A Guide To The Rapids Of The Mighty Zambezi River

The Zambezi River in the Batoka Gorge was first navigated in 1981 and over the years the Rapids were named - some fearsome in nature, others fearsome in name! Here is a rundown of the major rapids you will encounter on the Zambezi River.


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A Guide to the Rapids on The Zambezi River

The Zambezi River in the Batoka Gorge was first navigated in 1981 and over the years the Rapids were named - some fearsome in nature, others fearsome in name! Here is a rundown of the major rapids you will encounter on the Zambezi.

  • The Boiling Pot:
    The start of the Batoka gorge, named after the churning waters here the Victoria falls meet.

  • The Wall, Rapid #1:
    An unpredictable rapid at certain water levels the Zambezi flows out at the 'Boiling Pot' and crashes into a wall, at higher water level this creates a large cushion wave. Cross over the wave train before the cushion wave and you make it look easy, loose your angle and you could be looking at your first flip or the day!

  • Between Two Worlds, Rapid #2
    As you paddle down the relatively straight-forward wave train you pass under the Victoria Falls Bridge, at certain water levels an awesome surfing wave forms. Named 'between two worlds' because the bridge is also the boundary of Southern and South Central Africa.

  • Morning Glory, Rapid #4
    Morning Glory or The Wake-Up Call. As with many of the Zambezi's rapids this rapid changes vastly with water levels, various lines at the top all lead in to a crashing hole at the bottom.

  • Stairway to Heaven, Rapid #5
    Spectacular Grade 5 whitewater, the river drops 30 feet in 50 feet making this one off the largest commercially run drops anywhere in the world. As you approach this monster you can only see a horizon line until the last few seconds. The first time you run it is unforgettable. It was called 'Stairway to Heaven' after the song by Led Zeppelin.

  • The Devils Toilet Bowl, Rapid #6
    At higher water a narrow constriction in the river creates a large whirlpool, at lower water levels two cheeky waves are formed that can cause problems. Sneak left or right and you should stay upright.

  • Gullivers Travels, Rapid #7
    Our second Grade 5 and the longest of our rapids, navigate past 'indicator rock', across the 'green highways' around the 'crease' and the 'gap', and through 'land of the giants' and we are home clear. 'Gullivers Travels' is one of the most technically challenging of the Zambezi's rapids.

  • The Midnight Diner, Rapid #8
    Choose your line from the menu - 'Kentucky-Fried Chicken Line', the 'Mighty Muncher' or 'Star Trek'. The names of the line says it all! Most people seeking an easy run go down the 'Chicken run' to avoid the large waves in the middle. The 'Big Mac' named after MacDonald's hamburger was the middle run and so the rapid became known as the 'Midnight Diner' because of options on the menu for guests to decide on. Back in the day, Safpar took to a newer run on the left of centre of this rapid.

  • Commercial Suicide, Rapid #9
    An enormous rapid, commercially un-runnable in rafts - we always portage this one. Sometimes some brave kayakers can be watched attempting one of the four possible lines.

  • The Gnashing Jaws Of Death,Rapid #10
    A beautiful wave train that is usually no problem, with shallow rocks on the bottom left.

  • The Overland Truck Eater, Rapid #11
    'The Overland Truck Eater' or sometimes 'Creamy White Buttocks' another of the Zambezi's rapids that changes its nature, at low water a steep drop with a horrible hole and churning boils, at high water a tubing wave ideal for surfers, body boarders and kayakers.

  • The 3 Ugly Sisters, Rapids #12A,B & C
    A pretty continuous section of whitewater for approximately a kilometer, three rapids close together at different levels #12A or #12B. If you are a kayaker 12B's huge surf wave is a must!

  • The Mother, Rapid #13
    The mother of all wave trains, the first and fourth waves can be enormous, the big highlight after the 'three ugly sisters' this rapid is one of the fun highlights of the Zambezi.

  • The Washing Machine, Rapid #15
    The 'Washing Mashine' at low water a recirculating pour over is formed in the middle of the rapid, generally avoided on the right hand side of the river.

  • Terminator I & II, Rapids #16A & #16B
    Famous for high water. Terminator 1 & 2 combine to create a huge wave train with the largest wave at 16B flipping many a raft who chooses to go there. At low water relatively straight forward down the middle.

  • Double Trouble, Rapid #17
    A similar rapid to The Washing Machine. Two large holes situated in the middle of the river. These can be safely run at medium to high flows. When the river drops lower they should be avoided on river left or right.

  • Oblivion, Rapid #18
    Famous throughout the world for its huge crashing hole causing flips, surfs and tube stands. One of the highlights of the Zambezi, it can be avoided if a little nervous of its reputation, biggest in September, October and November.

  • Closed Season
    Previously not numbered but sometime referred to as Rapid #26, this is relatively straight- forward and has a beautiful camp site at the top of the rapid.

  • Open Season
    Another Grad five rapid, a sloping shelf of rock spanning the Zambezi creates a huge drop. Massive hole on the left and shallow rocks on the right, as the river drops the line become tighter and tighter, sometimes at very low water 'open season' could be our second portage of the trip.
  • Narrows 1
    A basalt chasm squeezes the Zambezi through 300m of narrow channel, the near vertical sides create very confused water, boils and whirlpools, no problem as long as you stay in the boat!

  • Narrows 2
    A slightly less narrow section of narrows gives us two long wave trains crashing between the basalt cliffs.

  • Chimamba
    At higher water levels this grade five can be enormous, a tricky lead in to a second drop pushing towards a dangerous wall can cause problems, at low water a few moves and a slide off the second drop is no problem.

  • Upper Moemba
    The river splits into three channels as it approaches the even bigger Lower Moemba. Upper Moemba is usually navigated through the left channel, an incredibly steep Grade 5 drop almost as big as Rapid #5. Very low water levels the middle channel can be run and at higher water levels the left hand line. Between the upper and lower Moemba's are two incredibly beautiful beaches, one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe.

  • Lower Moemba
    A spectacular waterfall, if the Victoria Falls did not take 'all the glory' the Lower Moemba falls would be a tourist spectacle in its own right! The whole Zambezi is forced over this eight meter waterfall, it is definitely not runnable for rafts and very few kayakers have attempted this spectacular fall.