An Adventure of a Lifetime: Kayaking the Zambezi, Majestic Victoria Falls, Safari Camping in Botswana

This trip was more than just an adventure – it had been a journey of discovery, of connection, and of profound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

Ellie Busse

This past November my husband, Joe, and I embarked on an epic adventure with a wonderful group of friends. Our itinerary promised adrenaline-packed kayaking on the Zambezi River, dangling over the massive Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and camping in the bush on a safari in Botswana. Each leg of the trip guaranteed unforgettable experiences and cherished memories.

After a full day and half of traveling, we arrived in Livingstone, Zambia where the native language is Kololo and the town is named Mosi-oa-Tunya. This phrase means “the smoke that thunders” in reference to the 355 foot Victoria Falls whose base begins the impressive whitewater section.  The Zambezi is one of the largest rivers in the world with some big rapids. The local economy relies heavily on the tourism provided by this spectacular river.  In the morning, we would load up onto a burley truck/trailer rig and head out of town.  On our way to the river, we would pick up the local porters who make a living by carrying kayaks into and out of the canyon.  For reference, the porters made an average of $3 USD per day. Sometimes language was a bit of a barrier but we navigated through non-verbal forms of gratitude by tipping with water, food, and cash.  

For the first run on each section, we hired a local and experienced guide.  We kayaked into the swirling waters and big waves with as much adrenaline as we had stoke. It was definitely fun and challenging for me, not that the run was exceptionally technical or difficult, it was just so HUGE! The Zambezi is quite different from the low volume southeast paddling I’m familiar with. Our boats were skittles on a sea of turquoise and when I inevitably flipped my boat,  it felt like total chaos. With our guide to calm us, we successfully navigated down the rapids and immersed ourselves in the raw beauty of the African wilderness which included crocodiles in eddies. Words cannot describe the awesome power and raw beauty of the Zambezi River gorge, a place so special to our world, it truly makes you feel! Unfortunately, this great river is threatened by plans for a hydro-electric project that will dam the river 29 miles downriver from Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989. The road to the put-in is dotted with signs reminding us of the ominous 2027 date that will forever change this river corridor. 

Some of the best moments of the trip were not actually kayaking, but participating in wildlife experiences and visiting Victoria Falls. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to do a walking rhinoceros tour. These magnificent creatures are approaching extinction and to see them up close was remarkable and emotionally heavy. It made you think about humanity and the overall harmful relationship we’ve had on this planet. The preserve was just outside of town and was too small for big cats (ie. lions) to inhabit; hence the ability to walk and not need the security of a jeep. The guides and rangers were very knowledgeable of local flora and fauna, and dedicated their careers to protecting the endangered species within the preserve. To top off our non-kayaking tour, we were able to visit Victoria Falls, with limited regulations compared to the U.S., we swam just above the falls into a small eddy at the lip.  A guide held onto our ankles as we splayed our bodies on the basalt rock overhanging the waterfall. It was pure joy! 

After 10 days exploring Livingstone and kayaking the river, we bid farewell to Zambia and set our sights on Chobe National Park in Botswana. Our destination, the vast expanse of the bush, where we would camp under the African sky and embark on a breath-taking safari. And let me just say, camping in the bush is a heck of an experience. General guidelines were not to leave the tent at night for fear of hyenas and leopards. Arriving at our guide center, we were greeted by the untamed beauty of the Okavango Delta where the Chobe River offers shelter, habitat, food, and water to many animals. Amidst the sprawling plains and winding waterways, we observed an abundance of wildlife: countless birds like the exquisite African fish eagle, African buffalo, waterbuck, crocodiles, hippos,  prides of lions, zebra, giraffe, baboons, warthog, kudu, impalas, and wildebeest! Each sighting filled us with a sense of amazement and appreciation for the jeep that kept us a safe distance from the wildlife. Each night the sun dipped below the horizon, painting the sky in shades of orange and gold, we ate tasty dinners around a campfire and shared our excitement of the day. Eventually, we sought solace and security in our tents with a perimeter of lanterns to keep the wildlife at bay. I certainly felt the immense magnitude and awe of our beautiful planet during that time. This was our final adventure and it was truly magical. 

This trip was more than just an adventure – it had been a journey of discovery, of connection, and of profound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. From the adrenaline rush of kayaking the Zambezi to the serenity of camping in the bush and the awe-inspiring beauty of Victoria Falls, each moment had left an indelible mark on our hearts and souls. Overlooking the runway, our flight headed to Johannesburg, I knew that Africa would forever hold a special place in my heart, calling me back to its wild and untamed beauty.