Few places offer the dramatic sunsets that you’ll find in Africa, and one of the most splendid is along the meandering Zambezi River, the fourth-longest river on the continent that flows into the Indian Ocean.
Leaving the plumes of mist and thundering Victoria Falls – The Smoke that Thunders – behind, the gentle Zambezi River is framed by the African bush, teeming with wildlife. It is on this great expanse of untamed water that I set sail on an adventure unlike any other.
I boarded the 70ft African Queen catamaran, largest of the fleet and known lovingly as “the pride of the Zambezi River” at the dock where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip once visited during their tour to Africa in 1947.
As you gaze out onto the banks of the river, sightings of elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, crocodiles and even rhinos are common through the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Only the occasional call from the Fisheagles soaring overhead interrupts your thoughts – thoughts that seem to ripple away as you head further up-river.
I sunk into my thatched chair as Terry, our barman, offered delicious canapés and a refreshing sundowner of my choice. “You have to drink more to see more,” a voice coaxed over the speakers. Terry filled my glass to the brim, again.
The African Queen is outfitted with an old-world theme where wooden staircases trimmed with bronze detailing sprout from the center of the vessel, oil-paintings hang on the walls, the pillars and ceiling are painted a brilliant white, and mahogany frames the bar on both levels of the catamaran. Here, you will not find any windows that block your view. Completely open to the elements, the gentle warm breeze comforts you, and as the sky begins to light afire, you unwillingly squint, mesmerized by the changing horizon.
The verdant landscape of rolling hills, the ubiquitous natural beauty of the Zambezi slowly begins to glow, reflecting the striking rays of the Zambian sunset. As a photographer, I’ve seen and photographed many sunsets in my life, but this one was different – patient and never in a hurry, the glowing sun stayed above the horizon until even the slowest of amateur photographers onboard were able to capture it.
Sailing directly into the horizon, the sky became hypnotic. First, as we forged ahead, the ripples in the river glistened from hues of blue, gold, orange, and finally to pink. Then, the sky surrounding the sun transformed into a dreamy purple haze, which became purpler before it lit up again into brilliant hues of orange. The outlines of the fluffy cumulus clouds in the distance glowed of fuchsia. The sun hung in the sky lazily, hovering closer to the horizon with each passing moment.
The crowd mellowed, conversation quieted to a hum, and all 120 passengers aboard looked astonished and mesmerized by the magical view, as if this was the first sunset they had ever witnessed. Almost two hours later, unaware that the Captain of the catamaran had guided the vessel into a perpendicular position to the river, providing the perfect vantage point for the climax of the cruise, the passengers gazed in awe of the horizon before them, in all of its glory.
Spellbinding bright hues and dramatic rays of ethereal light shone through the clouds, illuminating everything in sight with an incredible display of colours. The golden ball of sun sank deeper, just touching the horizon, as the day began to fade into night. With one last pause, the sun dipped below the horizon, leaving the comforting stillness of the sky, stars and planets aligned to guide us back. We were homeward-bound.
Overwhelmed with feelings of rejuvenation, the image of the sky afire was still fresh in my memory. Gazing into the dark horizon, I stood on the dock with only Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s quote in mind, “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”