Your correspondent has been travelling and going on safari in Africa since the early 1980s. I have lost count of the many, majestic sunsets, of the unique wildlife moments accidentally captured by a camera and of the multitude of happy days with friends in remote places. Of all safaris, I rate the experience (along with riding on horseback) of canoeing on the Zambezi (upper) as one of the very best you can ever have in Africa.
We drove about 60 kilometres up on the Zimbabwe side of the river to be met by our river guides and crew. Make no bones about it, the guides are highly professional and know the river like the back of their hands. Like most Zimbos, they are relaxed in their manner and in sharing their knowledge but extremely switched on in terms of security and looking after their guests. We were due to camp out on the river banks for 2 nights and to make landfall not far from the town of Victoria Falls.
With a motley and inexperienced group of tourists from all points of the globe, our progress was remarkably quick, and that is the crux of the matter. The river does most of the work, you do not have to paddle hard and you just follow the guide. My constant bugbear over the years on land safaris has been disturbing the tranquillity of nature; of driving around in a Land Rover constantly turning its engine on and off to catch a sighting of game.
On the canoe, you just glide by; we passed a herd of elephant including babies drinking quietly by the bank. We were no more than 5 metres away and yet the elephant was not agitated or disturbed.
When could you do that in a vehicle? Further down the river, between a sandbank and the bank, we surprised a group of impala. The beauty of these gazelles running a few feet away from me in the water is a memory that has stuck with me for some time.
When our guide did speak, you listened as he did not waste his words with no purpose. “When you take the rapid, turn a sharp left as there is a pod of hippo dead ahead.” My partner and I listened, a Canadian couple did not. After getting in position on the side of the bank, we turned around to see what was happening to our kanuk friends. In a flash, we saw the huge jaws of a hippo open beside their canoe. I am not sure whether they did a trial that day for the Canadian Olympic kayaking team, but the effect was the same. You had never seen people paddle as fast and as hard. They lived to tell the tale and have probably recounted the story to many dinner guests in Toronto.
As always, the best things in life end quickly. This is an adventure I will repeat many times and will supply my anecdotes for dinner parties to come. The Zambezi is not the only river you can partake on these safaris but coupled with the beauty of the Victoria Falls, it is something special.
Canoeing On The Upper Zambezi