Zambezi River Rafting

Whitewater rafting is a challenging activity, but Zambezi river rafting is more than that. The mighty Zambezi river below the Victoria Falls is one of the few places on earth where commercial rafting is taking place on Class 6 rapids, especially in the rainy season. And that’s exactly the season we chose to do it…

Our raft flips in one of the rapids of the Zambezi river

After a short trip in a minivan we arrive on the top of one of the first gorges of the Zambezi river after the falls. Here we are introduced into white water rafting, and the do’s and don’ts. We learn to hold on to our paddle when we fall out, otherwise the crew will not pull us in. And we learn to float on our backs in the water, feet in front to kick away the crocodiles, nice… We also learn how to use our paddles, and how to pull people in ourselves.

Descending the Canyon

Completely instructed, we descend the 100 meters into the canyon. Once down, we climb into our rafts and have to paddle against the stream to reach the fast flowing river. That’s easier said than done, and different rafts need a lot of time to do this. But than it’s downstream, relaxing until the first rapid. We did some white water rafting before, on the Tully river in Australia, but soon we realize this is something else. In the first rapid we lose two people, and at the third, the complete raft flips, and we’re all in the water. Not for the last time, I might add…

Each rapid has it’s own name, and the instructors explain how they are chosen. At the rapid “Commercial Suicide” they let the rafters carry their rafts over the shore to the other side, for obvious reasons. Especially in the rainy season, this one is just to heavy.

The Washing Machine

After passing a few rapids successfully, we arrive at the “Washing Machine”. Our instructor tells us that this is an easy one as long as the people on the left side of the boat keep paddling. But when we reach the first wave, two people on the left are washed out, and one of those grabs the paddle of a third to hold on. So we head directly towards the washing machine, and before we know it the raft flips again. We fall into the water, and realize that we are pulled under. Struggling makes no difference, the river is stronger than us, and for a moment we think that’s it. But after what seems like minutes, we reach the surface again, where we can breathe.

Our Raft and its crew We are still in heavy waters, but soon a few kayaks arrive, on which we hold on to reach the quiet waters. There, we are pulled into the other rafts, where people are crying. It must have been quite a sight, our raft appears to have been flipping continuously in the washing machine, while everybody disappeared. One of the instructors was amazed that I had held on to my paddle, but that’s what I was taught, wasn’t it?

After this experience, the rest of the rapids were easy, but at the end of the trip we had to climb up the canyon again. Exhausted we reached the top, where we took a well deserved beer.

Zambezi river rafting was one of the most exciting experiences of our lives, including a near-death experience. It cannot be compared with anything else. For us, it was probably a once in a lifetime experience, since we have no river in our neighborhood, let alone one with class 6 rapids. But we are glad we did it, it was worth every bit of it.


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