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The Zambezi – how to do it

Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders, better known to you and me as Victoria Falls, formed by the Zambezi river falling dropping 100m on its 1,674 mile journey to the ocean provides what World White Water describes as the most impressive put in, anywhere, and who am I to argue.

Once you have decided you want to go you need to consider when, one of the deciding factors is going to be time of year and flow, whilst the flow of the Zam could never be described as low it does vary massivley over the course of a year, drawing most of its catchment from Western Zambia and Angola it starts to rise around November with the start of the rainy season, the dry season kicks in in July with the river dropping rapidly, flows vary between 250 and a peak of around 5,000 cumecs.

Once you have decided on when you want to go in touch with Sven through his website to discuss exact timing and what you want to do

Sven offers the complete package from the time you land and arrive in Livingstone, Zambia and can take out the stress of dealing with the typical African bureaucracy, shuttles, porters and pretty much anything else, Sven has a plan for just about any eventuality you can think of, just don’t ask him cos he is probably still working on it, nothing ever happens abc in Africa and having Sven around means it doesn’t matter as there are always options.

We flew BA from Heathrow to Jo berg catching the connecting flights from here to Livingstone Zambia or Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, it’s these internal flights that are the tricky ones to get, operated by comair on behalf of BA it is easiest to make all the booking at the same time to be assured of obtaining the connecting internal.  This has caused some major headcahces with seats selling fast and prices being hiked massiley, be prepared for a week or two’s slippage depending upon availability.

Flying to Zam is easiest, no doubt, flying to Zim complicates things a little, arriving around 1.00pm pay your $55US single entry visa ( we were flying out from Zam, multiple entry visas cost more) and exit the airport to your shuttle organised by Sven, 20K to the border and expect the officials to want some sort of documentation for your boats, they get a bit twisted about import and export, we were told we should have been given papers at the airport, I gave them the stubbs of the luggage labels, 8 of them, 8 boats, the man with the stamp was happy, he stamped away, earned his beans and could rest easy in his bed that night, his job well done.

Transfer to another shuttle at the border, few companies have licences to operate in both Zim amd Zam hence the change over from one shuttle to another, proceed to the Zam border and your visas will have been sorted out for you through Fawlty Towers, your accomodation.

Fifteen minutes later will see you arriving at Farty Towels although this year our shuttle took longer having to stop to oooo and aaahhh at the elephant by the roadside, one thing about elephants, they are big, grey, wrinkly and at night they don’t reflect light, the best thing you could do for road safety round these parts is buy an elephant a high vis vest, you aint gona see one of these bad boys squashed on the tarmac.

The Three day trip from the Falls to Moemba is a must, camping down in the gorge with no light polution to distort the star show is quite an experience.  An easier way of introducing your self to the river would be to start at number 10 and run down to 25 on day one, 1 to 13 day two then drop down into the gorge proper for three days for the full run.

So how good do you need to be?  When we first decided to go it was sold to us as grade four paddlers with a bombproof roll and I would say that that is an accurate assessement, others describe it as suitable  for grade 3 padders with reasonable roll.  There are easy rapids, one or two of which may  fall into my categorization of grade 3 paddling but as far as the roll goes, unless it’s flat the water is swirly, boilly, aeriated and pretty dam messy, you need to hang on in there an be prepared to go for multiple attempts.

OK, so most of the major rapids can be portaged, but you don’t want to be doing that every other rapid, its Africa, its hot and the most of the portages will be hellish.  Whatever the flows the river changes constantly, theres are some big ass holes to avoid at one flow which are pourovers as the level drops, some rapids get easier and some get harder.

It’s a play boat river, so get your self down to HPP and get in some practice the looping pool will give you the best training for rolling in messy water that you are going in get round these parts

Sven has a bunch of fluid playboats for rental if you don’t want to take your own and some other kit too, I would take my own paddling kit personaly.

Although we have been as our own integral group we paddled with others whilst we were there so there is always to opportunity to go by yourself or just a couple of you and link up for trips on the river.

Thanks to Danny at Desperate Measures.