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"a zambian adventure" - victoria falls and the 'river club' 
by mark donaldson

 published by 'the scotsman' newspaper - 07/01/2001

In a world filled with wondrous discoveries and breakthroughs, it is doubtful that anything could still deserve the status as one of the Seven Wonders of World.  Those doubts evaporate once you feel the immense power of the famous Victoria Falls.

Created by volcanic activity, erosion and the course of one of Africa’s greatest rivers - the Zambezi - the Victoria Falls has captured the hearts, minds and adventurous spirits of people the world over. It was David Livingstone who, after that now famous entry in this diary - “On sights as beautiful as this Angels in their flight must have gazed” - claimed it for the British crown and named it after his Queen.

Conscious of the heritage it holds in trust for the world, Zimbabwe’s national parks have maintained the Falls and the surrounding rainforest virtually as they were when Livingstone first saw them almost 140 years ago.  The sight of millions of gallons of turbulent water cascading over a sheer precipice into a narrow gorge a hundred metres below is something nobody can ever forget.  Considered the largest curtain of falling water in the world, the magnificent Victoria Falls draws visitors from all over the world.

At its lowest, between late October and early November, as little as 20 000 cubic metres of water a minute flow into the gorge below.  But when the rains are heavy, the flow increases swiftly and dramatically.  Between February and May, when the Falls are at their most spectacular, more than 500 000 cubic metres of water a minute cascade over the edge.


Rainbow at Victoria Falls

In April and May, the peak of the flood season, the six falls - Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Rainbow Falls, Armchair Falls and the Eastern Cataract - form the largest curtain of falling water in the world. 

On the Zambian side of the Falls tourists find ‘The River Club’- situated between the town of Livingstone and the Falls themselves.  The camp - owned and operated by Peter Jones, a product of The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst - consists of ten luxury thatched chalets with a distinct Victorian flavour, where guests enjoy the sights and sounds of the Falls and the Zambezi River in a peaceful and tranquil setting.

A typical day can either involve relaxing by the pool on the banks of the Zambezi, or perhaps a morning fishing trip accompanied solely by an expert fisherman and some bottles of beer!  After lunch the National Museum of Zambia in Livingstone is only ten minutes drive, or perhaps a game drive is preferable at the Mosi-oa-Tunya zoological park – home to the only remaining white rhino in Zambia.

The highlight for most people staying at the River Club is the sunset drift, where a speedboat takes you a couple of miles upstream before drifting back home while watching the magnificent sunset with an alcoholic beverage of your choice. 

A sunset 'booze' cruise!

Everything is within a 30-minute drive. The view, tranquillity, expansive gardens and small size ensure privacy and exclusivity in a region that has become the hub of tourism for Southern Africa. The Zambian staff are all well turned out in immaculate uniforms, and are always around to offer drinks or snacks.

On arrival, guests are not driven into camp; they are taken to a scenic spot on the Zambezi and then boated down to the camp, an approach that shows both thought and effort.  Where else in the world is it possible to sup typical African ‘sundowners’ and listen to the wildlife while lining up a croquet mallet for the vital winning shot?

A stay at The River Club is the perfect foil for your visit to the Victoria Falls, and this is a part of your African adventure you will never want to end.

For the braver tourist, white-water rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping or even abseiling is commonplace.  For the more laid-back (or sensible!) among us, helicopter tours or horse riding can provide a relaxing day’s excursion – with unbeatable views of the most magnificent waterfalls in the World.

For once in my life I put on the brave hat and decided to see just how close to the edge I could go.  In just four days I went abseiling, bungee jumping and jet boating, as well as taking to the Zambian skies in a micro-light glider.

Bobbing comfortably along the runway, the ochre straw grass a blur alongside, you then suddenly experience gravity deprivation.  However by the time you get used to ‘floating’ you are riding the crest of palms and acacias, rising as steadily as a fish eagle on a thermal.

Microlighting over the Falls

Your entire perspective of the world has changed.  An antelope scampers away in the field below; a herd of zebra then run for cover as you glide past them at a low altitude level.

With one quick flick of the pilot’s wrist, the glider changes direction and you turn your head to establish equilibrium only to have your breath sucked from within, as you look down on the enormous wall of white water that is the Victoria Falls.

White water rafting is also an exhilarating option – rafting down a course considered to be the fastest and most dangerous in the World. All of the rapids in the Zambezi – numbering 23 in total – are class three to five; therefore children under the age of fifteen are not permitted to raft. 

White-water Rafting in the Zambezi

The rapids are interspersed with tranquil pools, enabling you to marvel at the magnificent beauty of the Batoka gorge between some of the most exciting and challenging rapids anywhere on earth.

The next amazing adrenaline-pumping activity simply known as ‘The Gorge Swing’.  “It is simple”, said instructor Simon van Drannen, “it is like committing suicide by stepping off a cliff, then at the last moment an angel snatches you away”.

Freefall lasts for three and a half seconds at 60mph, half a second longer than bungee jumping, and one second longer than a static line parachute jump.  As the swing kicks in, you pull 2.5G’s and accelerate to over 94mph as the rope propels you across the gorge and to the ground.

The actual gorge is 105 metres deep.  The rope itself is 57 metres long, and the swing kicks in when you are an incredible 80 centimetres from the ground.  A millisecond from impact the swing launches you away from death and up into the sky at over 90 mph.

Now it is your turn….

mark donaldson - november 2000

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