Zambezi River Water Levels November 2016

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So once again the brutal heat of November is upon us! As happens every year; we gasp in shock as the heat presses relentlessly down on us day after day from a painfully blue, cloudless sky. To those of us sweltering here, in Victoria Falls, it will probably not come as any surprise to hear that the Zambezi River water levels are at their lowest levels in 7 years. The river was last recorded at this level at this time of the year in 1997 and in 2000. As we gaze fruitlessly into the cloudless sky, it gives us time to ponder how this actually affects us here on the ground in Victoria Falls.

Sticking with tradition let’s start with the bad news first… it means the middle of the day is probably not a good time to be out and about sightseeing, or doing anything particularly strenuous. It means blowing a fair amount of one’s budget on sunscreen, a very large hat and as many bottles of the coldest water that you can buy. It also means a longer walk out of the gorge at the end of your raft trip!

However, let’s look at the good news that comes with these lower than usual water levels. With the river being 5 centimetres lower than the average over the past 7 years on the same day, it means that the rapids on the white water rafting trip are slightly bigger and the adrenaline rush just that much more intense! It also means that the sandbanks on the edge of the Zambezi are more prominent and therefore more likely to be host to crocodiles basking (or is that baking) in the sunshine. Over the past week, the river has been dropping an average of ½ a centimeter a day which is also an indicator that there is less surface water lying around in the bush adjacent to the river. This forces wildlife, often in large herds, to come down to the river to drink therefore affording guests on cruise boats and on game drives excellent game viewing opportunities. Large herds of animals moving through the dry bush on their way to the river and ‘dust devils’ stirred up by the hot wind cause an extra layer of dust in the atmosphere, thereby creating the most spectacular sunsets! Once the intense heat of the day has abated it is a perfect opportunity to slake your thirst with an ice cold drink and watch the African bush settle down for the night.

So while we wait in eager anticipation for the annual rains to reach us and change these almost unprecedented low water levels, let’s make the most of the opportunities afforded to us now and get out there while it lasts! Written by Libby White

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7 Wonders of Victoria Falls: #2 Raft the Mighty Zambezi!

The one-day low water trip is considered to be the best one-day white water experience available in the world.

This will be one of those days that you will remember for the rest of your life. The intensity of rafting varies due to the fluctuating levels of water plunging through the gorges. On the whole, lower water levels means higher thrill levels and more rapids. As the water level drops, so the river follows the contours of the river bed more closely and the white water starts to really boil and crash through the gorge. Low water is generally from about August through to late December. However Rafting these grade of rapids at any time of the year is a thrilling experience and definitely not to be missed. It can also be a physically taxing activity so ensure you are prepared by eating before hand and taking the long walk out at the end slowly; take as many breaks as you need.

Right now Wild Horizons is offering a fantastic Low Water special.

‘White Water Madness’
Insanely Low Price- A full day of White Water Rafting with Wild Horizons for US$120 p/p

*excludes US$10 p/p River usage fee. *Valid for 2015

Why Travel with us?

Wild Horizons offers one-day rafting trips and take their safety seriously:

  • Wild Horizons is the largest rafting operator in Victoria Falls, carrying the highest number of guests and to go with this they have an exemplary safety record.
  • Each trip runs with a guide per boat and a trip leader for the group of boats. Each Trip Leader has 18 years or more of experience rafting. 18 years! That’s an amazing amount of experience and all of the guides under him have at least 6 years of rafting experience, basically all this adds up to you being in the best of care with guides who know how to have fun and keep you safe!
  • Wild Horizons offers a hearty and healthy meal, as well as a great selection of cold drinks at the top of the gorge something you’ll appreciate after a day of rafting and the admittedly tough walk out at the end. Sit back enjoy the meal and enjoy the massive sense of accomplishment after the adrenaline high of rafting the mighty Zambezi.

Email info@wildhorizons.co.zw to book or visit the website to book.

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What to Bring:

  • Swimsuit and shorts but nothing that water will suck away
  • A way to secure glasses to yourself or they will be lost
  • T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt for sun protection
  • Sunscreen and lip balm (guides will have dry bag for this)
  • Sturdy shoes or sandals. Your shoes must be securely fitted to your feet (ie no flip-flops) or they will be lost!
  • A sense of Adventure and the desire for fun!

See our previous posts on the 7 Wonders of Victoria Falls #1 Seeing the Falls & #2 A Highwire Activity

Multi-Day Whitewater Rafting: A Surreal Adventure Experience!

The Zambezi River, which borders Zimbabwe and Zambia, is widely acclaimed as offering the world’s best white-water rafting run in the world. With a large number of its turbulent rapids which occur in the Batoka Gorge (below the Victoria Falls) achieving a high ‘Grade-5’ status or higher, adventure enthusiasts revere its reputation across the globe. Even the rapid names are enough to get the adrenalin pumping – from “Stairway to Heaven”(Rapid no.5), to “The Gnashing Jaws Of Death” (Rapid no.10), and “The Overland Truck Eater” (Rapid no.11).

A ‘Grade-5’, or ‘Class 5’ rapid, as outlined by the International Scale of River Difficulty, is the grade given to the most dangerous and difficult rapids that are commercially passable by raft or kayak. ‘Grade 6’ rapids are not commercially passable, and only the most experienced of rafters/kayakers attempt this scale of rapid at extremely high risk. An example of a ‘Grade 6’ rapid on the Zambezi is the infamous Rapid no.9 – “Commercial Suicide”.

Whilst the Wild Horizons one-day rafting trip is by far the most popular with tourists and adventurers who usually have limited time in Victoria Falls town – there is one relatively unknown, yet a breathtakingly beautiful product that is also on offer from Wild Horizons for the more adventurous thrill seeker and explorer: Multi-day Rafting. Over the last thirty years, adventurers the world over have been seeking the challenge and serenity that this famous five-day long Zambezi white water rafting quest provides. These days, adventure-seekers may choose between a two-night, two-day trip, or for the more enduring, a four-night, five-day trip.

