Zambia is a mesmerising wilderness of vast blue skies, rippling yellow grasslands, iridescent wetlands and ochre red soil. It is one of Southern Africa’s most remote countries through which flow the three great rivers, the Kafue, the Luangwa and the Zambezi; the life-giving waters of which attract vast concentrations of mammals and predators.
Walking safaris were pioneered in Zambia and the options for such a unique game viewing experience are endless. Kafue National Park is remote, staggeringly beautiful and varied with woodland, rivers, plateaus, floodplains and swamps teeming with birds and other wildlife. Herbivores including kudu, bushbuck, eland, reedbuck, common duker, grysbok and waterbuck are frequently seen and the area is abundant with predators such as cheetah, leopard and wild dog, including the remarkable tree-climbing lions. South Luangwa National Park is a big-game stronghold and one of the wildest and most majestic parks in Africa. The Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the country’s premier wildlife viewing areas, famed for its large prides of lion lording over the valley, elephants wading through the river, crocodiles basking on the muddy banks and large pods of hippo.
If you are not keen on walking through the bush, an alternative and very memorable way to get up close and personal with wild Africa is on a canoe safari. One day we paddled alongside four lionesses as they padded silently along the river bank and our canoe floated beside hippo as they eyeballed us, eyes like periscopes, snorting from the surface of the water. The very remote Liuwa Plain National Park is difficult to access and consequently is an unspoilt haven with very few visitors and boasts one of Africa’s great animal migrations. Nothing can beat the primeval thrill of tracking wild African animals through the bush where all the while you realise you could actually be the one being hunted!
The area around Livingstone has the reputation for being the adrenalin centre of Africa. It is a Pandora’s box full of epic experiences such as helicopter and microlight flights that drop right into the Victoria Falls gorge, cliffs and bridges to bungee jump, abseil and gorge swing. Additional activities include cage-diving with crocodiles, elephant riding and walking with lions. Whitewater rafting through the raging rapids of the Zambezi had always been on my ‘must do’ travel list and the thrill of it did not disappoint! In fact I was quite delirious with adrenalin for weeks afterwards! As one of the top ten paddling rivers on the planet and acclaimed as the ‘wildest one-day white-water run in the world’ the journey boasts such rapids as “Stairway to Heaven” and “Oblivion” – I can remember every plunge, twist, turn and capsize to this day!
It was the Smoke that Thunders or Mosi-oa-Tunya, as the locals have always called it that leaves indelible memories. Planning to be the first to ‘discover’ the Victoria Falls that day, we set off on foot from the bus stop at first light, heading towards billowing clouds of mist below .
The walk to The Falls follows a meandering route across scrubland which is inhabited by troops of baboon. Naively we found it thrilling to walk among such seemingly friendly creatures until with alarm, we realised the baboons had gradually circled us and with threatening taunts were closing in. Our arrival at the brink of the mighty falls was more dramatic than we hoped, followed a sprint for our lives from our furry friends. It was quite literally a breath-taking experience to stand beside the world’s greatest mass of falling water. At over one thousand meters wide and one hundred metres high, a vast curtain of water from the plains plunges into the massive, frothy black chasm of Batoka Gorge, which you can witness from nerve-rackingly high viewpoints dotted along the edge of the gorge. On November 23rd 1855 Livingstone wrote in his journal, ‘Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.
There are wonderful walks through the rainforest beside the falls where the power of the surging water tumbling into the void electrifies every nerve and sinew, leaving the body energised with electrons for weeks afterwards! Teetering from the viewpoint above Devil’s Cataract, I could imagine the shock of missionaries who witnessed tribes sacrificing beasts to the rainbow god here! The most thrilling experience of all was swimming in a pool right at the falls’ edge besides Livingstone Island, clutching onto rocks as raging torrents pummeled my body and billowing clouds of vapour towered into the blue sky yonder …
Once touched by the spirit of Africa it never leaves you! I can’t wait to return!