always much more to a tempest than its terrible thunderclaps. While all eyes
and ears are trained on nature's feistiest displays, a host of overlooked
things work at gentler rhythms right alongside. It is no different with the Zambezi, the fourth-largest river
system in Africa after the Nile, the Zaire and the Niger.
Zambezi River's full 3,540km length – running south and then east from northern
Zambia all the way to the Indian Ocean via Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe
and Mozambique – most travellers only experience its greatest wonder, Victoria Falls. Also known
as Mosi-oa-Tunya, the “Smoke that Thunders”, the world's largest falls channels
the Zambezi's impressive water volume into a 250km-long zigzag spectacle of
rock-eating cataracts and steep-walled gorges perfect for the extreme
adrenaline rushes of white-water rafting, kayaking, river boarding and more.
Some people call the area, including the nearby twin towns of Livingstone
(Zambia) and Vic Falls (Zimbabwe), the adventure capital of Africa.
all this high-octane hoopla, however, the
upper reaches of the river are just as enrapturing, albeit often in a more
languid way. Unbeknown to most, you do not have to travel far from Victoria
Falls for a complete change of pace. Just a few kilometres upstream are serene
riverside lodges that allow for the easy ogling of birds and big game,
including hippos, crocodiles, giraffes and elephants; while the calmer waters
bring the more gentle pursuits of canoeing, drift rafting and river boating.
safari is an excellent way to explore the upper Zambezi. Glide along in a solo inflatable
canoe; or, if you are more inspired by a group experience, take a seat in a large
raft. With a paddle in one hand, camera in the other, your senses are bristlingly
alert – undisturbed by the drone of a boat motor – to more than 350 bird
species and the bush enlivened by munching, grunting and shuffling wildlife.
When you make welcome landfall on the beaches of, say, Katombora Island, one of
many on the upper Zambezi, you find sand so pure it squeaks beneath your feet.
As dinner cooks, watch the local villagers drifting past in their makoros
(dugout canoes), the waters
teeming with tiger fish. After a colour-wheel sunset, a canopy of stars
decorates the skies.
water level is low, trust your guide to navigate the shallow channels and avoid
the grumpy hippos. At high water times (February to May), even small rapids,
while no challenge to negotiate, may set your heart aflutter. A two-day trip,
with half- and one-day options possible, can be organised though Bundu Adventures, located at Maramba River Lodge in
stately triple-decker catamarans ply the Zambezi’s waters, leaving from and
returning to the landing of The Royal Livingstone hotel, just
south of Livingstone town. Although built in the 21st Century, the African Queen and African Princess look
like river boats from the early 20th Century, finished in teak and beech wood with
ships, seating for 80 to 120 passengers (depending on the boat) hardly detracts
from the two-hour float along the river edge of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, a
perfect vantage point for spying wildlife. The
animals are most active at sunrise and sunset – and the sunsets are
unforgettable – but the cruise experience is lovely at any time of day.
evenings, the luxury liners share the river's currents with “booze cruises”. This
combination of sunset-viewing plus wildlife- and bird-spotting with an on-board
barbecue and open bar have made river-borne evening entertainment options very
popular on the Zambezi; try Taonga Safaris, whose launch site is at the River
Shack, next to the Livingstone Boat Club.
spending the night in Livingstone or Vic Falls, head out of town to a room on
the quiet waterside fringe of the Zambezi. Mama
Out of Africa and Kayube Zambezi River House are two self-catering
and eco-friendly properties located on a 90-hectare private estate about 20km west
of Livingstone that looks straight across to Zimbabwe's Zambezi National Park, a treat to
both bird- and wildlife-watchers.
Out of Africa, parked right on the banks of the
river under a large thatch roof, is an old bus converted into lodge for up to
four people. Driven here from Germany many years ago and dubbed the “Okavango
Mama” along the way, the bus has had many lives, including one as a mobile
dressing room during the filming of Out of Africa. You could be relaxing where
Meryl Streep or Robert Redford once sat. Surrounded by lawns and towering
old-growth trees, the two-room Kayube Zambezi River House is a private luxury
accommodation, complete with housekeeping staff.
local tours and activities can be booked from both lodges through in-house tour
operator victoriafallszambia.travel, including
private river safaris, guided visits to traditional villages, bike or horseback
rides and, when accessible due to changing water levels on the river, picnics
on the adjacent Chundu Island.