Zimbabwe’s vast fresh-water inland sea – 280 kms long and 40 kms at its widest – formed when the Zambezi River was dammed at Kariba Gorge in the 1950s. A wildlife and water wilderness paradise. A mystic place of superlative proportions the lakescape is a stunning panorama of blue and green, while the sunsets double in beauty.
Lake Kariba came about after the completion of the double curvature concrete arch dam in 1959. Kariba Dam is located roughly halfway down the Zambezi River. In terms of volume, it is the largest man-made lake in the world, reaching over 140 miles/ 220 kilometers in length. At its widest point, it spans a distance of approximately 25 miles/ 40 kilometers – so that often, gazing over Lake Kariba feels like looking out to sea. It was built mainly to provide hydroelectricity to Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Both Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were in contestation as it was believed that the Kafue River Gorge site in Northern Rhodesia was desirable to Kariba. The issue was resolved in 1951 by a board of experts renowned as “The Panel” who all approved that the dam be constructed on the Zambezi River, at the Kariba Gorge site. In August 1955, the then Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi) invited tenders for the building of the dam wall. Kariba Dam was designed by the French engineer and inventor Andre Coyne. The contract for the construction of the wall and power station was awarded to Italian consortium Impresit on July 16 1956.
By December 1956, the north bank coffer dam and diversion tunnel were both completed. Block of the main dam containing four temporary openings were concreted inside this coffer dam. A suspension footbridge was also built downstream of the dam site. In March 1958, there was an unprecedented flood amounting to about 16 000 cubic metres per second of water which passed through the site flooding the coffer dam causing considerable damage and disruption. Parts of the suspension footbridge were swept away and the river in the gorge rose some 34 metres above the low water level. Kariba Dam was originally designed to have only four spillways. This flood called for a re-design and finally six gates were installed. After this flood, construction of the dam progressed inside the main coffer dam and above the blocks built earlier in the north bank coffer dam. By December 1958, water began building up behind the dam wall as the diversion tunnel and temporary opening were blocked. For the first time in thousands of years, the free flow of the mighty Zambezi River ceased. The dam’s Kariba North Power cavern construction was the last leg and this was completed in 1977 due to economic and political challenges.
The construction of the then largest man-made dam in the world necessitated a spectacular wildlife rescue operation that captured headlines throughout the world and the task gained fame as “Operation Noah”. This is because the waters of the lake, which were rising behind the dam wall, were covering the land on which the animals were living. Almost 5 000 animals were rescued and released into the Mavuradonha National Park and Chete Safari Area.
Wildlife is great: plenty of elephant, hippo, crocodile, waterbuck and other antelope and, if the lake isn’t too high you’ll see big herds of buffalo. Often seen are lion from the water. Matusadona National Park is one of the Zambezi valley’s wildlife and wilderness treasures. The Park Intensive Protection Zone for the endangered black rhinoceros and one of the few places in Southern Africa where visitors may be lucky enough to see this magnificent animal in the wild. This park is a treat for visitors wanting to see Africa’s other big mammals including elephant, buffalo, hippo, lion, leopard, cheetah, zebra and various antelope species.
This vast expanse of fresh water is home to some fantastic species of fish including the Tiger fish, Bream, Tilapia, Catfish, Barbel, Labeo, Jack and the mighty Vundu, that commonly attains the size of a fully-grown man. The Tiger fish is responsible for the now world renowned ‘Tiger Fish Tournament’ that is held every year on the lake in October.
A houseboat charter on Lake Kariba is a truly memorable experience. There is nothing on this earth as relaxing as sitting on a deck at sunset sipping a sundowner and watching the African day go by. Rising each morning in your own time to the sound of a Fish Eagle and enjoying brunch on deck whilst viewing game. Boats are fully equipped with everything you may need to relax and enjoy your time away from the city rush, whether as a romantic getaway, that long last family holiday or a great time with friends.
Charter flights are primary mode of transport and options are available from Harare, Hwange, Mana Pools and Victoria Falls that link up with Lake Kariba or Matusadona airstrips. On arrival on the airstrips you will be road transferred to your campsite, lodge or houseboat in air-conditioned 4×4 vehicle or mini buses. There are several daily flights from Johannesburg to Harare.
Weather & Best Time To Visit
Lake Kariba is generally hot all year round. The area is at most humid during the rainy season from October to April when short, intense thunderstorms are scattered with periods of bright sunshine. During August to September there’s lots of wind, which makes the lake quite choppy, so it’s not the best time to visit if you get seasick.
