It's easy to Fall for Africa-a-a-a-a

by Ross Hall

Safari - Ross on his hols

Safari - Ross on his hols

How to mix natural wonder with white water rafting..and a 350ft bungee jump

By Ross Hall, 25/01/2009

THE first sight — and sound — of the cascading, thunderous waters of Victoria Falls takes your breath away.

It’s one of the most astonishing natural wonders of the world which rates highly on any traveller’s must- see destinations.

And with more than 50 activities crammed into the small surrounding Vic Falls town, it’s easily the adventure capital of Africa — an oasis of fun completely removed from the problems facing the rest of Zimbabwe.

Having just arrived from a week-long safari I thought I would ease into the country slowly before tackling the daredevil sports on offer. The Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke That Thunders) may not be the highest or widest falls in the world, but based on its width of 1.7 kilometers and height of 108 meters it forms the largest sheet of falling water.

Spray

The spray rises to more than 400 metres and, amazingly, is visible from up to 40 kilometers away.

To get close to the magnificent sight, you need to buy a ticket into the national park. But you should also go on the guided tour for $30 (£20).

Many of Africa’s animals and birds are to be found in the area and the range of river fish is plentiful in the Zambezi, so you can combine wildlife viewing and sport fishing with sightseeing.

After the tranquil tour of the Falls, it was time for some hardcore action, so I signed up for some white-water rafting — aka a Dance With The Mighty Zambezi.

After a trek to the riverside we boarded the boats and were given the all-important safety talk. No problems, so far.

But what comes next didn’t feel so much like a dance with the Zambezi as a 12-round battering from Joe Calzaghe.

Rapid One is only a Grade Three we’re told (they go from One to Six, One being easy and Six, well, avoid if you can). So this one should be no problem, I kid myself as I watch huge waves crashing into each other. As we tear down the river the adrenalin kicks in and we’re paddling like fury . . . until, that is, the first big wave we reach smacks into us full-on like a steam train.

That’s it for me — I’m overboard, hitting my head on a paddle and taking in gallons of river water in the process.

As I swirl around waiting to surface, I wonder if the raft was completely toppled by that almighty wall of water. Surely everyone else would — like me — be floating powerlessly downstream.

But to my surprise, and complete embarrassment, I’m the only one who thinks it’s a better idea to swim the rapids rather than stay afloat. I learn my lesson after that — the guide warned that clinging to the ropes, closing your eyes and hoping for the best is the only way down.

Bruise

The following morning, having survived that trip with only a few minor scrapes and bruises, it was time for the ultimate challenge.

We walked out to the middle of a bridge which joins Zimbabwe with Zambia. Standing 111 metres above the unforgiving Zambezi, I’m faced with what will either be the most exciting thing I’ll ever do, or the last thing I’ll ever do.

Adrenalin junkies were queuing by the dozen to leap into the vast gorge, their only lifeline a bungie cord tied around their ankles. Before I knew it, the countdown had begun and it was too late to change my mind.

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . BUNGEE!

Defying every instinct of my mind and body I jumped out, arms stretched, and prayed the cord would hold.

It takes just four seconds to reach the bottom before you’re flung back up on what is essentially a huge elastic band, but that fall seems to take a lifetime.

What surprised me is the sudden silence that fills the air. There’s fear, excitement, and a thousand thoughts that rush through your mind — but bizarrely, it all seems so quiet. The bounce back up and the following climb onto the bridge are all a blur now — all that remains is the memory of the fall.

During my visit to the area, I stayed at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge which opened in 1994 and has been voted the best safari lodge in Zimbabwe by the local tourism industry every year since.

It’s easy to see why. It fits in perfectly with the surroundings and overlooks a watering hole visited every day by elephant, buffalo, giraffe and antelope.

There are loads of eating places in Victoria Falls town but the best by far is the Boma Place of Eating. For $40 (£26) each you can eat as much as you want and there’s so much to choose from.

The Boma serves up a unique cultural experience that bombards diners with the tastes, sounds and smells of Africa.

I tried all their speciality Zimbabwean dishes including warthog, ostrich and buffalo. But I had to draw the line at one local delicacy, mopani worms.

Rafting the most feared river in the world? No probs. Jumping off a bridge with a rope tied to my ankles? Easy. But munching on some worms . . . I’m afraid I had to wriggle out of that one.

Getting there

VIRGIN Atlantic have a special offer on return flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg, South Africa, from £505 if booked before Tuesday for travel in September. See www.virginatlantic.com or call 08705 747 747. A standard double room at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge costs £140 per person, per night. To book, call 00 263 13 432 014 or email saflodge@saflodge.co.zw

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