Whitewater rafting Victoria Falls by 16 year old Kai

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Up nice and early and we were off! Off on a cheeky bit of whitewater rafting Victoria Falls for my 16th birthday. 

I’d always wanted to go whitewater rafting at Victoria Falls, but last time we went, I was too young. Now, finally that I’m over the minimum age of 15, I could live my dream. And what better time to do it than just before my 16th birthday. At an early 6:30am Dad woke me from my slumber and told me I had to wake up else we would miss the bus that would be taking us to the Zambezi River for our whitewater rafting adventure. I got up and quickly had brekkie and got changed, and Dad and I were on the bus smack on 7am. There were already a few people on the bus which looked more like a massive open safari vehicle on the back of a truck and as we got on we were told we needed to go pick up a few more people before we started the trip. 

First stop was at the Rest Camp where we picked up a bunch of backpackers who looked really excited for the day ahead. We then went to the Victoria Falls Hotel to pick two more people up, and then eventually ended up at the majestic Lookout Café. 

The Lookout Café is a beautiful café run by Wild Horizons (a tour operator that runs many amazing activities in Vic Falls) that is situated right on the edge of the gorge looking out to the bridge into Zambia and then even to the Falls themselves. The Lookout Café is where you start the Canopy Tour and you can also do the Zipline, Flying Fox and Gorge Swing.  At the Lookout Café we were greeted by the incredible view, and tea and coffee to wake the slow starters. The group, which was now a good size of 21 people, me easily being the youngest, took our seats and faced the whitewater rafting guides for the safety briefing. 

We were greeted by a very enthusiastic Simon who gave us a rundown of the day and gave the two options of boats. We could either sit in the boat with no paddle, and our guide would sit in the middle of the boat with giant wooden oars and manoeuvre the boat through the rapids himself. Or the other option was for everyone in the boat to have a paddle, and for the instructor to be yelling commands to the boat crew. This option was the more full on experience. Everyone seemed determined to take on the more full on and adventurous way of fighting the rapids, and Simon wished us luck for this endeavour. We were then met by another guide who told us about photos and videos that we could purchase for an extra cost. Then Simon came back on and explained what we should expect and what we should do if we fall out the boat and in case of an emergency. After that he told us how to hold the paddle and how to react if we were to fall in or get sucked into the rapids. Finally, we were done and all set to go. Burdened with lots of things to remember we hopped back onto the truck and drove to the top of the gorge.

After a 20-minute drive through town and into the national park, we got to the starting point where all of our safety equipment was laid out. After assembling ourselves with helmets, life jackets and paddles, we started the long descent to the bottom of the gorge looking like an army of scary looking tortoises. We made our way down the steep steps to the bottom of the high cliffs that surrounded the gorge. The steps seemed to never end, and it seemed crazy to think that the guides and instructors ran up and down these never-ending steep steps countless times a day! They must be fitter than any famous football player I know. After what seemed like forever, I finally saw it, water! A couple of minutes more and I was finally at the bottom with a spectacular view of the foreboding Zambezi River.

I’ll be totally honest with you; I was kind of nervous. Ok I was really nervous and one look at the boats we were using almost made me want to run back up the steps and into the truck. They were big inflatable boats, but they looked like no match for the fast moving current and the crazy looking rapids we had to face. Anyhow I was here now, I couldn’t turn back. Our rafting guide James, who we had met at the top of the gorge when we had made groups, called us to one of the boats. We got on one at a time and somehow, I ended up right at the front of the boat! Like c’mon, the smallest guy there being first to hit the rapids? But by now all nervousness had gone and was replaced by some mad excitement at what lay ahead. Once all 7 of us and James were on the boat, we headed out into the calm stretch of water where James taught us the commands and made us work our backsides off to keep up with his commands. It was super tiring and we hadn’t even hit the rapids yet! Finally, James told us the camera would be videoing us while we followed his instructions and it ended with us all jumping into the water. It was all super fun … until we faced the rapids.

The first rapid was called the Overland Truck Eater. Because it was the wet season, we could only start from rapid 11 as the water was too high and dangerous closer to the falls. The Overland Truck Eater, James told us, was not a hard rapid but if we went into some dangerous parts of the current, we would be sucked under the surface and spat out at the end of the rapid after almost 20 seconds underwater! He told us that the worst possible thing to do under water was panic, and that didn’t exactly settle my nerves. Anyway, back to the rapids. We watched a few of the other boats go through unscathed and as we continued closer and closer to the rapid, the water started speeding up. Then … we were in. James yelling commands as the boat went up and down, water splashing into the boat and soaking us. I was so sure we were going to tip into the water, it was just so fierce. And then, all of a sudden it stopped, the current slowed down, and we were through. My adrenaline was pumping, it was the most hectic thing I’d ever done, and it had only just begun.

whitewater rafting

On the other side we faced some smaller rapids that weren’t named and as we paddled, I realized how tiring this was. My arms were aching, and they wanted to fall off, but wanting to face the next rapids kept them strapped to my shoulders. As we slowly meandered along the river, James explained how the river split the two countries Zimbabwe and Zambia in two. He also explained many other things like how high the river went and why these were some of the safest rapids to go down in the world. Then out of no where we were at the next rapids – Three Ugly Sisters and The Mother.

