My wife Hélène and I made this White Water Rafting trip during our holiday in Zimbabwe. We had done two other Rafting trips before, one in Nepal and the other one Sri Lanka. Those two trips were made at high water which means in those places a lot of water, but because the rocks are not so high not much of white water, but we still had a lot of excitement. So we were looking forward to the famous white water rafting on the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe. We arrived in Vic Falls on New Years eve by four wheel drive from Sinematella camp, after returning from Hwange National Park.
Well Vic Falls is certainly a spot to celebrate New Years eve, we had a great night. But the other day, was RAFTING DAY, so an early rise the next morning.The rafting trip on this river starts just after the Victoria Falls, the worlds largest and most magnificent falls. We did the full day rafting trip with SafPar and we had a great day and SafPar organised the trip perfectly.
At the start of the rafting trip we had to gather together with the SafPar crew which was organising the trip. Here we got a brief introduction and the choice of going for the ‘active’ or the ‘passive’ trip. The active trip meant you had row for yourself and with the passive trip the guide was doing all the rowing and the passengers only had to brace themselves.
The safety instructions were a story by itself.
Surviving the rapids turned out to be surprisingly easy !!
After you get thrown overboard (believe me, it happens before you know it),
you become a SHORT Swimmer.
The objective of a short swimmer is to get back in the raft as soon as possible.
If you don’t succeed, you automatically become a LONG swimmer.
And the objective of a long swimmer is to become a short swimmer as fast as possible.
It’s as easy as that.
After this detailed instruction we climbed down the gorge to the starting point of the trip. Armed with life vest, paddle and helmet first we had to climb down to the valley. It turned out to be a hazardous descent because the slope was very steep and slippery.
At last everybody managed to get down to the Zambezi river, one way or the other, so we finally could start the rafting trip.
A good rafting river feels like you’ve climbed into a washing machine on rinse cycle. But when we got down the gorge to the rocky shore of the river the Zambezi looked like someone tipped New York Harbour down the drain.After a few moments of contemplation at the starting point we had to listen to a short informative talk and the guide arranged who was going in which boat. Then it is into the boat for some command training. The man from SafPar will man the oars, he says, but he needs our active cooperation if we are to get through waves this huge. When we enter a rapid, we are to wait for his command, and when he gives it, we are to hurl our full weight against whatever part of the boat is about to hit the big wave__”highsiding,” it’s called__and, if we are lucky, we’ll punch the boat through. This rafting trip covers a distance of 28 kilometres, consisting of about 20 rapids.
One of the rapids is of level 6 en is called “Commercial Suicide”. A name as we experienced later that was well chosen, so we skipped this rapid and we had to porter our boat around it. All the rest of the rapids were of level 5, the highest for commercial purposes and very rough, except for two or three which were of level 4. The great moment had come; we started with the “Stairway to heaven”, I think a better name would be “free fall to hell”. It was impressive to see or hear it, to be more precise. I could not actually see the rapid until we are pointing nose down into it about 20 degrees off vertical, bracing for the “NOW” command that will send us hurtling into the massive white wave. Suddenly I’m glad I’m not the one rowing; suddenly I understand why he needs the weight of six people to punch through the wave.
“NOWWW!” The guy says and we all hit that wave screaming. There is a surge of whiteness, a drenching, a momentary stoppage of time in which the thunder in our ears becomes the thunder in our ears, and we rise out of the wave and back to the surface as if from an incredible depth. We were riding high on the wave-back at breathless speed, our ramshackle craft creaking and groaning as she quivered under us. The excitement made one’s blood boil. We ride a few smaller standing waves and lose ourselves in cheers and hollers. The SafPAr guy tight features loosen, and he passes the bail buckets around.
After this one we got rapids called like “the Devil’s Bowl”, “Midnight Diner”, “Overland Truck Eater”, “The Mother”, “The Washing Machine'”. On a pool-and-drop river, the guide has to do only two things right: position himself right in the middle of the V-slick (the green, V-shaped pour-off at the top of a rapid) and hit the wave with his boat perpendicular to it (pointing forward or backward); perfectly straight on.
At rapid nr.18 (Oblivon) the guide stopped the raft in an eddy before it to brief us. “There are three successive waves, each more ferocious than the next and their are three whirpools we will encounter en some minor waves. The third wave is the one that is likely to be our undoing – we all have to throw our weight forward to punch through it.”
“If we get it wrong, we’ll all be swimming, few rafts get through here intact so we wouldn’t run it if it was dangerous. Just hold your breath as you go down, make yourself as small as possible, don’t try to swim to the surface, stay calm, the current in the whirlpoool will take you up after a few seconds”
Well that was encouraging !
We went on and as we plummeted towards the most monumental wave I had ever seen this seemed a joke in the worst of taste. It wasn’t. Our raft rose to teeter on the crest of the wave from where we could see down into a deep, steep watery valley rising to an even more unlikely wave ahead.
From the top of that one we had a momentary vision of a churning, seething world of white water. Then we were in it. At first I thought we had got it right. Then the standing wave simply sucked the raft down. It felt as if I stayed with the ship to a depth of two fathoms – until Hélène was swept from her perch and the wave clean bowled me out the back of the raft.
The water forced me downwards under the raft (and very unsure which way was up) before my life jacket won out and lifted me to the surface. There was barely time for a quick breath before I went down again in a shallower dive The third dunking only lasted a few seconds. When I finally bobbed to the surface, laughing and spluttering, a raft was standing by to heave me in. Like vultures, the first rafts had stopped to watch the show and pick up the flotsam. Only 2 (and the guide) had stayed in our raft.
Hélène was already aboard and she hauled me in. And on we went. Around noon we took a break for lunch and SafPar serves some excellent sandwiches. In the afternoon we did the remaining rapid. On the the last rapids where we tipped over for the third time. Well, the water temperature was not to bad and as long the alligators stayed out of the water it was OK. We even managed to promote from long swimmer to short swimmer !!
At the end of the rafting trip around 16:00 o’clock a nice surprise was waiting for everybody.
What goes up, must come down.
Well, vice versa was also valid.
What goes down, must go up.
So we had to climb 700 ft (220m) out of the valley, after a very tiring rafting trip. The guides arrived a bit later because they also had to carry the boats to the top. At the top SafPar were waiting for us, we could recover of this exciting day and have some drinks. A big truck transported a jolly crew back to Vic Falls.
We had a GREAT DAY
DO IT !!
PS: Relax a few days in Victoria Falls and take up some of the other activities available:
Horse-riding, bungee jumping from the bridge crossing the Zambezi or ultra-light flying.
Rafting photo (Sascha Grabow www.saschagrabow.com Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Map Zambezi River: Wikipedia: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.