National Geographic Adventurers Ultimate Bucket List 2011

December 24th, 2011

Famed explorer David Livingstone was certainly impressed by Victoria Falls when he reached it in the 19th century, but the rapids of the Zambezi? He thought British steamers would one day sail smoothly down the river. More than a hundred years later, the waters remain untamed. And the Zambezi’s 23 rapids, which roil with waves as high as 30 feet (9 meters), are famed as the best commercially run white water in the world. But they aren’t the river’s only thrills.

“On our last trip, our group was paddling as fast as possible away from a male hippo only to come around a small island and surprise a 25-foot (8-meter) croc,” says Duke Bradford, owner of outfitter Global Descents. “He hit the water three feet off our boat so hard he soaked us all.” Most trips travel a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch in a day, but Global Descents offers eight-day 70-mile (113-kilometer) trips for rafters and experienced kayakers. From the toes of Victoria Falls, boaters buck through half a dozen rapids larger than the single largest in the Grand Canyon, each mercifully followed by a stretch of calm water. After the first day, few people, except for a handful of fishermen, share this raw, wild corner of Africa, frequented by baboons, vervet monkeys, and eagles. Along the way, dark basalt cliffs soar hundreds of feet into the sky, waterfalls thunder into the gorge, and white-sand beaches beckon kayakers and rafters with the promise of a soft spot to sleep.
Global Descents offers eight-day trips on the Zambezi once or twice each fall ($2,800; Kayakers who wish to paddle independently should bring all of their own equipment.