By Moira Smith, Goway’s GM of AfricaExperts and a passionate South African, living now in Toronto.
My first visit to Zambia was in the late ‘eighties, when tourism was still in it’s infancy across most of Africa. Zambia, along with many other countries, had sanctions against South Africa, which was still under apartheid. These sanctions meant that we (South Africans) were not only unable to trade with Zambia, but South Africans were denied entry to the country itself. To those South Africans with a passion for travel, especially for the unaltered wildernesses of Africa, Zambia was the holy grail. So when Zambia lifted the travel ban, I leapt at the chance to tour-lead 6 of the most die-hard safari professionals on their first visit to Zambia… but that’s another story! What this did to me however led to a life-long passion for Zambia and the magnificent experiences that it offers. Here I share 5 of my best, in one of Africa’s most exciting destinations:
Canoeing on the lower Zambezi – up close and personal!
1. Canoeing on the Lower Zambezi
I’m often asked what my favourite place in Africa is. It’s hard to choose as there are so many unique, special and wonderful places (did I mention if you only go to two continents in your life, go to Africa twice!). That being said, the Lower Zambezi is without a doubt in my top three. The Zambezi River is one of the great rivers of the world. Watching a sunset overlooking the Zambezi, G and T in hand, is hard to beat. What really sets a safari to this region apart though, is the range of activities it offers. Morning and night game drives (the lower Zambezi rivals the Sabi Sands for leopard sightings); fishing, strictly catch and release… and who said you can’t find tigers in Africa?; bush walks, photographic safaris and canoeing on the lower Zambezi. For the ultimate lodge Lower Zambezi experience look no further than Chiawa. This family run, award winning lodge is simply superb. And although the lodge nowadays is so much ‘fancier’, than when I first visited, its heart and soul, and the spectacular experience remain unchanged.
Close encounters with Wild Dog on a walking safari.
2. Walking in the South Luangwa
When you go on your first safari, one of two things happens. To paraphrase a friend, you either become a ‘safari addict for life’, or you tick it off your bucket list. It’s the former that is the far more likely scenario. That’s why so many travellers find that their first trip to Africa is the first of many. A walking safari elevates the bush experience in so many dimensions. It is said that from a vehicle you see Africa. But on foot you see, feel, hear and smell Africa!
For me a highlight of my first walking safari was tracking an adult male lion by identifying the spoor (…feces!), listening to the warning sounds of the monkeys, insects and birds, and then finally coming across this magnificent beast. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other.
For an authentic walking safari, look no further than the Bushcamp Company. What sets this apart is exceptional guiding (Zambian guides are considered amongst the best in the world); small, exclusive camps that host a maximum of eight guests at any one time; personal experiences tailored to suit the guest; and remote settings free from other vehicles.
NOTE: Zambia pioneered the walking safari, and Norman Carr is acknowledged to be the father of not only the walking safari, but also one of the pioneers of ecotourism in Southern Africa and the world. It’s rare to meet someone who has had such a profound impact on the world in their lifetime. I was privileged to meet this great man on a few occasions. The world is a richer place for him, and in his memory I want to share his obituary, here.
Swim in the Devils pool
3. Swim in the Devil’s Pool
Imagine an exhilarating swim at the edge (i.e. the TOP) of Victoria Falls – just before the curtain of water plummets 110 m into the gorge below! Called the ultimate, exclusive Victoria Falls experience, this is something you can only do when the Zambezi River is running low, typically between mid-August and mid-January. Access is from Livingstone Island which is where David Livingstone got his first sighting of the Falls. Ben Parker, owner of Tongabezi – another of my most favourite Zambian lodges, introduced me to this adrenaline filled experience. Later that day he was also witness to my (now) sister-in-law and I overturning our canoe in the middle of the Zambezi. This after assuring us it was perfectly safe – but I digress!
Tongabezi is the perfect place from which to enjoy all that Livingstone and its surrounds have to offer. Its underlying philosophy is that nothing is too much. Private dining in an array of venues from a quirky picnic on an authentic dhow to an indulgent lazy breakfast in your king size bed or your very own Sampan floating on the Zambezi river, illuminated by the Milky Way and paraffin lamps – with every course delivered by canoe.
Check the video out here,
4. Best one-day white water rafting in the world.
The boiling pot, Devil’s toilet bowl, Commercial Suicide, Gnashing Jaws of Death and Oblivion! These are just a few of the rapids you will encounter on what is rightfully billed as the wildest one-day whitewater rafting trip in the world. Actually the boiling pot is not a rapid, it’s where you start your exhilarating ride down the Zambezi at rapid number one – just underneath the Victoria Falls. I warn you though, the climb down to the starting point is not for the unfit (and don’t get me started on the climb out of the gorge at the end of the day!). But it’s completely worth it!
From left to right: (and a lot younger!) Allen Eccles, Alan from Bonaventure, Andy Dott, Dave Van der Spuy, Phillip Lategan, Moira Smith and Gerald Oelofse. Not pictured – Colin Bell.
The most exciting time to raft is during the low level water period, approximately mid-July to mid-February. This is when you’ll do rapids 1 through 23. In high water, when it’s deemed ‘milder’, rafting starts at rapid 11.
To the right is Moira in her element during the late 1980’s during her first visit to Zambia – pioneering the rafting industry!
Great birding in the Kafue
5. Birding in the Kafue.
Birders are a breed apart. On my aforementioned first trip to Zambia with the intrepid 6, I was in awe of their knowledge. They could recognize and identify LBJ’s (little brown jobs) in flight, at a 100m distance, knew every bush and tree – the scientific names, and to my, then, almost teetotal ways could put away an obscene amount of beer, with no apparent effect!
They did instill in me a love for natures smaller things in general, and birds in particular. The Kafue National Park in Zambia is a birders paradise. Thanks to the outstanding array of habitat types, the plethora of bird species the Kafue houses stands at over 500 recorded species, roughly as much as the whole of Europe. With too many to write here, some notable ticks in the Kafue are as follows: Pel’s Fishing Owl, Black-cheeked Lovebird, Chaplin’s Barbet (Zambia’s only endemic bird), Wattled and Crowned Crane, African Fin-foot, Bohm’s Bee-eaters, the list goes on. Zambia made a birder out of me!