What Is On Your Bucket List?
Way before the movie “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out, I had already created a bucket list of river trips that I wanted to do. Heading that list was the Zambezi River, especially the section below Victoria Falls that forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Initially whetting my appetite for the Zambezi were some videos I had watched, but more importantly, the stories that really motivated me were brought home by various guides who had worked there, and also worked at River Valley.
September 2004 Was My Chance
September 2004 and the plane that Nicola and I are on banks over this great chasm as it makes its final approach to Livingstone “International” Airport. The great chasm is of course, Victoria Falls, or as the locals call it, Mosi oa Tunya – The Smoke which Thunders.
Nicola and I would soon see this Natural Wonder of the world as I had been employed by International rafting company, Water By Nature, as a guide to row a gear raft on a 7 day trip. A true “Busman’s Holiday”. This was definitely one of those who you know, not what you know opportunities.
Coming from the cold end of a Taihape, New Zealand winter to the heat of Africa was a bit of a shock. A good shock! But this was Africa, and everything was different – culture, people, animals and African Time.
A Blur of Elephants, Giraffes and White Water
The next few days are a blur as we do a familiarisation trip on the river on the one day white water section through the Batoka Gorge, go to a nature reserve and see elephants, hippos, giraffes, rhinos and other animals, and help get the trip packed.
Finally the day arrives, and it is no secret I am a little nervous. What I am used to rafting is the very steep low volume Rangitikei River, not this monster with hardly any rocks, just big waves and powerful hydraulics. Everybody tells me it is easier than what I am used to, that it is all in the set up at the top of each rapid, that I just need to hit things straight. It is the latter that I don’t always manage.
The Boiling Pot
The aptly named “Boiling Pot” is the start point of the trip. The water in the “Pot” surges as we load rafts and gear and go through safety instructions. Today I don’t have to carry any gear and can row an empty raft. The gear will meet us at the first nights camp.
At this stage though, I am unconcerned about the first nights camp, just getting to the other side of Rapid Number 1- “Against The Wall” has all my full attention. I do make it, and with the rest of the crew we carry one raft up the bank and paddle across the pool to have lunch at the base of Victoria Falls.
How many people can say they have had a picnic lunch at the base of Victoria Falls? Not many I would think, truly spectacular.
Looking back now, that days rapids, and to be honest also those of the succeeding days, have blurred together in my mind, rapids such as “Morning Glory”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Midnight Diner” and “Oblivion”. However there are one or two exceptions.
The fist of those exceptions is Rapid Number 7, “Gulliver’s Travels”. This is a long complex rapid with sections called; “The Temple of Doom”, “The Patella Gap” and finally, “The Land of the Giants”, a section of enormous broken waves. To say I was excited to reach the bottom right side up is an understatement.
Camp that first night, and on succeeding nights would be on big sandy beaches. Time to enjoy company, good food and the warm evenings. At this stage of the trip there was no concern about crocodiles, so we could also enjoy the water.
The Second Exception
The second day on the river, and I now have a full loaded gear raft. I’m feeling good. I had good runs on the first day, and while not over confident, I feel that I am up to it. Then along comes Rapid Number 10, “Overland Truck Eater”, or as it is also called, “Creamy White Buttocks”.
And it would be my creamy white buttocks that are on display, as at the bottom of the rapid, I relax my concentration and allow a rogue wave to flip the raft upside down. I forgot the rule of ALWAYS hit everything straight. For the next five days there would be no other flips by any rafts. Very humbling!
The Third Exception
The third exception would be well downstream, a rapid called “Ghost Rider”. A rapid with a huge wave train, bigger waves than I had ever seen before on a river. Rowing that gear raft and trying to gain as much momentum as I could before hitting the waves will always stick in my mind.
That of course and the euphoria of making the bottom upright.
Not All About Rafting
The Zambezi is not all about the rapids though. It is also about the wildlife who inhabit this black basaltic rock lined gorge. We saw fishing eagles, baboons, hippos and crocodiles in the lower sections, and one morning not far from camp, came across big cat prints.
This is no theme park.
Does Your Bucket List Ever Get Shorter?
Since our trip to the Zambezi, we have been lucky to raft a number of other great rivers round the world. Yes, they were on the Bucket List, but the trouble is the Bucket List never gets any shorter.
One thing that stands out to me is the quality of holiday or vacation that a river rafting trip can be. This is a holiday that is adventurous, can be cultural, always scenic, and sometimes has the benefit of wildlife viewing.
Is a River Rafting Trip on your Bucket List?
If a river rafting trip needs to be on your Bucket List, and bearing all the good points in mind, we thought it was about time that we started sharing these adventures with our friends and past customers. What we have done is pick out some of the rafting trips that we think are the best in the world, and partnered with an on the ground operator to bring them to you.
If you would like to experience some of the magic of ‘River Time’ on the Zambezi, in Nepal or other great destinations, then follow this link.
These will truly be holidays with a difference.
Be warned, your Bucket List will never get any shorter.
Below Rapid Number 1 with the Victoria Falls in the background.
Just who is watching whom? Giraffes on a wildlife tour.
Mosi oa Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders – Victoria Falls
Crocodile watch on the Zambezi River
Elephant watching with the truck positioned for a quick getaway
Camp scene on the Zambezi River
The red skies of an African Sunset, Zambezi River, Africa