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Zambia’s parks and reserves are predictably full of safari activities - game drives, walking safaris and night drives - but it’s Victoria Falls that you need to go for classic adrenalin adventures. Taking its cue from neighbouring Zimbabwe and its decades-long list of adventure activities, Zambia now offers an extensive range of thrills and spills - and if you can’t find it in Zambia, it’ll be across the river in Zimbabwe.
So you’re on a Zambia overland adventure and you’re not going to do a bungee jump at Vic Falls. Yeah right. The Victoria Falls bungee jump is virtually de rigueur for overlanders, and at 111 metres it is one of the highest bungee jumps in the world.
You’ll be making a leap from the bridge that spans the Bakota gorge in no-man’s-land between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The views are great - if you can focus on them - but little can beat those few exhilarating seconds of free-fall as you plummet towards the swirling waters of the Zambezi River below.
Along with bungee jumping, white water rafting is one of Zambia’s iconic adventure experiences. And unlike the few seconds of thrills that hanging off a rubber rope delivers, white water rafting lasts all day and is considered one of the best commercial rafting experiences in the world.
The adrenaline junkie will get a wild rollercoaster ride on the series of 23 foamy rapids that stretch from the bottom of the Victoria Falls for 22 km. Low water runs from mid August to late December are the most adventurous: the rapids are mostly grade 4 or 5 and all 23 are navigable. One is a monster grade 6 - you’ll have to walk around this bad boy - though keep an eye out for kamikaze kayakers who run the thundering beast alone.
As water levels rise after the rainy season rafting may be put on hold - the volume of water simply covers the rapids. High water runs only traverse rapids 11 to 18 from the beginning of July to mid August, and are unlikely to spill you out the raft though you will get a taste of the action.
An ever-popular activity on the Zambezi River is a canoeing safari on the serene waters of the upper Zambezi River before it takes its plunge over the Victoria Falls.
You won’t get anywhere close to the edge of the falls though: this part of the river has plenty to keep you occupied. Flanked by national parks on both sides of the river, it is a paradise of tucked-away islands, sandbanks, overhanging trees and an extravagant birdlife. Sit back in your comfortable two-man canoe and let the river do all the work: travelling by canoe enables superb game viewing and interaction with the wild at nature’s pace.
There’s a good chance that you’ll see some big stuff too: elephant, buffalo, hippo and crocodile are all common along this part of the Zambezi and the professional guides that accompany every trip will comment on the passing flora and fauna as well as steering you away from potential danger.
Surfers can relax: you might be in the middle of Africa but there’s some gnarly action out there - armed with a wetsuit, life jacket, helmet, fins and a big attitude, you can surf some of the world’s biggest fresh water rapids on a river board ... on the Zambezi River.
You’ll be accompanied by guides but the bottom line is that you’ll be taking on the mighty Zambezi on your own board so it goes without saying that you need to be confident and relaxed in water - and a strong swimmer. Basic river-boarding skills are taught in still water before progressing to the crashing rapids. It’s a huge adrenalin rush but there’s time to relax too: boarders can stop at ‘play spots’ along the way to surf and ride whirlpools and eddies.
The best time to go river boarding is during low water season from mid August to late December, when the river is at its wildest. Operators offer half day, full day, or river boarding and rafting combo trips where you get to experience the rapids with both options.
Africa’s first and only jet boat operation is a thrilling adventure on the turbulent waters of the Bakota Gorge, downstream from the Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.
And you’ll be moving: each six-metre jet boat, specially designed to endure the speed and versatility of the ride, has an 8.2 litre Chevy engine with an eye-popping 350 horse power and can carry 11 passengers. It’s one of the world’s most exciting boat rides and powers through the rapids of the mighty Zambezi River. Feel the wind in your hair and the spray in your face as the powerful jet boats speed through rapids, rush past gorge walls and spin on the flat water.
There’s not much to rival the view of the Victoria Falls from the air, especially from April to June when the spray is at its highest and the massive volume of water makes its own spectacular rainbows. These breathtaking flights over the Victoria Falls are often dubbed ‘Flight of the Angels’ after the explorer David Livingstone’s words: “Scenes so beautiful ... must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”.
From Livingstone airport there are exciting helicopter flights where you are able to swoop low over the falls and hover for that perfect shot. A trip by micro-light is another alternative, a thrilling way to soak up the views with no glass or aircraft frame between you and Victoria Falls below.
Gorge Swing & Abseil
The Zambezi Swing isn’t a dance: across the top of the Bakota Gorge lies 135 metres of cable which has a sliding pulley system hanging from it. Get tucked into a full body harness, take a running jump from a wooden platform and then it’s a 50 metre plunge before you swing out into the middle of the gorge. The jump ends with several pendulum swings before you are lowered, jelly-kneed, to the ground.
If the swing doesn’t swing you, then the flying fox is an alternative. It’s a cable slide that sends you coasting smoothly across to the other side of the spectacular gorge. Want more? There’s also the 53 metre abseil, facing the cliff as per normal or ‘rap’ jump facing forward.