Lake Kariba/Mana Pools

Overview

Introduction

Lake Kariba, created when a hydroelectric dam was built on the Zambezi River, offers a wide variety of islands, excellent wildlife viewing and big-game fishing. However, crocodiles, hippos and the parasite bilharzia make it a less-than-ideal venue for watersports. The Bumi Hills Safari Lodge is the lakeside property—it's small (only 20 rooms) and has a great location overlooking the water. Much of the lakeshore on the eastern side lies within the boundaries of the Matusadona National Park, which is one of the wildest areas of Zimbabwe. It is a mountainous, rugged destination that is difficult to access and offers only simple accommodations for self-sufficient campers. However, the best way to see the park and enjoy the lake is by houseboat. You sleep on board, either in cabins or under mosquito nets on deck, and a resident cook prepares meals in the galley. The boats provide a great opportunity for bird- and animal-watching and viewing the shoreline mottled with hundreds of hippos wallowing in the shallows.

Fothergill Island and Spurwing Island also have upmarket lodges with good facilities. There are spots (called hides) from which you can observe the animals at close quarters (elephants, rhinos and others). Nearby is Starvation Island, where thousands of animals were marooned in 1958 when the Zambezi was dammed, inundating 2,000 sq mi/5,180 sq km of bush and creating Lake Kariba. Many of the animals perished, but thousands were saved by the conservationist Rupert Fothergill, who dropped food on Starvation Island. His team also tracked, captured and relocated around 5,000 animals, including lions and rhinos, to save them from the rising waters. The ghostly trunks of drowned trees still rise from the shallows of Lake Kariba. They make excellent perches for fish eagles, cormorants and other water birds.

The access town to the lake is Kariba, which serves as a service center for the local lodges and houseboats. It is also the nearest settlement to the dam wall on Lake Kariba. There is a display at the entrance of the bridge across the top describing the building of the wall and the statistics involved. It is also possible to scramble up the hill to Observation Point to see the dam wall in its entirety. The contrasting views—the vast lake stretching to infinity on the one side and the sheer drop to the gorge on the other—is very impressive. The lake is 227 mi/366 km northwest of Harare.

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