A Victoria Falls river cruise with a difference – the gentle, genteel version.

Sally Wynn, Wild Zambezi • 11 October 2021

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One of the highlights of a recent visit to the Victoria Falls in October 2021 was a delightful, leisurely mid-morning Zambezi River cruise aboard one of the beautiful fleet of Ra-IKane vessels operated by the owners of Ilala Lodge and their brand new Palm River Hotel.

I confess to being a somewhat reluctant Zambezi River cruise enthusiast, having been put off on previous trips to the Victoria Falls, by the sight and sound of boat-loads of rowdy revellers accompanied by loud music all “enjoying” a sunset cruise amidst a crush of other vessels jam-packed into a small section of the Zambezi River above the Falls.

The Ra-IKane experience, however was different – vastly different – and hugely enjoyable.  I’m converted!

For a start, the boats are small (maximum 16 passengers), built to a classic mono-hull design inspired by the boat David Livingstone used when journeying along the Zambezi River.  The boats are named after Livingstone’s guide, Lazarus Ra-Ikane, who helped the explorer to reach the legendary waterfall which he subsequently named after his Queen.  They have a shallow draught and sit low in the water, with excellent, open-air viewing both sides and minimal noise disturbance because of their very silent, unobtrusive, 4-stroke motors.  All this allows the boat captain to make careful, close up approaches to wild animals or birds in the river shallows for optimal viewing and photographic opportunities.

What I loved about our Ra-IKane trip was that its focus was on the wild beauty of the Zambezi River.  We sipped on ice-cold glasses of bubbly and nibbled on plates of delicious snacks, while journeying quietly downstream towards the Falls, (in the opposite direction from most of the river cruiseboats), admiring huge African Ebonies, Waterberries, Ilala palms and other pristine woodland species which thrive on the riverbanks and islands, and eventually reaching the rocky outcrops which herald the water’s final approaches to the tumultuous mile-wide, 100-metre drop of the Falls.  The birdlife in this section of the river is spectacular, and the crew on board took pride in showing us some rare avian treats, including several pairs of Rock Pratincoles, an African Finfoot skulking in the quiet backwaters of an island, and a group of African Skimmers nesting on a sandbank in the river.

As we threaded our way back among the island shallows, we slowed to watch at a respectful distance as an elephant swam across the river between the Zambian and Zimbabwean banks, using his trunk as a snorkel.  And as the heat of midday descended, two more elephant bulls appeared at the river’s edge to indulge in a leisurely drink followed by a sandy dust bath!  We were no more than 20 metres away.  It was magic!

There are three boats in the Ra-IKane fleet, each offering a choice of a breakfast, lunch or sunset cruise on the Zambezi River above the Falls, as well as private charters.  You don’t have to be staying at Ilala Lodge or The Palm River Hotel to take one of these delightful, quiet, wildlife and history-orientated cruises – they can be booked by residents staying at any accommodation option in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

There are a lot of different cruising options of all types and sizes to choose from at the Falls.  But if you’re like me, and prefer to enjoy your wild surroundings in peace and quiet with Nature, while absorbing a little bit of the history of the river, its people and its famous Victorian explorer at the same time, then this gentle, genteel, Ra-IKane Zambezi River cruising experience might just be the one for you.  

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