Swimming in the Devil’s Pool at the Top of the Victoria Falls

We have finally arrived in Zambia and straight away we are off on our first adventure. Today we are visiting the Devil’s Pool, where we will be able to swim at the top of the mighty Victoria Falls!

We jump on a shuttle bus which takes us to the Royal Livingstone Hotel. Our guides are waiting for us and we follow them to a small boat, tied to a tiny dock at the edge of the river. Our driver maneuvers the boat through the shallow waters at the top of the Victoria Falls until we reach Livingstone Island, retracing the route that David Livingstone first took in a dug out canoe.

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This is the place where Dr David Livingstone first glimpsed what was then known by the Koloko tribe as Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning The Smoke That Thunders. David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and one of the greatest European explorers of Africa. In 1841 he was posted to the edge of the Kalahari Desert and  he became convinced of his mission to reach new peoples in the interior of Africa and to convert them to Christianity, as well as freeing them from slavery. In 1849 he first traveled across the Kalahari Desert and in 1852 he began a four year expedition to find a route from the upper Zambezi to the coast. It was during this expedition, in 1855, that he discovered the spectacular waterfall which he named the Victoria Falls, in honour of Queen Victoria.

Livingstone Island is located in the middle of the Zambezi River, touching the lip of the Victoria Falls. We follow our guide into what is known as the Rain Forest as he tells us a little about the history of the island. The path leads us through the dense foliage and across the basalt rocks. Horseshoe Falls and Rainbow Falls come into view as we approach the sheer drop at the edge of the island.

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To our right is a memorial for David Livingstone, in the spot where he first laid eyes on the Victoria Falls. Inscribed are the words “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” and the date is 16th of November 1855.

We continue across the rocks and finally see the Main Falls, every bit as magnificent as we expected. We admire the view and we can see a group of people swimming in the Devil’s Pool – our next stop.

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“Shall we go swimming?” asks our guide. We leave our bags and camera behind and, armed with our GoPro, our swimsuits and our wits, we set off.

To get to the Devil’s Pool we must wade and swim across the Zambezi River, just metres from the edge of the Victoria Falls. We follow our guide across the rocks in the shallow water and then he shows us where to slide into the water to begin swimming. It is raining a little and very overcast, so I was bracing myself for the cold water as I take the plunge but it is like getting into a warm bath.

As we follow our guide he tells us that we are going to swim slightly upriver across a strong current and that we will have to cross this part quickly. Once we are above the Devil’s Pool we let the current take us back down. We clamber onto the rocks and get our first close-up view of the Devil’s Pool, supposedly the most dangerous pool in the world. We sit down on the rocks above and our guide explains to us how and where we are going to enter the pool and what to do once we are in it.

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This naturally formed rock pool at the top of the Main Falls can only be visited when the river flow is at a certain level, which usually occurs between September and December. During this time a rocky barrier forms an eddy with minimal current, allowing people to swim in the pool in relative safety. It is the end of December and our guide explains to us that, due to the heavy rainfall, the pool will be closed from tomorrow – we will probably be the last people to swim in the Devil’s Pool in 2014.

Our guide gets in the water first and when he reaches the edge of the pool he stops on the rocky lip. He positions himself to catch us and then signals for us to join him. One by one we slide into the water and the current takes us to the other side in seconds. “Don’t jump when the fish bite you” he says and I laugh, assuming that he is joking. A moment later I feel something nipping my legs.

We are sitting in a pool at the top of the biggest curtain of falling water in the world and one the seven natural wonders of the world. The view is breathtaking.

“Come here and I will hold your legs while you lean over the edge”, says our guide. I look to see if he is being serious and he reassures me with the words “don’t worry, I haven’t lost one yet!”. I slide back into the pool and swim over to a narrower part of the ledge where the guide is waiting for me. As I lift myself onto the ledge he takes hold of my feet and I inch forwards. I can feel the powerful spray of the water and the force of the mighty Zambezi river flowing past me as I dangle over the 103 metre drop. What an exhilarating experience!

500 million litres of water cascade over the two kilometre wide falls every minute, causing a deafening rumble and a spectacular explosion of spray which can be seen 50 kilometres away.

Once our guide has pulled me back into the pool, our guide climbs up onto the rocks and jumps in, splashing us with water. We swim across the pool, struggling against the strong current. We grab hold of the rocks and then let go, allowing the current to sweep us back to the edge of the waterfall.

It is time to return to Livingstone Island and so we climb out of the pool and swim back across the Zambezi River. We are given towels and shown to a table under a canvas canopy, overlooking the Horseshoe and Rainbow Falls. We enjoy a couple of Gin and Tonics, while having a delicious high tea of curry tarts, sandwiches, chocolate brownies and scones. The whole experience has been truly marvellous!

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