The best time to visit Lake Kariba is during May and July when the weather is dry, calm and slightly cooler.
Lake Kariba is situated within a high malaria risk area, and anti-malaria safeguards ought to be consulted with your personal medical practitioner when you are scheduling your tour to Southern Africa. Further than that, make sure that all your regular vaccinations are up to date.
Health & Safety
Swimming in the lake isn’t possible due to hippos, big crocs and bilharzia. In Kariba town, avoid walking around at night due to the prevalence of elephants. The prevalence of crime is very low, however appropriate action may be taken should you sense the need to secure your valuables.
There are a variety of activities to do in Kariba, ranging from wildlife viewing safari’s on land and on water, fishing and village tours.
One of the best ways to experience and feel a part of the African bush. You will be accompanied by experienced and knowledgeable professional guides. Walks are best performed in the early mornings or late afternoons when it is not too hot.
Kariba is among the world’s largest man-made lakes and a genuine African wilderness with far more animals than people. This allows for glorious game viewing by boat as well as the traditional open 4 x 4 vehicles and walking in the wilds with an armed professional guide.
Relax and enjoy one of Lake Kariba’s most popular activities. If you are fascinated with birding, then the boat cruise is perfect for you as it will provide a different vantage point to get up close and personal to numerous species of birds. Whilst drifting along the banks of the lake, you will also encounter some great wildlife sightings in their peaceful surroundings. What better way to end your day in Kariba, than listening to the sounds of hippo around you and witnessing an unforgettable sunset on the lake.
Bird watching can be done on either a gentle boat cruise or a game drive in the morning or afternoon. The birdlife in the Matusadona National Park is prolific, with 350 different species identified in the area including ducks, herons, plovers and storks that congregate along the waterfront and darters and cormorants who use the dead tree base for their fishing forays.
The Chalala and Mola communities, which are home to the Tonga, a delightful and very spiritual people who have resided in this area and along the length of the Zambezi river for centuries. They have preserved ancient traditions and still live a largely subsistence lifestyle that is reliant on fishing, livestock and small-scale farming. In the village of Chalala these customs have melted together with the inevitable infiltration of modern ways of life. However, the luxuries of a permanent electricity and water supply to homes are still absent, leaving the communities still largely reliant on the surrounding environment for their livelihood.
Is malaria prevalent in this area?
Yes – The whole of the Zambezi Valley is a malaria area. Speak with your doctor before leaving home about prophylactics. You should also bring an insect repellent spray or cream with you to apply topically, especially in the evening.
Can I board a boat at Kariba and travel to Victoria Falls?
The only boat permitted to travel from the eastern side of Lake Kariba to Binga is the Kariba Ferry. Charter boats are restricted to the Eastern Basin of the Lake.
Are fishing rods, tackle and bait provided on boats?
A small minority of the boats will supply the above, but rods and reels can be hired from Kariba and tackle and bait may be purchased there, too.
Do the boats travel at night?
No, the latest you may board a boat to travel is 16:30 hours in summer months and 16:00 in winter months.
Can I swim on Kariba?
No. There are crocodiles and hippos present all over the Lake. Rather hire a boat with a splash pool or swimming cage.
What plug points are on the houseboats?
Most boats have square plug sockets but to be on the safe side rather take round to square and square to round adaptors.
Is there a place where I can stay before or after our houseboat trip?
Yes. There are plenty of well-run self-cater/catered Lodges in Kariba as well as a host of hotels.
What does dry boat or bare boat mean?
They are one and the same thing. – it means that fuel is provided for the charter but is not included in the quotation given and ought to be paid by the clients at the end of their trip direct to the harbour fuel jetty.
Can I cross from one side of Kariba to the other?
On the Kariba Ferry yes and only on certain boats that permit this crossing.
What is the difference between a Pontoon and a Cabin Cruiser?
Pontoon houseboats are much bigger than Cabin Cruisers, they have more space and can take more passengers. Houseboats are also built on pontoons which raises them slightly of the water which enables the boat to travel in shallow water. This means that most Houseboats can overnight in Bays that are closer inland where the game is. Cabin Cruisers are hulled vessels which means that they cannot travel in shallow water, they are not very stable in stormy weather and rough waters and most Cabin Cruisers are not considered child-friendly.
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