POSTED 03 NOVEMBER 2015 / BY SHEARWATER VICTORIA FALLS / IN VICTORIA FALLS / TOURS & TRANSFERS
It is no secret that Shearwater was the first company to offer and operate white-water rafting in Zimbabwe. Ever since, every year it has announced low or high water season to ‘’open’’. Shearwater has always maintained its pioneering spirit, which is explanation enough as to why it has been one of the forerunners of so many other activities and things to do in Victoria Falls: Bungee, Sunset Cruises, Elephant Back Safaris, Flight of Angels Helicopter Rides. Yet throughout the falls, the cornerstone activity that first put Vic Falls on the map as the adventure centre of Africa, has seen declining numbers for years. That looks set to change.
Back in the 90’s Shearwater alone reached a record of 300 rafters in one day, and average days would see at least 70. In the last few years average numbers have dropped to as low as 16 (2 rafts). The much considered analysis on this mainly focuses on a changing demograph. Visitors to the falls are generally older than they used to be and there are less student gap year overlanders. So those in the market for a ‘’best on the planet’’ 1 day White Water Rafting Trip are less numerous, and of course since the early days: what to do in Victoria Falls is now a choice of so many world class activities that committing to a full day when time is at a premium is too much for some.
Few who work in the industry here don’t find this a regret. The Falls will always score highly on the ‘’oh wow’’ barometer, but nothing seriously compares with the heart racing water pounding thrill of being deep in the Batoka gorge actually riding the immense waves of the world famous mighty Zambezi. It is a vicarious pleasure to see how much delight – genuine life enhancing, endorphin flooding delight, people take from this adventure. You know they will never forget it, and will eagerly seek opportunites the rest of their lives to allude to it – word of mouth at its best. Personal endorsement at its greatest. But few, if any, will simply pop of to Zimbabwe to do a days rafting.
Shearwater is now pioneering a focus which says: rafting is not one of the things to do in Victoria Falls once you get here, it is THE reason you come here. There has been an upsurge in large social groups – 30 at a time (lads and dads (and mums and sisters too)) from schools, colleges, neighbourhoods or churches that have decided they want to come to Victoria Falls specifically to raft, and enjoy the unique experience of a multi day Rafting Trip.
Little could be more exhileraing, rafting on the timeless world renowned mighty Zambezi by day, and then camping on the sandy banks of the river, deep in the gorge by night. Sitting around a driftwood fire by night in extraordinary solitude gazing at the never ending flowing of water lit by a star strewn sky, you will never ever forget. If this is something you have the privilege of doing with friends and family – you will rarely equal it. Currently the main interest is coming from social groups in South Africa, opting for a week long trip to the falls with 5 days rafting the main focus, and a couple of nights at the Rest camp in town, also allowing them to partake in some of the other wonderful opportunities afforded by what to do in Victoria Falls. Developing this for the European and American markets is an easy ask based on 10-14 day round trips, with 3 or 4 nights additional canoe trips on the upper Zambezi an obvious companion.
Shearwater and many others here feel almost evangelical about rafting the Zambezi, we feel the dynamic is about to change as groups decide a White-water Rafting expedition to Zimbabwe is spectacular holiday worth planning for.
When Livingstone first viewed the Victoria Falls in November 1855, he commented ‘’scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’’. He may have also thought to himself ‘’my God I have never seen such turbulent rapids – they are completely impassable’’. He would never have guessed that 130 years later a man named Paul Connolly (with wife Marie, the Shearwater founders) would start promoting commercial trips down the lower river and over these very same rapids in inflatable rubber boats – and that more amazingly people would eagerly pay for the privilege. Of course what we know of Livingstone – he would have been one of the first to do it, and in the scheme of his level of derring do, it would have all been matter of fact.
Nothing in the way of things to do in Victoria Falls quite compares with white water rafting, none of the exceptional activities in Victoria Falls is nearly as fundamentally elemental. There are legions of veterans who have taken part in this incredible adventure years ago, who would still rate it as the most exciting activity in which they have ever participated.
At low level times, the day starts early with a muster at the Shearwater town office, and then a short open truck ride out to the top of the gorge by the Rainforest. Having gathered paddles, life vests and helmets, new recruits listen in on a safety talk by guides: Titanic, Kamikaze etc – you know this is going to be a little hair raising to say the least. Then begins the steep, steep descent down into the depths of pre history of the beautiful Batoka gorge. Having reached the bottom of the gorge, you instinctively look up and let out an involuntary ‘’wow’’ – the sheer sides of the gorge bathing in morning sunlight, and then the complete madness of the iconic Victoria Falls bridge spanning an impossibly vertiginous ravine so high above you – notwithstanding the insanity of bungee jumpers flying off the bridge and hurtling towards you (another of the not – for – cissies things to do in Victoria Falls, yet another of the red blooded activities in Victoria Falls).
Cambering over massive basalt boulders dislodged way before Livingstone ever visited, you embark your raft. It begins to be utterly surreal – here you are at the bottom of the worlds most exotic waterfall. You paddle out and peer around the corner of the Falls themselves – there they are from the bottom up – a reverse perspective you just were not counting on when you decided this might be one of the things to do in Victoria Falls you would participate in – the view and feeling is spellbinding. You haven’t even started your chosen activity yet!
Then it starts, you are paddling your way to your first rapid, heart pumping, nerves jangling and brow perspiring. It looks so big, it seems so angry, my god there’s like a steep drop (the crease) – a quick gulp as you are involuntarily pulled into the watery Wurlitzer. The boat buckles and bumps, water flies up and in, the raft tilts one way and then the other every one squeals and yelps. That was incredible. You then learn you have just traversed a grade 3.5 rapid, and today is mostly about grade 5’s.
You spend the next 4 hours either gliding serenely along this majestic mind blowing river feeling you are really connecting with raw mysterious Africa, or in pitched battle with each of the eponymously named rapids: highway to hell, the mother, overland truck eater. It is imperious as a combination of adventure and exploration. The exertion required to climb out of the gorge at trip end, only serves to remphasise the scale of achievement.
You could write a separate account of each of the 20 odd rapids describing each one as worthwhile in terms of things to do in Victoria Falls, each one in its own right as one of the most awesome activities in Victoria Falls. There is not a soul who will have completed the White-water Rafting who won’t rate it amongst the most exciting experiences of their lives