The Three Ugly Sisters were rapids 12 A, B and C. They were rapids that went on for about 300 metres and they progressively got harder, then right at the end was the biggest of them all, The Mother. The Mother was massive, and James told us that there was a small dead zone at the end of the rapid that we did not want to get stuck in because if we did it would take a long time to get out. With this in mind we attacked the next set of rapids. They weren’t as crazy as the first one, but we had to work hard to keep on course. Toward the turn for The Mother everyone seemed to tire out as we had just paddled no stop for most of the 300 metres of rapids. We suddenly lost control and ended up in the dead zone pool that James told us NOT to get stuck in. By this time, I was totally knackered, and being at the front meant I was doing the most work. James saw I was looking exhausted and got me to swap with one of the more powerful guys who had quite a bit more energy than me. After the change we pushed hard and managed to somehow get ourselves out of the dead zone and back into the current first try! We pushed on through The Mother with a slight stop as we fell out of the current once again and through to the next rapid to challenge us.

We got past Surprise Surprise rapid number 14 and rapid 15 the Washing Machine without too much fuss, and then we saw a sight which made everyone rethink their life choices. As we rounded the bend to face what James told us was a stage 4 rapid number 16 The Terminator, we watched a boat flip completely upside down and all the people in the raft got thrown out in a way that made it look like the whole thing was scripted. The whole boat got super excited we all pushed really hard as we hit the rapid. This rapid was easily much bigger and more scary than the other ones. The noise was crazy loud, and I could barely hear James yelling out commands. Then, out of nowhere a huge rapid hit us sending the boat vertical! I was so sure we were going to flip, but we just managed to stay upright. But as we came crashing back down, Alex, one of the guys in our boat flipped out of the boat only just managing to hold onto a rope around the boat. We all rushed to the front and pulled him back in. Luckily by this time the rapids had calmed down and we had entered the calm stretch of water at the end of the rapid. We joked and laughed at how crazy the last minute had been. As we laughed it off James told us to turn around and as we turned, we saw two more boats from another company flip over and send more people flying everywhere. That was  definitely one of the most exhilarating things I’d ever done, and once again we were barely into the adventure!

After that exhilarating rapid we took on some more tough rapids, but none compared to the mighty Terminator. The next hour was a series of smaller rapids that we took on with excitement and overcame them all with actually quite a bit of ease. Because it was the wet season the rapids weren’t as big as when the water is low. So next time I want to come back in the low season and take on bigger and more scary rapids. Toward the end we had some fun jumping into the water and floating down smaller rapids and taking looks at some of the most beautiful views ever. The gorge continued forever with the odd luxury lodge peaking over the tops of the cliffs. But apart from that, we were flooded with 100% nature and the peaceful beauty of the Zambezi River.

whitewater rafting Victoria Falls

After 3 of the most amazing hours out on the river we finally went through the last rapid and saw a group of people pulling out boats signalling the end of an incredible adventure. We got out of the rafts and after a quick talk to the camera we took on the humongous walk to the top of the gorge. Apparently the fastest anyone has ever walked up the gorge is 8 minutes, 8! While the longest was an 85 year old Grandma who took 2 hours, YET she made it! For me I reckon it took about 15 minutes as I’m still young. I left my dad in my dust and got to the top a good 15 minutes before him. I was greeted by a wonderful sight at the top. A full cooler box with plenty of drinks, and a chef cooking up some delicious looking food.  As I waited at the top with a can of coke in my hand, I took in the spectacular view down into the gorge, while the rest of the crew straggled up to the finish line. Finally food was served and everyone tucked in to some delicious food cooked by the “Lookout Cafe” chef. After everyone had filled their bellies, we hopped back onto the bus and headed on the long journey back to Vic Falls. We dropped everyone off at their hotels, then a smaller safari vehicle took us back to our awesome Lokuthula Lodge. 

whitewater rafting Victoria Falls

Whitewater rafting Victoria Falls was one of my most incredible experiences of my life and I highly recommend that anyone who gets to Victoria Falls take on the mighty rapids.

whitewater rafting Victoria Falls

Add whitewater rafting Victoria Falls into any of the following Travel Africa itineraries:

Victoria Falls Magic – 4 days  (Accommodated)

Victoria Falls & Chobe Combo – 5 days (Accommodated)

Zimbabwe: Falls & Elephants – 6 days (Accommodated)

Botswana & Zimbabwe Combo: Delta & Rivers – 8 days (Accommodated)

Best of Southern Africa – 13 Days (Accommodated)

Family Self-Drive Botswana: Wildlife Wonderland – 15 days (Accommodated)

Self-Drive Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe: including the Okavango Delta – 25 days (Camping)