The Kariba Dam flooded much of the middle Zambezi Valley in the late 1950s, creating one of the world's largest man-made reservoirs, Lake Kariba, which stretches 290 kilometres long and 42 kilometres wide when complete. Its immense size makes it easy to forget it's a dam, and in some spots, it almost feels like an ocean! It is historically significant and provides significant electricity to both Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as supporting a flourishing commercial fishing industry. Lake Kariba can be seen from the comfort of a luxury motor cruiser or one of the many lodges on its shore and is known for its excellent tiger fishing, herds of animals that drink from its waters, and spectacular sunsets.
The 128m high Kariba dam wall was built in the late 1950s to hold back water to produce hydroelectric power. To withstand the pressure of nearly ten million litres of water flowing through the spillway every second, over a million cubic meters of concrete were poured into the 36.6-meter-high wall with a thickness of over twenty-four meters. The sluice gates were closed at the end of 1958, and the maximum level was reached in 1963. Any visit to the Kariba region should include a stop at the Dam Wall if only to take in the sheer scale of this magnificent structure. The contrasting views are stunning, with the vast lake reaching infinity on one side and the sheer drop into the gorge on the other.
The Nyaminyami have a long and illustrious history. The name Kariba (Kariva – meaning trap) refers to a rock that protruded from the swirling water near the dam wall site and is now buried more than a hundred feet below the water's surface. This rock was thought to be the birthplace of the great River god Nyaminyami in many legends. who sucked anybody who came too close into the river's depths for all eternity? When the valley people learned that they would be relocated from their tribal lands and that the great Zambezi River would be blocked, they believed the river god would become so enraged that he would cause the water to boil and flood the white man's bridge.
The river rose to a flood stage in 1957, a year after the dam was completed, pumping enormous amounts of water through the gorge and damaging some equipment and access roads. The chances of another flood the next year were around a thousand to one, but it did, three metres higher than the year before. This time, the entry bridge, the cofferdam, and portions of the main wall were destroyed. Nyaminyami had followed through on his threat. He'd regained control of the gorge. His waters rushed over his enemies' wreckage at a rate of more than sixteen million litres per second, a flood that would only happen once every ten thousand years, according to calculations. The entry bridge, cofferdam, and parts of the main wall were all lost this time. Nyaminyami had made good on his word. He'd taken back command of the gorge. According to calculations, his waters washed over his enemies' wreckage at a pace of over sixteen million litres per second, a flood that would only happen once every ten thousand years.
Many animals were displaced during the filling of Lake Kariba, and took up residence on the lake's southern shores, prompting Rupert Fothergill to launch "Operation Noah," a massive rescue effort to save as many animals as possible. These animals were moved to a protected area now known as Matusadona National Park, either by herding them to high ground or swimming them to shore and also catching those who couldn't swim and moving them by boat (hence Operation Noah). Approximately 7000 animals were rescued as a result of Operation Noah.
On the southern shores of Lake Kariba, the park protects over 1400km2 of wildlife and diverse ecosystems. The park's birdlife is one of the park's most impressive features, with over 240 species reported. Matusadona’ s wildlife also includes huge herds of elephants, hippo, and crocodiles; elephant herds and lion prides; leopard, cheetah, and hyena; zebra and antelope including eland, waterbuck, and sable; and zebra and antelope including eland, waterbuck, and sable. The Black rhino, as well as the White rhino, have a sanctuary in Matusadona, and there are opportunities to monitor them. One of the highlights of a safari in Matusadona is exploring the creeks and inlets along the shore by boat or canoe. And one of those truly African encounters is seeing the sunset over the hills from the pool.
Where to stay and what to do
Why we like it: You can get the best of both worlds here, either by exploring the lake on a luxury houseboat while game-viewing and fishing, or by staying at one of the lodges in or near Matusadona, or by doing both! A private houseboat on the Kariba River is one of Zimbabwe's most unique safari destinations. They are available in a variety of sizes and configurations, ranging from simple to luxurious, and all include a captain and crew. Game drives, cycling, canoeing, fishing, and sunset cruises are among the many activities available at the lodges, which range from 3 to 5 stars. Houseboats are also accessible on Lake Kariba.
How to get there
Take a motorboat from Kariba Town to your final destination, which will take around 1-2 hours. Alternatively, charter flights can be arranged from Harare/Victoria Falls or any of the other camps.
Luxury Houseboating and Excellent Game Watching (Game Drives, Guided Bush Walks, Photography, Birding, and Boat Cruises) as well as Fishing.