders" and "paddlers" – in other words, those that just wanted to hang on and ride it out and those who wanted to take destiny (plus a paddle) into their own hands. I chose to be a paddler. The paddlers are also known as "swimmers," as we soon found out. The trip was a lot of fun, even the several dunkings in the very cold waters, and I highly recommend it.

Further down the river, on a more peaceful stretch, I spent three days on a canoe safari. This trip was an absolute joy and I highly recommend it. Except for a few hours one day when there was a stiff breeze against us, the paddling was quite easy. Indeed, as the schedule is set up, one could just float along on the 5 kph current and still make the evening camps on time. We did, however, do quite a bit of paddling back and forth across the wide river and into various side channels. Seeing the wildlife from the perspective of the river is always a rewarding experience (as is getting out of the vehicles and off the horrendous roads for a while). On the canoe safari, we traversed an area of the river roughly between Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambia side and Mana Pools National Park on the Zimbabwe side (the latter is on my list for a return visit). Along the way, we saw hundreds of hippos, scores of crocodiles, a great many elephants and all sorts of birds.

During the three nights of the canoe safari we stayed on the Zambia side in three different camps. The first, Kayila Lodge, was one the most wonderful places I stayed in Africa. Set right on the river, it had a large dining pavilion, beautiful and comfortable sleeping chalets and a large baobab tree that had a bathroom complete with running water installed in its hollow interior (word had it that during the civil war in Zimbabwe, the hollow tree was used to store arms until they could be transported across the river). The next night we stayed at Chongwe Camp, which was far more rustic but certainly livable for one night. Chongwe had an elephant that was a frequent visitor and while we were there he came to make the rounds of the various bushes and trees, taking a few bites from each. The final camp was Mwambashi River Lodge, which was very nice but, unfortunately, I don't seem to have taken any photographs there.

Related page: Victoria Falls.