Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

Contributed By John BerryHistory
The Zambezi River itself has been known outside of Africa for thousands of years. Legends suggest that the kingdoms of Hiram, Solomon and Sheba were enriched by the gold and ivory of Ophir, supposedly part of present day Zimbabwe. The mighty Zambezi was one of the gateways to the ancient treasure trove. Evidence of early man's occupation has been found along most of the river but much of its history has been shrouded in mystery. The confluences of the Zambezi, Sanyati, Ume and Sengwa rivers met in the Gwembe Valley - an uncomfortable, hot and disease ridden region - sparsely populated by the Tonga tribesmen and until about 40 years ago known only to a few explorers, geologists, District Commissioners, hunters and surveyors.

In 1955 a point on the Zambezi River known as "kariwa" (a trap) became a hive of activity with the construction of the Kariba dam wall. The wall was sealed at the end of 1958 despite a 1000-year flood and repeated warnings by the local tribe that the River God, Nyaminyami had an unsettled score.

World media attention focussed on the new township at Kariba in the early 1960's during Operation Noah when Rupert Fothergill and his team undertook the biggest animal rescue ever. An epic drama unfolded as wildlife was saved from the rising waters of the new Lake and largely relocated in Matusadona. The surrounds of Lake Kariba became a fascinating turmoil of ecological change - parts of which now teem with an abundance of flora and fauna in a striking and diverse terrain. Kariba was officially declared a town in 1977.

Today Kariba remains a small and isolated enclave bounded by the lake, the Zambezi River, Kaburi Wilderness and Urungwe Safari Area. Kariba is the ideal launching point into Chizarira, Matusadona, Lake Kariba, Mana Pools and the remote wilderness areas in the north and west of Zimbabwe. The middle and lower Zambezi Valley is rich in wildlife, and with its harsh terrain and climate promises first class adventures and safaris. Many of the best attractions are remote and uncommercialized, whether you have a healthy spirit of adventure or a desire for intense "relax-mode" you ought to look at the Zambezi Valley for:

-Tented, walking and canoeing safaris

-Lodges and bushcamps

-Houseboats, cruisers and sailing adventures

-"One day" safari options, walks, canoe trips, game drives and cruises

-Fishing safaris on Lake Kariba and the lower Zambezi River

-Kariba is located in the Mashonaland West Province of Zimbabwe on the north eastern border with Zambia, 365km from the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

-The town is spread along approximately 20km of the Lake Kariba shoreline with its western boundary on the Zambezi River.

-The town has a population of approximately 30,000 inhabitants concentrated in the Nyamhunga and Mahombekombe townships, with smaller communities on The Heights, Chawara, Charara and Camphill.

-Lonely Planet has described Kariba as an "unconsolidated two level jumble," topographically it's very hilly similar to parts of Matusadona and Kaburi and it doesn't have a distinguishable centre don't expect to see a lot if you arrive without a plan.

Getting There
Access by air from Harare is via Air Zambezi, Air Zimbabwe or private charter. Kariba is a 4-5 hour drive from Harare.

If you have your own vehicle connect with Victoria Falls via the ferry (22 hours - prebooking essential) or via Zambia (the road is safe and in "reasonable" repair, don't consider riding with a hired vehicle), the "back" road via Binga/Magunge/Karoi is not recommended unless you're fully equipped, the trip via Bulawayo is tarred but tedious.

If you plan your own excursion into Mana Pools (prebooking essential), Matusadona or Chizarira then come fully self-sufficient.

The climate is generally tropical with three reasonably distinguishable seasons. A hot rainy season from late November to March, a cool dry season from May to August and a very hot dry season from September to November. Annual rainfall ranges from 400mm (16 inches) in the Valley to about 700mm (28 inches) on the plateau. Winter temperatures rarely go below 13 degrees C (55 degrees Fahrenheit), day time temperatures hover at about 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during the hot months.

Provided By: The Zambezi Safari And Travel Co. Ltd.

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