The rivers are the life blood of Africa. The major watercourses through the continent have dictated the distribution of plants, wildlife, and even people. Where permanent and seasonal water sources are found, so are fertile soils, riverine trees, grasslands, and animals. In the rivers themselves are hippos, crocodiles, and fish. On their edges are reeds, birds and their nests, amphibians, and terrestrial mammals that have come to drink. Even in the Namib – the oldest desert in the world – there are riverbeds that become fossilised over time and all of a sudden burst into life when enough rain encourages a flood. The celebration can be heard from all corners of the country and beyond as videos of water flowing through the dry, sandy desert are sent through the community with palpable excitement.
Into the wilderness, on a canoe
It is quite something to feel a part of the African river systems, to float on their surfaces is both thrilling and calming. Knowing that crocodiles lurk beneath and hippos wallow, almost fully submerged, in the coolness is enough to convince you either to paddle out and be a part of it, or to stay on shore and watch from a distance. This is for the adventurous souls out there who want to dive right in and take their game viewing experience to the next level. Canoeing wild on the Zambezi River offers a whole new perspective on the wilderness. On land, you’re disguised by a big, rumbling vehicle, but on the water you’re eye level with the hippos, silent, and quite exposed. It’s an incredible opportunity to look and listen like you never have before.
Surrounded by wildlife on either side
The Zambezi River valley has Mana Pools on one side, Lower Zambezi National Park on the other, and the great Victoria Falls downstream. It’s in southern Africa’s most magnificent and popular safari region with world famous game viewing quality. From Chobe National Park to South Luangwa, the Zambezi lies in between with Zimbabwe and Zambia on either side. Mana Pools on the Zim side is the kingdom of elephants that are familiar with seeing people on foot, which creates the opportunity to view the giants of Africa from the ground up. Or, from the seat of a canoe! Flourishing wildlife flock to the banks of the river, offering excellent views of these peaceful antelope and other mammals, large and small, as they bend their heads to the water to drink. Imagine the photographic opportunities of an elephant doubled up on its reflection, or wading storks patiently fishing in the shallows. Hippos blow vapour through their nostrils and it clings to the golden light, creating magnificent sights right in front of your eyes.
Mana Pools National Park
Mana Pools safaris certainly incorporate the canoeing element of the experience. With the Zambezi River running alongside it, it is a primary feature of the reserve and it is certainly where a lot of the wildlife clusters. Our choice for a canoeing safari in Mana Pools is at the newly opened Nyamatusi collection. These two new eco-luxury safari camps are in a prime location on the river and their design is inspired by the original custodians of the area. Plenty of timber, thatch, locally sourced and handmade elements bring the lodge together and captivate guests’ attention without detracting from the wild and wonderful wilderness around them. Canoeing activities at Nyamatusi Camp and Nyamatusi Mahogany are an opportunity to “paddle along the tranquil waters of the Zambezi River and take in the pristine scenery of Mana Pools National Park from a unique angle.”
Lower Zambezi National Park
On the opposite side of the river to Mana Pools is Lower Zambezi National Park, which is where Chongwe River Camp is located. With a perfect riverfront location and relaxed chalets set on the grassy banks with nothing more than canvas and natural reeds creating the shape of each room. The views of pink sunsets and the gentle ring of crepuscular insects and birds in the air is the idyllic end to the day at Chongwe River Camp. Each room has a set of chairs under the shade of a grass-thatch roof, making the perfect bush veld patio. The canoeing experience at Chongwe is comfortable and relaxing. Each canoe seats two guests spaciously and a guide at the head of the vessel. Plenty of space for cameras and binoculars ensure ease of access to ally our gadgets too. “It truly is a special experience for the nature lover using only the safest of routes where previous canoeing experience is not necessary, and lifejackets are provided. All you need to do is sit back, relax and watch Africa slip by!”
Downstream of Lower Zambezi National Park is the iconic Most-oa-Tunya: The Smoke that Thunders. Victoria Falls is a popular tourism hub where adventurous and adrenalin pumping activities keep the thrill seekers occupied, while those with a tamer sense of adventure can walk along the famous waterfall, feel its mist, and hear its roar. It’s hard to find a place to yourself in the busy and historic towns of Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), but only 12km upstream of the hype is a quiet little sanctuary where exclusive canoeing on the Zambezi River offers a chance to relax and observe the natural wilderness that surrounds you. The river that feeds the world famous waterfall, full of life in the form of birds, mammals, and of course the Nile crocodile. Sussi & Chuma is ideally positioned for never-ending river views and for perfect paddling adventures.
“A two-hour guided canoeing trip can either be done in the morning or afternoon, starting from the lodge and can be combined with either a game drive or a boat cruise. Canoeing is offered all year, but is weather dependent. Minimum age is 15 years.”
Interested in more adventurous and active safari itineraries? Check out these blogs for inspiration: