Better the Devil you know – Vic Falls, Zimbabwe

Our Zimbabwe police check count continued one the two day drive from Bulawayo to Vic Falls, chalking up another 10 stops and one ‘fine’. With the temperature already nudging 40 degrees things heated up even more when we drove right through the middle of a bush fire burning by the roadside. With the sides rolled up the heat and smoke quickly filled the truck before we suddenly emerged into clear air 30 seconds later like nothing had happened.

Shoestrings Backpackers
Shoestrings Backpackers

#Shoestrings Backpackers
Shoestrings Backpackers

Our home in Vic Falls was Shoestrings Backpackers with it’s shady trees, scattered craft shops, large swimming pool and one of the best atmosphere’s we’ve had so far on the trip. A restaurant and bar open to the public plus dorms accommodating other overlanders, volunteers and the like gave the place a real buzz. Booking up some activities for the next few days we settled in to try their Hawaiian pizza with banana which actually tasted better than it sounds. An early night was called for as tomorrow we were hitting up the Mighty Zambezi river.

Shoestrings Backpackers
The pool at Shoestrings Backpackers
Shoestrings Backpackers.
Creativity abounds at Shoestrings Backpackers
White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
Our first glimpse of the mighty Zambezi River
Said to be some of the best white water rafting in the world, the Zambezi plummets over the 108m high Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, before roaring along a mile of adrenaline raising, foaming river gorge. Heading out during the high water season we were set to hit rapids 1 – 19 encompassing several Grade 5 rapids with names such as Terminator 1 and 2, the Devils Toilet Bowl and Stairway to Heaven.
White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
The steep descent to the river
White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
Andy and Matt getting ready to hit the river
After being split into teams and given a safety brief, Wild Horizons usher us outside to allocate our gear – a helmet, a life vest and a paddle – before we take a short drive and start our steep, sweaty descent on foot into the gorge. When we’re all in the boats we’re given a quick demonstration of commands before we’re instructed to jump in the water (didn’t have to say that twice) and practice pulling each other back into the boat which awkwardly ended up with one girls crotch in a strangers face.
White Water Rafting the Zambezi River.
Rafting the Zambezi
White Water Rafting the Zambezi
Rafting the Zambezi
White Water Rafting the Zambezi
Rafting the Zambezi
Before long we’d hit our first rapid, The Wall, and the adrenaline is pumping. Hitting our second rapid we pass under the bungy bridge where we watch a jumper swing above us. Our fourth rapid, Morning Glory, delivers when a huge wall of water sees Sarah bounced off the edge and disappearing into the water below, the first person in all four boats to take a ‘long swim’. After being dragged under several times for what felt like minutes with a panicked look on her face, she pops to the surface seconds later and is picked up by an accompanying kayak safety boat and delivered back to the raft in the calm waters below with a big grin on her face.
“Just wait til we hit #18!”

our guide shouts, not for the last time either. Every time we make it through a class 4 or 5 managing, unlike most of the other boats, not to flip over we’re reminded that we still have #18 Oblivion to go.

White Water Rafting the Zambezi
Rafting the Zambezi
White Water Rafting the Zambezi River.
Rafting the Zambezi
After walking around rapid #9, an unraftable class 6, we continue down river with Matt making a sudden exit from the raft on one rapid before we hit a smooth point and are allowed to jump in and float down the river to cool off. Back in the raft the infamous #18 Oblivion is soon upon us, and as we watch several other rafts flip with everybody being thrown out excitement levels rise.
White Water Rafting the Zambezi
Rafting the Zambezi
One of the other rafts going over, White Water Rafting the Zambezi
One not so lucky raft being flipped on Oblivion…
White Water Rafting the Zambezi
…and everybody ends up in the water
Hitting the rapid head on we’re swamped by a wave of water and think we’ve survived, only to be launched into a second wave which sees everybody including our guide ungracefully thrown from the raft. Sarah’s dismount is a little less graceful than Matt who manages to hang on the longest, though she still manages to keep hold of her paddle.
Sarah's less than graceful exit on 18. Oblivion
Sarah being thrown out on Oblivion
White Water Rafting the Zambezi
Infamous #18 Oblivion
Matt making a graceful dismount on 18. Oblivion
Matt the last one out of the raft on Oblivion
With everybody climbing back in Sarah is sucked across the river to again be picked up by a kayak who pulls over to wait for the next raft which flips, throwing everybody into the churning water. A party kayak then follow with 6 people being towed to calmer waters and deposited back to the rafts.

