Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe


Kariba-shutterstock_126375773Lake Kariba is really the “middle section” of the three well-known parts of the Zambezi river (between the upper Zambezi, above Lake Kariba including Victoria Falls, and the lower Zambezi, from below the Kariba dam wall onwards). The lake is 220km long, and forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

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 – and the mighty Zambezi was one of the gateways to this 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 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. The wall was sealed at the end of 1958 despite the biggest flood in 1000 years delaying efforts, and repeated warnings by the local tribe that the River God Nyaminyami had an unsettled score.

World media attention focused on the new township at Kariba in the early 1960s during Operation Noah, when Rupert Fothergill and his team undertook the world’s biggest animal rescue attempt. An epic drama unfolded as wildlife was saved from the rising waters of the new lake and relocated mainly to Matusadona National Park. 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.

A guide book has described Kariba town 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 or decide to give our offices a miss on Kariba Heights!

The town 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 uncommercialised – whether you have a healthy spirit of adventure or a desire for intense relaxation, you ought to look at Lake Kariba for:

  • Tented, walking and canoeing safaris
  • Lodges and bush camps
  • Houseboats, cruisers and sailing adventures
  • One-day safari options: walks, canoe trips, game drives and cruises
  • Fishing safaris
  • Tiger fishing at Musango

Access by air from Harare is on Air Zimbabwe or private charter. Kariba is a 4/5 hour drive from Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. If you have your own vehicle, it’s possible to connect with Victoria Falls via a ferry (22 hours and pre-booking essential) or via Zambia (the road is safe and in reasonable repair, but don’t consider it with a hired vehicle). The ‘back’ road via Binga/Magunge/Karoi is not recommended unless you’re fully equipped, and the trip via Bulawayo is tarred but long.

If you plan your own excursion into Mana Pools, 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.


John and Trish Berry loved travelling around their native Zambezi Valley so much they started Zambezi Safari and Travel. Nearly 21 years later the company prides itself on its specialist knowledge of the region’s national parks. To read their personal advice and to find out more about Kariba, click here

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  • Nice information about Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe. Lake Kariba is
    the world’s largest man-made lake / reservoir by volume with playground for
    houseboat holidays, fishing, chilling and outstanding safari. Thanks you so
    much for sharing this great article.