July 26, 2022
Zambezi River passes through several countries and countless wonderful places on its journey from source to sea. Emerging from the ground as a tiny bubbling spring in north-western Zambia, the river passes through eastern Angola, along Namibia’s north-eastern border and the northern border of Botswana, before forming the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe, flowing across Mozambique and ultimately emptying into the Indian Ocean.
Mention the Zambezi and one of the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is the Victoria Falls, one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls. About 1,200km into its journey, the Zambezi grows to a great water course, almost 2km wide and it is here that the river reaches the Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Twice as wide and twice as deep as Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls spans the width of the Zambezi River, and sees the river cascading over a sheer precipice, plunging 108m into the gorge below. In the height of the rainy season the spray from the Falls can rise 400m into the air and be seen from up to 48km away, giving rise to the traditional Zambian name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders.” The sheer scale and power of the falls never cease to awe and astound. This a must visit destination.
Visit the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls and you’ll meander the various paths, through the rainforest, over the Knife-edge Bridge (with its spectacular views of the eastern cataract, main falls and down the gorge), and look across at the wide, basalt cliff over which the falls thunder. Bring, hire or borrow a raincoat, because in peak season you’ll find yourself getting soaking wet as you duck in and out of the mist-soaked rainforest at the 13 different viewpoints, braving the spray to admire the stunning views.
Livingstone, and the northern banks of the Zambezi, once the ‘poor relation’ in a Victoria Falls ‘experience’, has undergone an remarkable transformation in recent years, and is now home to some fantastic activities to do and some truly sophisticated and spectacular places to stay.
What To Do:
1. White Water Rafting
Spend a day rafting with Bundu Adventures, down what is quite probably the wildest commercial white-water in the world. A rafting adventure on the Zambezi River is definitely an adrenaline rush not to be missed. Downstream of the Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River is a kilometres long stretch of deep, zigzagging, torturous channels, and the incredible volume of water guarantees an exhilarating day of white-water. When, at a pre-departure briefing, you hear the rapids have names like ‘The Terminator’, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Gnashing Jaws of Death’, you have an inkling of what lies ahead! Your day starts with a hike down to the ‘Boiling Pot,’ a massive whirlpool at the base of the Victoria Falls where you clamber aboard your raft and set off. Although stretches of the route are classed a high-octane Grade 5, there are several areas of scenic, calm water where you get the chance to swim alongside the raft for stretches of the river. The whole day was an unbelievable experience and definitely worth the steep hike out of the Batoka Gorge at the end of the day. Good fitness levels are essential.
2. Sunset Cruise
A sunset cruise is an essential part of the Victoria Falls experience. We chose The African Queen, and despite the fact that the sun was hiding behind some clouds as we set off and it didn’t look like we were destined to get a very photogenic sunset, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Catching glimpses of hippos, crocs and a myriad of birds we headed upstream and, just in the nick of time, the clouds cleared and we got our sunset after all.
If taking to the air in something resembling a couple of garden chairs, attached to a beach umbrella, with a lawnmower engine strapped to the back, is your cup of tea, then microlighting is definitely for you! Seriously though, while a microlight might appear as fragile as a dragonfly, it’s much sturdier than it looks and, in the hands of the passionate and experienced pilots, it is one of the most breath-taking ways to see the one of the seven natural wonders of the world. This is definitely an activity for the adrenalin seekers.
If the microlight sounds a little too adventurous, then why not opt for a spectacular helicopter flight over the falls. Known as the ‘Flight of Angels’, this thrilling flight over the Victoria Falls is a definite bucket-list activity. The views are breath-taking and give an entirely new perspective to the landscape below. You have a bird’s eye view of elephants crossing the river, pods of hippos congregating and flying over the Mosi oa Tunya National Park you’ll look directly down on its wildlife. If you opt for the slightly longer flight, it includes a dramatic swoop down into the Batoka Gorge, where you’ll find yourself flying just above the water, shadowing the rapids, before a stunning ascent out of the gorge and back to the airstrip.
If you’d prefer to ease yourself gracefully into the ‘adrenaline business’, then sign up for an afternoon’s privately guided canoeing safari on the Zambezi, upstream of the Falls. Paddling between the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side and the Zambezi Game Park on the Zimbabwean side, you’ll glide past elephants, pods of hippos and a great selection of birdlife. And, as you’re heading downstream, going with the flow of the river, you aren’t even required to paddle much!
6. Walk with Rhino
The 66km² Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, home not only to Cape buffalo, Burchell’s zebra, Angolan giraffe, elephants, various antelope, warthog and more, but also home to 10 endangered white rhino, two of whom are babies. You can combine a game drive through this tiny park with the unique opportunity to get up close on foot to a few of the white rhino. After only a short search, we found four of them, and were able to approach pretty close. Their sheer size, and total indifference to us, was amazing. Your lodge can arrange this activity for you.
7. Dinner On A Steam Train
The Royal Livingstone Express is a memorable and different experience; a trip back in time to the luxury and grandeur of the bygone era of steam trains. An actual red carpet welcomes awaits as you mount the stairs to the train, with a glass of wine in hand. Wander through the fabulously restored and renovated carriages to the elegant lounge car. As the train sets off you nibble on smoked salmon canapés. Meanwhile the train makes its way to the Victoria Falls Bridge, where you alight to view the falls, and those who were interested can visit the driver in his compartment to learn a little more about the inner workings of the engine itself. Boarding the train again, you move into the dining car and are treated to a delicious five course dinner, as the train gathers speed and heads off into the night.