White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
We survived!

White Water Rafting the Zambezi
Rafting the Zambezi

White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
Rafting the Zambezi

Having survived the river it’s a hot 45 minute hike back to the rim with all our gear where lunch and some cold beers await. Encouraged to take a few travellers we’re driven back to Shoestrings where we have an Absolute Africa group BBQ, plenty of drinks, and join the party at the bar where a Swedish guy is playing live music. Things descend into dancing anarchy and an evening singalong to celebrate one of the best things you can do while in Vic Falls.

White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
The might Zambezi River

White water Rafting on the Zambezi.
Rafting the Zambezi

Shoestrings Backpackers.
Celebrating with a Zambezi beer, as you do

A little dusty the next day we’re off to experience Vic Falls from another angle and walk across the border back into Zambia. Our rag tag group of backpackers is then given access to the very posh Royal Livingstone Hotel and escorted to the river bank to await our ride. Signing our life away in liability waivers we board a small speedboat and are whisked across the calm flat waters to the top of Mosi-oa-Tunya , the “smoke that thunders”.

Devils Pool.
Heading to the Devil’s Pool

Devils Pool.
The view from the Royal Livingstone Hotel

Devils Pool.
Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders

Devils Pool.
Vic Falls and the Devil’s Pool

Stripping off we tentatively follow the guide in single file as he swims through the water, eventually ending up in a pool right on the edge of the falls. We then take turns to approach the very edge, being encouraged by our guide to lean as far forward as we can until we can see the bottom, 107 metres below. A permanent rainbow and the thundering in your ears adds to the experience and the occasional push of water flowing over the edge leaves you pretty exhilarated (or shitting yourself, depends on your disposition).

Devils Pool.
Devil’s Pool

Devils Pool.
Striking a pose on the edge of the falls

Devils Pool.
Devil’s Pool

 Devils Pool.
Trying to act casual

Having arrived on the first boat and being rushed by our guide, we’re granted a bit of extra time and after 30 minutes it’s time to leave. Walking back the way we came we’re seated beneath an open air tent and served breakfast, a little confused that we weren’t headed back to the Hotel as we’d been told. A small serving of a single poached egg and a couple of dry muffins leave us scratching our heads as to what our USD$95 had actually paid for, and when we’re greeted with feral looks by the waiting staff for daring to ask for a glass of water we’re even more perplexed. It’s a great experience but in our view it’s pretty overpriced for what you get, so we made sure to spend some time exploring the hotel grounds and bars to get our money’s worth before walking back across the border to Zimbabwe.

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The Devil’s Pool

Tiny Breakfast, Devils Pool.
For USD$95 you’d expect a little more breakfast than that!

Devils Pool.
Royal Livingstone Hotel

It’s a hot afternoon and Matt’s offered weed constantly by the sometimes friendly sometimes seedy locals. Still famished after our dismal breakfast we hit up a local chicken/pizza/Chinese fast food joint where the portions are more to our liking.

Food from wok joint.  Not bad.
Now that’s more like it!

Waterfall in Low water.
The ‘discoverer’ of the falls Mr David Livingstone himself

With the afternoon free Sarah heads down to check out the falls from the other side, walking along the rim in the heat. She gets a great view of the Devil’s Pool from the other side, watching as a lone tourist struggles to get into the water even with two guides to help him, wimp! The power of the water is obvious as a small yellow kayak has been washed over and become stuck in a churning pool of water being turned over and over and over on the spot.

