Rafting down the Zambezi versus the everyday grind

Posted by Kerry Peers on 23 January 2013 Tags:,

I recently travelled to Livingstone, Zambia, to experience a three-and-a-half day rafting trip down the Zambezi River.  Along with four other budding rafters and an incredibly knowledgeable and experienced guide, I journeyed down the river on a bright yellow inflatable raft. We were accompanied by a second raft filled with our belongings, food and equipment for setting up camp, and two guides paddling alongside in kayaks. Starting at rapid number one, just below the amazing Victoria Falls, my team and I conquered over 40 rapids in total during our time on the  water. It was an incredible experience and I couldn’t help thinking how much cooler it was than the usual everyday grind …

I wake as the sun gently caresses my tent, to the sounds of peaceful rushing water and the calls of a plethora of birds. Without a rush I open the tent flap and look out at the beautiful view of the mighty river. I casually stroll across the white sand of our beach camp to the outdoor kitchen set up between the rocks. A pot of ‘cowboy coffee’ is brewing on the gas cooker and a breakfast of bacon and eggs is sizzling on the skottel.

Looking out from my tent and making 'cowboy coffee'

After breakfast it is time for a Pocahontas-style bath in a calm, clear river pool. I leisurely dress in comfortable cotton clothing and cover myself in sunscreen.  We take down our tents, pack everything into the gear boat, don our bright orange life jacket and helmet and get ready to head downstream.

Orange life jackets and helmets are worn at all times


Back in the city you are violently wrenched from your slumber by the incessant beeping of your alarm clock. You jump out of bed and dash into the shower.  You hastily dress for work and manage to grab a piece of toast before rushing out the door.


Batoka Gorge

A gentle push starts us on our way down the river. We are the only raft in sight, surrounded by the steep sides of the gorge in which the river lies.  I take a deep breath of clean air and start paddling the raft toward the first rapid of the day.


You climb into your car and start the traffic-ridden route to work.  On the way you stop and buy an overpriced cup of coffee to help you through the day. You arrive at the office and sit down in the chair your bum will be glued to all day. Your only view is that of your computer screen and the limited view out of the window (granted that you are lucky enough to have a window).


Paddling through a rapid.

The clear green water of the Zambezi is warm and inviting. As we paddle through the raging rapids water crashes over the sides of the yellow raft. During the course of the day we conquer eleven rapids, ranging from the mild Grade 2 rapids to the whirlpools, boils, valleys and waves of a Grade 5 rapid.  In between rapids we paddle down calm open stretches of the river, taking in the green slopes of the gorge. We spot plenty of lizards, the odd crocodile (too small to be of any danger to us in the boat), klipspringers, dassies, baboons, vervet monkeys and a multitude of birdlife.

Lunch and a rest while we watch the day rafting groups pass by.

We stop for a leisurely lunch and a rest just above one of the rapids that is notorious for causing rafts to flip. I pick a ringside seat on one of the black rocks and sit back to watch the day trip rafts take on the tumbling rapid. Three boats pass by without incident, but the waves manage to eject the guide in the fourth group. A couple more teams conquer the rapid and we are finally rewarded with the entertainment we were looking for as the last raft of the day performs a glorious flip, sending all its occupants into the water below. The boat is swiftly righted and the team clambers back in.


You eat a sandwich at your desk while watching a somewhat amusing cat video sent to you by a colleague, unable to take a break due to the work piling up around you.


Conquering a rapid

It is now time for our team to take on the raging waters. With a shout of, ‘Forward team!’ our skilled guide steers us toward the edge. Paddling in unison, we surge forward, hitting the rapid at speed, surfing over the waves. As we reach the heart of the rapid, a call for “Get down” sends us crouching for safety in the bottom of the raft. We climb back into our positions on the sides of the boat and cheer as we leave the rapid behind, still upright.


Trying to free the raft after getting stuck on a rock in the middle of a rapid.

Later on in the day we are not quite so lucky. While taking on a rapid called Open Season, our raft gets stuck on a rock protruding from the water. I am thrown out into the river, but manage to keep a firm grip on the rope running along the side of the boat. The current is incredibly strong and I struggle to hold on. While I am taking my ‘swim’, the rest of the team members attempt to free the raft. After what feels like ages, the raft is once again ready to continue down the river and I am hastily pulled up into it and we are swept down the rapid into calmer water. I catch my breath and heave a sigh of relief.

Overnight camp and 'unoccupied ablutions'

It’s time to set up camp for the night. We tie the raft to a rock and head up to the flat part of the beach with our tents and dry-bags. Our camp is made up of a shaded kitchen area with chairs for relaxing, a sleeping area populated with our tents, as well as the makeshift ‘ablutions’.  The portable toilet is placed behind a bush with a system to indicate occupation – a paddle stands upright in the sand with an orange helmet placed at its top. A visible helmet indicates that the area is vacant and a paddle without a helmet shows that the ‘facilities’ are occupied. While the setup is not quite on par with the comfort of having a flushing toilet with working plumbing and a door, it is much more civilized than I had imagined.


You leave the office and clamber into your car to once again sit in peak hour traffic. You pick up a ready-made-meal on the way home which you eat in front of the TV.


We sit around drinking cold beers and reminisce about the day’s activities while our food cooks on the braai we have made in the sand. Just after darkness falls we feast on a meal of perfectly cooked steak, boerewors, baked potatoes and salad. I head to bed, keen to get a good night’s sleep in anticipation of tomorrow’s adventures.


You wake up to the persistent ringing of your alarm and get ready to repeat it all over again.


I’d rather be paddling my way down the beautiful waters of the Zambezi River, wouldn’t you?

Rafting below Victoria Falls


The three day rafting trip was organised by Safari Par Excellence, operating out of the Zambezi Waterfront in Livingstone, Zambia. The trip leaves on a Friday morning during the low-water rafting season and costs roughly R 8 000 a person, which includes all equipment, guides, meals and accommodation while on the river.

For more details on how to do this trip read: How to organise a whitewater rafting trip down the Zambezi River.