8. Visit the Elephant Café
For a real ‘taste of the wild, a visit to the Elephant Café combines three great experiences. You’ll begin with a 30min jetboat journey up the Zambezi to your destination, 10km upstream of the Victoria Falls, where you’re met by some of the resident orphaned and rescued elephants (and some younger ones born at the sanctuary) who call this place home. You’ll an opportunity to interact with and feed the elephants, before proceeding into the restaurant for a delicious lunch.
The award winning Elephant Café is small, seating only 24 guests, and showcasing fresh, locally sourced organic ingredients, with a strong focus on wild edibles. The menu changes seasonally dependant on what is available. We had a fantastic meal. Starting off with a delicious champagne cocktail, before moving on to a Tilapia Ceviche, followed by a Sindambi Sage-glazed Roasted Pork Belly with Star Anise, and finishing off with a delicious Meringue & Muchingachinga Mess with Lavender Flowers. An amazing meal, right on the banks of the Zambezi.
Where to Stay
Mukwa River Lodge
Mukwa River Lodge, 30km upstream of the Falls, it the newest lodge on this part of the river. Built to blend in with the natural surroundings, the rooms of this seven suite, luxury boutique hotel open out over the river, giving the feeling of hovering over the water. Beautiful pieces of antique furniture and artwork, Indian daybeds, bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers and bathtubs perfect for relaxing in, private plunge pools for every room. Understated luxury and a wonderful welcoming team, all combine to enhance your visit to this special part of the Zambezi.
After a boat ride on the river, we sat by the water’s edge watching the sun go down. As the sun disappeared and the air got chillier, we moved to the fire pit, watching the flames dancing in the grate, glass of wine in hand as we waited for dinner. Food is a speciality at Mukwa, and we were in for a treat. Mushroom Risotto, Slow Roasted Pork Belly, and for dessert, a sublime dark chocolate torte with Amarula ice-cream.
At night we slept with our doors open, listening to the sounds of the bush. Baboons shouted in the tree tops in the Zambezi National Park, on the other side of the river. Their shrieking grew louder and more panicked. We imagined a leopard was on the prowl. Later we heard the woops and calls of a hyena, and guessed the leopard had been successful and that the hyena was hoping for some scraps. Waking in the early morning, we lay in bed and watched the mist rising off the water, like dragon’s breath as we listened to the dawn chorus of bird calls. A very special place in a fantastic location.
Overlooking tiny islands in the Zambezi, Toka Leya is situated in Zambia’s Mosi- oa-Tunya National Park, a short drive from Livingstone and the Victoria Falls. Toka Leya’s twelve spacious, en-suite safari suites, all tucked into riverine forest, have expansive decks and dramatic views of the river and beyond. The camp has been built around the towering trees, and winding wooden walkways link the rooms with the common area. Resident bushbuck wander past the rooms and under the walkways, playful monkeys keep and eye on the guests from the trees above, hippos come ashore to graze at night, and wildlife regularly wander past, heading to the water to drink.
In the communal area there’s an infinity pool, a lounge area, a fire pit for night-time gatherings, pizza oven, and a sundeck for the perfect sundowners. We sat with our gin and tonics, and watched as a pair of kingfishers flitted from tree to tree, tilting their heads from side to side watching us impassively. There also a small gym and a spa, where a massage accompanied by the sound of the running water was bliss.
Sunset boat cruises yielded hippos, crocs, elephants and various other wildlife, as well as a dazzling array of birds, including such specials as an African finfoot, an African skimmer, half-collared kingfishers, and rock pratincoles. We set aside a whole afternoon to search for a spend time with the white rhino inside the National Park, but found them just a couple of kilometres from the camp!
Toka Leya is a really special place. From some of the friendliest of staff I’ve met in a lodge, to the comfort, privacy and sense of seclusion that being here give you, and the incredible surroundings and feeling of being immersed in nature.
The River Club’s location is hard to beat, perched on a cliff right on the edge of the Zambezi River with all 11 suites overlooking a sweeping bend in the river complete with islands, sandbanks, reeds and tall grasses, and across into the Zambezi National Park on the other side. Situated 20 kilometres upstream from the town of Livingstone and the Victoria Falls, arriving at the River Club, one of the few privately owned lodges in the area, is like stepping back in time to the heydays of exploration in Africa. The centre of the lodge is a restored 1940’s homestead, with a comfortable lounge, dining room and library, home to a fascinating collection of memorabilia. The owner himself is a remarkable source of knowledge about the history of the area, and Zambia as a whole.
With magnificent trees overhead, and extensive grounds to explore, this is a great place for families, offering a variety of activities for all ages. Swim in the pool, play croquet or Boulés on the lawn, try your hand at board games, chess or backgammon in the library, try the gym or the tennis court, walk or run the nature trail past the resident giraffe, unwind in the summerhouse or snooker room, or perhaps just relax in a hammock.
For Jewish guests The River Club has two separate dedicated kosher kitchens and regularly hosts guests over Shabbat, and so know what is required. The chef is expert in kosher catering and the lodge stocks kosher wine.
Written by Sarah Kingdom