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A typical lower Zambezi canoe safari routine...



Bear in mind that every safari is different, weather conditions, game activity, guide skills and interests of the group will dictate what happens on the trip - every day on the Zambezi  River is different... 

[Go to the Classic Africa pages for a routine on a backed up safari]

Shearwater Canoe Safaris

The briefing

A pre-departure and safety briefing is given by your guide the evening before your launch - usually at Kariba Breezes Hotel. Safety is the foremost concern of the guide and operators.  

Any safari activity should be considered potentially hazardous and whilst all reasonable efforts and precautions are taken by operators, the guides are rigourously trained, are qualified and experienced - their instructions on the day must be strictly adhered to. [See more about safety in the FAQ section.

The briefing is often your first opportunity to meet your safari companions - a good time to ask questions and bail out if in doubt. The first day starts shortly after breakfast with a quick shopping stint in Nyamhunga or Mahombekombe to collect last minute sun creams, beverages and personal snacks etc. 

The launch onto the Zambezi River

  • The Kariba launch is just downstream of the dam wall not far from the now derelict Nyamasowa camp - it's a 30 minute walk down to the river. 
  • Launches from Chirundu and Nyamepi follow a two hour drive from Kariba (look out for TenKayTom, a large male leopard near the 10/12km pegs on the Makuti road). 
  • Launches from Zambia follow after completing customs and immigration formalities at the Kariba/Siavonga or Chirundu border posts.

The launch itself is often a harried affair with porters and guides trying to organise their lives, stow excess baggage/food/ice/drinks and generally get under way. 

Underway at last...

Before you know it, another safety briefing is complete, you've forgotten all your paddling instructions and you're on the mighty Zambezi. Steering and paddling disputes generally break out immediately - the first pod of hippos has a remarkable focussing effect on the mind and order settles in pretty sharpishly. Any thoughts of urban ritual and the civilized world are already long gone. 

The Zambezi is remarkable world of its own. The views from the river across thick riverine forest onto the escarpment are pure therapy. The birdlife demands attention even from people who have never give wild birds a second thought. Large game particularly buffalo, elephant and hippo receive immediate and dedicated attention at the expense of the birds, scenery etc.


The canoeing routine (?!)

The river routine establishes itself within a few hours and before long the first night stop is reached. Camp setups are done to a formula (kitchen set up with all equipment and utensils laid out strictly, shower unit up, tents and mosquito nets laid out) - almost military precision in about 20 minutes. Sleeping arrangements vary from two man dome tents to a simple mosquito net over paddle affair - double bed if necessary. For the more intrepid, the simple net is definitely the way to go. The stars shine brighter and buffalo, elephant or hippo wanderers in the small hours add spice.

The daily routine is usually an early paddling start after sunrise to cover ground before the wind picks up by mid morning. This is followed by a full (English type) breakfast on a suitable stopover site. The river flows at approximately 4 km/hour. Previous canoeing experience isn't necessary - 90% of the steerage comes from aft - newly weds shouldn't paddle in the same canoe. The canoes are the Canadian standard. The entire canoeing safari isn't strenuous (unfit torsos will feel aches at night but ten minutes of paddling the next morning clears any lactic acid build up). The route is restricted to shallow waters out of the way of hippo. Swimming is not recommended in the Zambezi - wallowing on large and very shallow sand banks out of the way of crocodiles and other game is occasionally permitted at the guide's discretion.

Siestas at lunch time are welcomed - river guides see it as a job perk and the habit is unlikely to be broken. The usual routine is to find a safe spot under a large Tamarind tree, set up a cold lunch and find a comfortable spot for a bed roll and some light reading. 

Fishing tackle is a good idea for more active participants - be sure to request this specifically when making your reservation, alternatively bring a light rod and a no.3 Mepps spinner (bacon pieces are considered a delicacy by the local Tiger Fish). Fishing on the river is excellent, the river Tiger put up a better fight than on those on Lake Kariba. The day's catch, if any is prepared at night. 

The pace of the afternoon's paddling session depends largely upon whether or not a morning wind came up or not. Usually it's a leisurely paddle until an hour or so before sunset. Zambezi Valley sunsets compare with amongst the best in the world and that applies throughout the year whether it's smoke haze from bush fires in the winter months or crystal air and cloudy backdrops in the summer. 


Meals and stuff...

Meals are more than adequate and there are plenty of leftovers for the fish.  Mealtimes always provide a good opportunity to put your bush cooking skills to the test - and if you don't care to subject your companions to anything dodgy then you can just clean up instead... 
  • Breakfast consists of cereal, tinned fruit, bacon, eggs, sausages etc. (Fresh fruits are not permitted in Mana Pools - they attract the attention of some of the larger raiders.) 
  • Lunches are usually made up of cold meats and salads. 
  • Suppers vary: spaghetti bolognaise, beef stew, roast chicken etc. with vegetables. 
  • Vegetarian and other dietary preferences are catered for but must be specified when making your reservation. Complimentary wine is usually served with dinners. 

Other alcoholic and special softdrink preferences need to be arranged in advance - alcohol should be consumed in strict moderation on safari. There is no shortage of cordials and fresh drinking water in the canoes. The river water is considered safe to drink but the risk of a tummy bug jeopardising a trip isn't worth it so use what's supplied or take your own.

"Doug" and "Lucy" are standard ablution tools. Doug is a small spade, Lucy is a fold up toilet seat. (Doug has a brother called "Wunderbar".) Shrubs, reeds and trees afford plenty of privacy - some of the views into the mountains and across the river during moments of deep contemplation are spectacular. Avoid undertaking your own "private safari" in order to maximise privacy. All tissue and toilet paper is burnt. The campsites are hygienic and show no sign of over use - operators police conditions and are quick to raise complaints if any stopover site is left untidy.

Some basic canoeing rules...

  • never start a water fight downwind, 
  • always be prepared for a water fight when you're most relaxed, 
  • always be very wary when the guide suggests a social raft, 
  • always gang up against the guide, 
  • always punish over-enthusiastic paddlers - drinking cups on a short lead make ideal "sea anchors", 
  • never openly celebrate a birthday on the river - elephant pats are aplenty on the Zambezi
  • always have your camera ready
  • definitely get out there and have some fun


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Last update 12 July 2000

UK Head Office
Shilston Barton, Modbury, Devon, PL21 OTW
Tel/Fax: +44 1548 830059

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The Heights, PO Box 158, Kariba, Zimbabwe
Tel: +263 61 2532  Fax: +263 61 2291

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