Multi-day rafting guests start off with the standard one-day trip, which either starts at rapid no. 11 (during high water) or rapid no. 1 during the low water season. It should be noted that multi-day rafting trips only operate during low water rafting (usually around mid-September to mid-December). Low water rafting starts at “The Boiling Pot”, right below the magnificent Victoria Falls. The view of the Falls from down here, just beneath it, is truly unforgettable. You’ll know you won’t forget it when you feel the immense changes in air pressure, and water vapour erratically bursting through the canyons; obscuring your view of the 3,000 tons of water that fall out of the Zambezi River into the boiling pot every second. The thundering roar is deafening, and it reverberates loudly in the chest cavity! It is truly one of the most humbling, magnificent and powerful spots on Earth.

The gorge is over 100 meters deep at the Falls and slowly increases to over 200 meters by the end of a full day rafting trip. The glistening basalt rock walls form a series of sharp hairpin bends, which meander some 120km down the course of the Zambezi River, thus bestowing a beautiful gift from Mother Nature – the course for the world’s best white water rafting!

Rapids are interceded by calm stretches of crystal clear water, where you can take a break from the adrenaline, relax and marvel at the spectacular gorges – thick with vegetation. At the end of the first day of the 120km journey, multi-day rafters bid farewell to the single-day companions that they have made on the river, and set up camp for the night on the white sandy beach below rapid number 21.

 

Late afternoon at the beach-camp sees some casual beach volleyball, cold beers, and the opportunity to throw out a line and catch some bonus bar snacks before dinner. A significant drop in temperature is felt as the shadows of the gorge encroach rapidly up the river and onto the beach as the sun sinks behind the lips of the basalt cliffs high above. After nightfall, a beach bonfire provides warmth and visual entertainment (affectionately known as “Bush TV”) to guests as they settle into their first night of camping in the belly of the beautiful Batoka Gorge. A dinner table is set under the luminous corridor of stars above, and after a hearty stew or braai, guests are sure to get a good night’s sleep in the tents and sleeping bags provided; snoring to the watery lullaby of the rapids!

 

On day-two, the beautiful cycle of adventure, adrenalin, endurance, and river exploration repeats itself once again. The first big rapid of the day – “Morning Shave” (no.23), is the perfect wake-up call! On center-left of the rapid, there is an easy wave train to wet you down. “Closed Season” (rapid no. 25) is the last of the numbered rapids, the rest are now referred to by name only. “Closed Season” is closely followed by “Open Season” – one of the biggest rapids on the Zambezi, and pure Grade Five fun! There is a large hole on the river-left and some rocks towards the middle of the run. 

 

 

From here on in, the gradient of the river starts to level out, and rapids become further interspersed. This is not to say, though, that they get any tamer – as “Ghostrider” – the biggest and best rapid on the Zambezi River, is still to come on Day 3! Towards the end of day 2, guests will raft through the Narrows 1, 2, 3 & 4 – the fourth comprising of a technical rock garden, featuring “Beer Eddy”, whereby as the name suggests, if your guide goes into the eddy, the first round of post-trip drinks will be on him/her!

After a second night of camping under the stars below the Moemba Falls, the start of day three brings the infamous “Ghostrider”. Known only by the exclusive few that have ventured this far; this is Class Five, big water at its best! Three enormous waves, with drops that make rafts disappear; only to re-appear on top of the next wave – this is the biggest, and best commercially runnable rapid that the Mighty Zambezi has to offer. Wild Horizons ensures that only the most seasoned of river guides lead guests through this one. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practised rescue drills are essential. Still, for a true adventure seeker, this rapid is worth the journey!

Day-three, and “Ghostrider” sees-out the last of the higher-grade rapids as the gradient of the river continues to level out in anticipation of the Matetsi River mouth, and the start of Lake Kariba’s Western basin.

Multiple smaller rapids frequent the rest of the course for the last two days, providing much-needed relief to those who have ventured thus far. All of a sudden one finds themselves immersed deep inside the heart of the Zambezi. Serene beauty in a unique wilderness that is far, far away from the tourism-fuelled hustle and bustle of Victoria Falls town. The sense of being so far down river, so far removed from civilisation, and so deeply swallowed by mother nature herself – is something which simply has to be felt to be described. Sheer rock walls arise hundreds of meters above the river and the roar of the rapids resound up the narrow canyons. It is here where one may catch a glimpse of the highly endangered Taita Falcon as its soars above you. Vertical walls give way to wider valleys at times, and white sandy beaches dazzle in the sunshine. This is the lower Batoka Gorge at it’s best!

On the morning of the fifth day, all that remains is a relatively smooth two-hour paddle down to the mouth of the Matetsi, where the gorges that have been strictly hugging the river start to give way to the beginnings of Lake Kariba, yet another dimension of this magnificent river’s character. At this point a truck awaits, and after packing up and loading all the rafts and camping equipment, guests are transported the 180km journey back to Victoria Falls town; stopping for lunch and refreshments on the Deka Bridge on the way home.

A multi-day rafting trip is one of the best ways to connect with the spirit of the Zambezi, and truly experience a journey that is both self-challenging and spectacularly beautiful. Wild Horizons operates multi-day rafting trips for groups of 4 or more at a cost of USD$545 per person for the 2-day/2-night, and USD$1,132 per person for the 5 days. Rafting the mighty Zambezi, even if just the thrill of experiencing the one-day run – is an unforgettable experience and should definitely be on your bucket list! Contact Wild Horizons for more information (www.wildhorizons.co.za)