In the late 1950s, the Kariba Dam flooded much of the middle Zambezi Valley, creating one of the world’s largest man-made lakes: Lake Kariba – when full it stretches 290 kms long and 42kms at it’s widest. The sheer size of it makes one forget it’s a dam and in certain places it almost feels like an ocean! Rich in history, it provides considerable electric power to both Zambia and Zimbabwe and supports a thriving commercial fishing industry. Known for its excellent tiger fishing, herds of animals that drink from its waters and its exceptional sunsets, Lake Kariba can be seen either from the comfort of a luxury motor cruiser or from one of the many lodges on its shore.
Building the 128m high Kariba dam wall began in the late 1950s and the original purpose was to hold back water in order to generate hydro electric power. Well over a million cubic metres of concrete was poured into the 36.6 metre high wall with a thickness of over twenty four metres to sustain the pressure of nearly ten million litres of water passing through the spillway each second. At the end of 1958, the sluice gates were closed and in 1963 the maximum level was reached. Anytime spent in the Kariba area should include a visit to the Dam Wall if nothing but to witness the sheer size of this awesome structure. The contrasting views — the vast lake stretching to infinity on the one side and the sheer drop to the gorge on the other side, is breathtaking.
History of the Nyaminyami The name Kariba (Kariva – meaning trap) refers to a rock which thrust out of the swirling water at the entrance to the gorge close to the dam wall site, now buried more than a hundred feet below the water surface. In many legends, this rock was regarded as the home of the great River god Nyaminyami, who caused anyone who ventured near to be sucked down for ever into the depths of the river. When the valley people heard they were to be moved from their tribal lands and the great Zambezi River blocked, they believed it would anger the river god so much that he would cause the water to boil and destroy the white man’s bridge with floods.
In 1957, a year into the building of the dam, the river rose to flood level, pumping through the gorge with immense power, destroying some equipment and the access roads. The odds against another flood occurring the following year were about a thousand to one – but flood it did – three metres higher than the previous year. This time destroying the access bridge, the coffer dam and parts of the main wall. Nyaminyami had made good his threat. He had recaptured the gorge. His waters passed over the wreckage of his enemies at more than sixteen million litres a second, a flood which, it had been calculated, would only happen once in ten thousand years. Although man eventually won the battle when the dam was finally opened in 1960, there was a whole new respect for the power of the river god – a statue of which is now proudly displayed at the entrance to the Dam Wall.
During the filling process of Lake Kariba many animals were displaced, taking up residence on the southern shores of the lake and a huge rescue “Operation Noah” was conducted by Rupert Fothergill to try and save as many animals as possible. This was performed either by herding them to high ground or by swimming them to shore and even capturing those that could not swim and transporting them by boat (hence Operation Noah) These animals were relocated to a protected area what is now named Matusadona National Park. In all some 7000 animals were saved during Operation Noah.
The park conserves over 1400km2 of wildlife and varied landscapes on the southern shores of Lake Kariba. One of the Matusadona’s greatest features is its bird life with over 240 species having been recorded in the park. In addition to this, Matusadona’s wildlife includes large herds of buffalo, hippo and crocodiles; elephant herds and lion prides; leopard, cheetah and hyena; zebra and antelope including eland, waterbuck and sable. Matusadona is a sanctuary for the Black rhino and there are opportunities to track them, as well as the White rhino. Exploring the creeks and inlets along the shore on a boat or canoe trip is one of the highlights of a safari in Matusadona. And watching the sun set over the hills from the lake is one of those uniquely African experiences.
Where to stay and what to do
Why we like it – you get the best of both worlds here, either exploring the lake on a luxury houseboat, game-viewing and fishing along the way, or staying on one of the lodges situated in or near Matusadona or both! Zimbabwe really has some unique safari destinations and a private houseboat on Kariba rates right up there. They come in various sizes and configurations from basic to luxury and all come with their own captain and crew. The lodges range from 3 to 5 star and provide great game-viewing activities, game-drives, walking, canoeing, fishing, and sunset cruises.
On one of the houseboats available on Lake Kariba- ask us for our reccomendation
Accomodation within Mutusadona
Bumi Hills Resort, Musango Safari Camp, Rhino Safari Lodge
Mobile Camping Safari, Specialist Walking safaris & self drive options
How to get there – by motor boat from Kariba Town – about 1-2 hours depending on your final destination. Or by charter flights from Harare /Victoria Falls or one of the other camps.