The Zambezi is one of Africa’s most powerful and life-sustaining rivers. With many areas along its banks enjoying protected status in Zimbabwe, there are superb game-viewing opportunities to be had. Venture into this epic wilderness area on a Zambezi River safari and discover Africa at its most untouched.
There’s something about the Zambezi river that lures me as much as the abundant wildlife that comes to drink at its banks. Perhaps it’s all that power and life force, thundering down into the mighty Victoria Falls like a crescendo. Perhaps it’s the riverside scenery as the Zambezi flows along forested floodplains that attract elephant with their bountiful mopane and albida trees. Or maybe it’s just the sight of this all-mighty, all-conquering river, I thought, standing at the riverbank with my partner, our guide Simba and our tracker Benson.
‘It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that the Zambezi begins its journey as an meagre little spring in the corner of northwest Zambia, bubbling up between the roots of a tree!’ said Simba. ‘As Africa’s fourth largest river system, the Zambezi stretches over 2,500km, crossing six countries.’
We jumped back into our open 4×4, which was more than equipped to handle the often muddy course along the river. We’d already seen the amazing Victoria Falls (we’d even microlighted above them) and now we wanted to do a full Zambezi River safari, following the river by car and seeing all its shores had to offer.
A flash of movement caught Simba’s eye and he stopped to show us a troop of vervet monkey swinging through the trees, chattering and squabbling noisily as they passed us. Then Benson pointed excitedly, and we drove up a sharp incline to overlook the river, which was awash in a herd of buffalo. We observed them as they mooed, flapped their ears, splattered the ground with dung and lazed nonchalantly on the riverbank.
We moved off at a sedate pace, Simba pointing out some of the migratory birds that flock to the Zambezi – here a Southern carmine bee eater nesting in the sandbanks, there an African skimmer. We watched as the aptly named skimmer flew over the water with its lower mandible just below the water surface, literally skimming the water for fish. ‘Around 1,500 skimmers breed along the Zambezi River,’ Simba related. ‘So this is a key conservation area for this species.’
We stopped for a substantial breakfast next to the water’s edge, delighting in the indulgence of gourmet treats in the bush as we watched the hunt of a fish eagle. Once sated, we drove on, marvelling at the number of hippo wallowing in the shallows and lounging on the sandbanks.
After passing through thick bush, we emerged into stunted mopane shrubbery that hinted at the presence of elephant. As we neared an immense baobab, we saw her – a large matriarch leading the way to the river. The herd moved slowly and gracefully into the water, while their young played all around them, spraying water at each other with their trunks.
We watched them play in endless fascination until, seeming to obey some unspoken communication, they moved off as one into the thorny bush. This signalled the end of our time on the Zambezi too, although we couldn’t wait to do another game drive during our Zimbabwe safari trip and see what other wonders it would have in store.