|Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls||
The Falls experience is not just about seeing the Victoria Falls. Its about how you see it and what you do before and after that completes your adventure! Jan Teede offers an insight to life where the action is.
The Victoria Falls has often been referred to as the adventure capital of the world. Whether that is an accurate description is debatable, but it must surely rank as the best adventure centre in Africa.
Regardless of your age, there is a wide range of activities available to allow you to see the Falls and experience the Zambezi river at close quarters:
White Water Rafting
Spectacular scenery, sunshine, warm water and superb rapids combine to make this the most enjoyable white water experience in the world, according to many aficionados. It is a relatively recent phenomenon on the Zambezi, first started as a commercial venture by Sobek in the early 1980s. There are now several companies to guide you through the swirling waters. During peak season - August to November - it is advisable to book in advance.
The modus operandi and prices of all the Zimbabwe based companies have now been more or less standardised. Children under the age of 16 are not allowed and it is advised that those who are very unfit or have a history of heart disease refrain from participating, if only because there is a steep and exhausting climb out of the gorge afterwards.
Previous experience is not necessary, but if you are a first-timer it would not be advisable to go on a "paddle boat", on which all on board paddle rather than just the oarsman. Take track shoes or rafting sandals, a hat, preferably attachable to your life-jacket, and some high-factor water-resistant sun protection cream. If you need to wear glasses, make sure you remember to secure them safely between rapids. The rafting company will provide all other equipment and food.
Standards are high and state of the art equipment used. If you are visiting between the beginning of July and the middle of August, you will take part in the high-water run, from rapid No.11 to the take-out point, usually around rapid No. 20. The low-water run starts above rapid No. 4. It is longer and has more exciting high-sides, but takes place only from mid-August to December, depending on the water flow.
The big advantage of rafting from the Zambian side is that companies operating from there start at the Boiling Pot. The oarsman can usually take the raft right up into the First Gorge, from where you will be able to see the Falls. For the fainter of heart one company offers a "Float of the Angels", on which you can visit the Boiling Pot without having to take part in the subsequent white water rafting! The downside of rafting from Zambia is that, owing to a restricted road network, they are unable to take their rafts as far downstream as the Zimbabweans on the one-day run, but can offer longer trips of up to three days, from the Victoria Falls to Moemba Falls downstream, or even further. These can be recommended as thoroughly relaxing and you won't have to climb out of the gorge until the last morning!
Should an accident occur, medical facilities are better in Zimbabwe, but the Zimbabwean Medical Air Rescue Service (MARS) will fly into Zambia if necessary.
Armed with a helmet and clutching a board, shoot the rapids solo! Only introduced very recently, this offers an intense white water experience, all the while under the watchful eye of experienced guides in kayaks. This is not offered by all companies.
At 110 metres, the jump from the Victoria Falls bridge is the highest in the world, so if you're an "adrenaline junkie", this is the greatest high of all! There are always long queues of people waiting to jump so it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible.
Canoeing on the Upper Zambezi
The Zambezi above the Falls is probably the most glorious stretch of the entire river. It was this part of the river, not theFalls themselves, that David Livingstone described so poetically in his diary, "Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."
The canoeing experience is sometimes called "white water kayaking", but this is far too extreme a description: the rapids are relatively minor, easily managed and no experience in white water is needed. The Upper Zambezi is more of a nature experience, interspersed with short adrenaline buzzes as you negotiate the rapids. Most companies use 'kleppers', two-man canoes with splash covers, somewhat different from the Canadian-style canoes used below Lake Kariba. Three-day, two-day, one-day, and half-day trips are offered with everything you need in terms of food and bedding provided. Like white water rafting, this is a 'must' for those with a taste for adventure.
Flights over the Falls
Both fixed-wing and helicopter rides are available. The latter is obviously more expensive, but better for photography. Accompanied microlight and ultralight flights are also on offer. Due to the noise of such activities, many companies operate only in the morning.
There are some delightful game-viewing and scenic rides in the area. For those who haven't tried it, game viewing is great from horseback and the mounts are accustomed to wildlife, so they are unlikely to bolt in terror at an inopportune moment!
A number of companies offer breakfast, lunch, or sundowner cruises up the river as far as Kandahar Island. They offer potentially good sightings of hippo, crocodiles, elephant, a variety of waterbirds and a chance just to be on the river for a few hours. The sundowner cruise is the most popular.
The Upper Zambezi has some 84 different fish species. As well as the tigerfish, the most exciting of all freshwater fishes to catch, the area is well known for several species of bream. Fishing boats with guides and tackle are available for those who would like a few peaceful hours on the river.
Game Drives and Walks in the Zambezi National Park
Several companies offer a bush experience in the National Park, either in the form of game drives or walking in a small group with a professional guide. You may not walk in the park unless accompanied by a fully licensed professional. There are some beautiful freshwater springs and water holes that can be reached only on foot and the excitement and possible apprehension at encountering elephant, lion and buffalo on foot, instead of in a vehicle, are an experience for any visitor to Zimbabwe.
The sporting facilities at most of the hotels are for residents only. The exception is the beautiful golf course at the Elephant Hills Inter-Continental. Impala and warthogs accompany you around the fairways and there are crocodiles in the water hazards - the latter were unintentional additions! The indigenous trees planted along the course have already attracted a large variety of birds and for those not punishing the little white ball this is a wonderful walk.
From newly hatched babies to full grown monsters, the Spencer's Creek Crocodile Farm, near the gates to the Victoria Falls National Park, allows you an intimate look at one of Africa's oldest
FRAMED! - How best to Photograph the Vic Falls
Particularly good mid morning, when there is often a double rainbow. Dusk, with a sunset behind, is also a good time to shoot. The view from Livingstone's statue is excellent in the mid afternoon. At high water the view from the 'chain walk' is usually too obscured by spray for photography, but this is a good shooting point at low water.
Dawn in winter is wonderful for the rose tinted look, as the sun rises directly behind the Main Falls. Try a shot in full moonlight: Five to ten minutes at F2.8 on 100 ASA stock.
Late afternoon is good from here, with the sun rim-lighting the spraycloud, providing the wind is not blowing the spray in your direction!
Mid morning at the Eastern cataract produces a lovely double rainbow when shot from the extreme eastern lip of the Falls. The knife edge is a good place from which to shoot the bridge.
A helicopter is better than a fixed wing for photography, but good results can be obtained from the latter. Concentrate on keeping the horizon straight in the viewfinder, and load a fresh film before takeoff. A 50mm lens with a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster is ideal.
White water rafting
Photography is possible only if you have a Nikonos or other sub aqua camera and this may be damaged in the rough and tumble. Besides, anyone who has rafted number 18 will tell you that you need both hands on the rope! Professional photographs and videos of the rafting, which include snippets from your day on the water, your bungi jump or microlight trip are available for purchase.
Film & Processing
Film is generally available in Zimbabwe, but if you use an unusual stock, it's advisable to bring all the film you need and perhaps some spare batteries as the correct replacement may be difficult to obtain. If going to Zambia, you will need to take all you will use with you. One hour processing of colour negative film is available in Victoria Falls.
Published in Travel Africa Edition One: Autumn 1997.Text is subject to Worldwide Copyright (c)
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