Victoria Falls, Zambia.
Vic Falls

The Zambezi.
Rapid #1 and our launching place for yesterday’s rafting adventure

Vic Falls
Vic Falls with the Devil’s Pool in the middle to the right of the thundering white water (zoom in and you can see people sitting in it)

The next day 7 of us head off to provide moral support to one of our group bravely attempting the gorge swing (go Ruth!). A few celebrator beers later the driver detours us via a 2,000 year old boabao tree where a local guy appears from nowhere to sell Sarah a bundle of old Zimbabwean notes including the much sought after 10 trillion for just USD$5.

Baobab tree.
The Big Tree, 2,000 year old boaboa tree

Like half a mill in Monopoly money.
Trillionaires

 

Now that we’re trillionaires we decided to leave the backpacker lifestyle behind and head to the Safari Lodge for sunset. Ok so we took the free shuttle from town, but we got dressed up for the occasion. A couple of glasses of wine later the sun has set and we head back to town to hit up a local dinner favourite, Carnivores. Joining a fellow Aussie from the hostel you can imagine our surprise when we walk in and the traditional bank is playing the ‘Skippy’ theme song, lyrics and all. Feeling they’d put it on just for us, we order and sit back to watch some guy dance around in a very creepy traditional mask.
Vic Falls.  Safari Hotel.
Sunset drinks at Safari Lodge
Africa Safari Lodge.
Sunset at Safari Lodge
Africa Safari Lodge.
Sunset at Safari Lodge
Africa Safari Lodge.
Sunset at Safari Lodge
Africa Safari Lodge.
Sunset at Safari Lodge
Our food arrives and Matt gets stuck into a plate full of kudu, tsetsebe and impala steaks while Sarah enjoys her Crocodile ‘Lola’s bites’ (tastes like calamari chicken and highly recommended if you’re not a game meat fan). Enjoying the weird food experience we order a plate of Zimbabwe’d favourite snack, fried Mopane Worms ‘Macimbi’ which we’re given on the house. The plate arrives and we dig in to the little black critters that taste a bit like dirt and are much better when dipped in the spicy allioli sauce accompanying them, though we’re still unable to get our Aussie friend to try even one.
Crocodile 'Lola's bites'
Crocodile ‘Lola’s bites’
Mixed game steak, kudu, tsetsbe and impala
Matt’s gamey mixed grill of kudu, tsetsbe and impala
Zimbabwe's favourite snack, deep fried Mopane Worms 'Macimbi'
Crunchy deep fried Mopane Worms
Eating Mopane Worms
High in protein
And so concludes our time in Vic Falls. The following day we wave goodbye to our fellow truck mates who are leaving the tour here and climb back aboard Shaggy as the initial six. The truck feels empty and isn’t not long before we’re reminiscing about the good times had with our missing comrades. Thanks for a great trip guys, you were missed!
 IMG_1045
And then there was six
Next up we enter Botswana and head for the inland Okavango Delta.
For more photos of Vic Falls and our fantastic time in Zimbabwe hit up our Flickr site.
Tips for Vic Falls
  1. Rafting with Wild Horizons costs USD$140/$150 depending on high/low water time of year and you can book directly with Shoestrings.
  2. If you’re staying on the Zimbabwe side and want to do the Devil’s Pool you’ll need a multiple entry visa for Zimbabwe otherwise you’ll have to pay for a new visa. You could get a 1-day visa for Zambia at the time we visited though this changes often.
  3. If you have to choose between the bungy jump or the gorge swing, we’d recommend the gorge swing as you get the g-force of the swing plus a pretty good free fall thrown in for free.
  4. Entry to the falls costs USD$30 so ensure you allow plenty of time to get your money’s worth, best in the morning or afternoon as there’s not much shade and it gets pretty hot.
  5. Anybody can visit the Safari Lodge for sunset drinks on the terrace overlooking a waterhole. There’s a free shuttle from outside the Wild Horizon office in town. It’s a great break if you’ve been slumming it under canvas for a few weeks!
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