by Melody Mundawarara,
A Place with Potential for Sustainable Ecotourism in Africa
Kariba is among the four largest man-made lakes in the world and the second largest in Africa. It lies along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.The dam wall was built across the Kariba Gorge to harness the river’s flow to provide hydroelectric power for the growing industries of Zimbabwe and Zambia.
A Popular Travel Destination
Although both local people and wild animals were initially displaced when the dam was filled between 1958 and 1963, safe relocations were made and the new ecosystem provides life in many forms. Villagers and their livestock have constant access to water. Covering an area of nearly 6,000 km2, the lake has also become a year-round source of water for an abundance of animal and bird life, and a popular travel destination for both local and foreign tourists. The main town that lies at one end of the massive lake is Kariba Heights. It is carefully situated 600 metres above the lake up a steep hill.
Origin of the Name Kariba
Several stories have been put forward to explain the origin of the name Kariba. Some elders in the area note that close to the dam wall lies a rock that resembles a traditional stone trap, riva, hence Kariva, literally meaning “little trap”; later mispronounced by Europeans to Kariba. Another version is that the rock was named “Kariva” due to the fact that when the river flooded the rock, it trapped water thereby making it difficult for the locals who often crossed the river to return to either side of the Zambezi River. Whatever the origin of the name, it is generally agreed that the name Kariba is a mispronunciation of the rock which lies beneath the water surface, close to the dam wall.
Attractions on Lake Kariba
The Zimbabwe side of the lake has about 1000 kilometres of shoreline, with sun-baked African hills, placid backwaters and numerous islands. The portion of Lake Kariba which falls within Zimbabwe has been designated a recreational park within the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Estate.
The resort has become one of Zimbabwe’s major tourist attractions, largely because of the lake and proximity to several national parks, including the Mana Pools National Park which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Game Viewing at Kariba
Lake Kariba is a tremendous wildlife experience. Gamefish, particularly tigerfish, which was among the indigenous species of the Zambezi river system, now thrive on kapenta, a small species of sardine-like fish that was introduced into the lake as a commercial fishery venture. Fish eagle, cormorant and other water birds frequently visit the shorelines. Elephant, crocodile and hippo are also commonly seen.
Game viewing on foot or by safari vehicle is offered around the lake by several operators, and is sometimes included in the price of a fully serviced houseboat. Often, so too is fishing, all meals and access to small launching craft.
The lake has numerous dead trees which still protrude above the water from the spot where they once flourished. This has given rise to the petrified forest which some find a little spooky and boaters are wary of. However, many find this forest of stone trees interesting. The stumps provide convenient perch for the African fish eagle whose distinctive, haunting cry is often heard in the area.
Seasons in Kariba
The area generally has very hot summers, averaging 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), and an average rainfall of 660 millimetres. The winters are usually warm with an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit). Wintertime, from April to August, is the best time to go to Kariba.
Where to Stay at Kariba
The best places to stay are generally the lodges around the mouth of the Ume River on the Eastern lake shore. Alternatively, you can stay on a houseboat. Among other facilities, many of the houseboats have a swimming cage that allows passengers to take a refreshing dip in the cooling waters of Lake Kariba, safe from crocodiles. The boats usually sleep from 8 people to upwards of 14 and drift around the lake at your pleasure. A visit to Kariba is highly recommended. It is a most relaxing form of holiday.