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)