There's only a piece of elastic between you and death but the gorge still looks magnificent

Anna Rockall bungee jumps off Victoria Falls
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
Standing on the edge of a bridge about to bungee jump, I stared at the rapids churning below and felt paralysed with fear. Yet this is many people's idea of heaven. Even with nothing between you and possible death but a piece of elastic, the magnificence of the Batoka Gorge, which separates Zimbabwe and Zambia, and the roar of Mosi Oa Tunya, The Smoke That Thunders (also known as Victoria Falls), remain awe-inspiring.

The bridge is a busy border point, so you can watch the toings and froings of the two countries as you await your turn - the whites cruising past in open Jeeps, and most of the locals walking, often heavily laden, the four miles between Victoria Falls and Livingstone. Zambian women cross the border simply to buy food in the better stocked Zimbabwean shops, tourists cross into Zambia in order to find cheaper curios, and local entrepreneurs ferry adventurers back and forth. Every few minutes the humming atmosphere is broken by the battle cry of a bungee jumper. It is the highest, and among the most beautiful jumps in the world. For those who enjoy the sport it is supreme; for the rest it is an agony that fades only after a few beers back in town.

The Zambezi provides plenty more entertainment. The white water rafting trip is one of the biggest attractions for many visitors, and is promoted as the most exciting rafting expedition in the world. If you start on the Zambian side, a rocky path leads you and a melee of fellow adventurers, rafters, and porters down to the Boiling Pot below the Falls themselves. Gawping at the thundering Falls from down below is well worth the tricky climb, and should have you humming Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" - something of a Victoria Falls anthem along with the bungee-despatchers' favourite, "Another One Bites The Dust".

As you carry on downstream, hold on. Tight. There are two consequences of falling out - long or short swims. On a short swim you keep hold of the boat and get pulled in by some kindly soul who takes pity on your plight. A long swim at best is a pain, involving swallowing a lot of water and getting picked up half a mile down river. At worst, if you get sucked down, it is terrifying, uncomfortable, and dangerous.

Yet don't be put off - serious consequences are rare. And the white water trip is certainly worth taking for the harsh beauty of the gorge, with its burnt black rocky sides that tower above you, all the vegetation toasted gold by the sun, and the deep green waters of the Zambezi.

Above the Falls the scenery seems to come from another world. The wide, murky river that hides crocodiles and hippos, flows swiftly towards the permanent cloud that hangs above the main waterfall through the African bush, giving opportunities for game viewing that are very different from those on Jeep safaris. Animals are never far from the water, and if you float silently along in a canoe, they are unlikely to be disturbed by your presence. There is the added excitement of risk from hippos - these creatures, placid from a distance, are ferocious and are responsible for more deaths than any other African mammal, despite being vegetarian. They are wary of intruders, and have been known to overturn canoes. At which point the capsized swimmer has to start worrying about crocodiles.

Another way of seeing the wildlife is on horseback. You can get very close to the animals and, as with canoeing, the hint of danger makes it that much more of a thrill. On one occasion we were charged by a wounded buffalo and were forced to retreat at some speed in a flurry of hoofs and dust. Two days later we came across its remains: 800kg of buffalo reduced to dry bones with not even a scrap of hide to mark its recent demise. The efficiency of the wilderness in disposing of its sick and dead is uncompromising.

"A sight so wonderful angels must gaze on it in their flight," Livingstone said of Victoria Falls. So of course, nostalgically, flights over the Falls are known as Flights of the Angels. These trips can be made in a light aircraft or helicopter, but it is far more exciting swooping above the spray in a microlight. And, if you ask, the pilot will take you low over the bush to look for elephants before dropping you back, breathless, in time for your sky-diving class.