Is Lake Kariba worth travelling to?
In our opinion... absolutely! but Lake Kariba or more correctly Kariba Dam,
often gets overlooked by international tourists, possibly because it is not that
well publicized or known about by foreign Travel Agents, but this is a big
mistake, as it's an absolute vacationer's paradise. There is not a Zimbabwean
out there who doesn't hold Kariba very close to their heart.
Although a bit difficult for tourists to get to, it is known for gorgeous
sunsets and exciting fishing, as well as beautiful scenery, and impressive game
viewing, particularly in the Matusadona National Park. The vastness of the lake
allows for multi-day excursions from one end of the lake to the other in one of
or on the Kariba Ferry. A variety of
accommodation options including camping and lodges to luxury safari camps as
well as the houseboats, cater for different budget groups.
The Zambian side does not have the same magnificence as the Zimbabwean
shoreline. For one, the game is fairly non-existent on the northern bank and
second, it lacks the stunning backdrop of the Matusadona mountains that the
Zimbabwean side has.
Is Lake Kariba the biggest man-made lake in the world?
Lake Kariba, when constructed was the largest dam wall and artificial lake in
the world, but although record has since been surpassed by others dams, it is
still the world's largest man-made reservoir by volume, making the Zambezi
River home to two world greats
- the other being the largest waterfall in
the world, the Victoria Falls. Kariba's reservoir volume is 185 billion m3, the surface area covers about 5500km2, and it extends for more than 280km, with a maximum width of
40kms. It is located just about halfway between the source and mouth of the
Zambezi River, and is 200kms downstream of the Victoria Falls. The lake lies on the
border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, as does much of the Zambezi River.
How Big is the Kariba Dam Wall?
The Kariba Dam has a double-arch wall - curved both vertically and
horizontally. It stands 128m high, 617m long and 13m wide at it's
crest, and 24m wide at the base. The wall spans across the Kariba gorge,
border crossing between Zimbabwe and Zambia, where people and vehicles can go from one country to the other.
How did Kariba get its name?
The name Kariba was derived, by the Europeans from the local Shona word 'kariva' or 'kariwa'
meaning 'little trap' or 'bridge'. There are various explanations of this but
one of them is that before the dam was built, the Zambezi river,
at this gorge was funnelled into a narrow neck no more than 100 meters wide. The
powerful water carved it's way through a large granite block, leaving the top to
form a natural bridge. This arch looked like a large traditional fish trap,
hence the name.
When was Lake Kariba built and how long did it take to fill up?
Construction on the Kariba Dam wall began in 1955 and was completed in December
1958. Northern Rhodesia (now
and Southern Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) were in need of hydroelectric energy,
particularly for the
production of copper, especially in Northern Rhodesia where copper was being
produced and was in high demand after the second World War. By 1960,
Harare, Bulawayo and more towns in the south, as well as towns in Zambia were
receiving electricity supplied from Lake Kariba.
The story of the construction of this huge dam is not complete without the
myths and mystery involving the Zambezi River god and his home. Read the very
interesting story of Nyami Nyami in African Mythology.
After construction was complete it took another 5 years for dam to assume its
present day dimensions. During this time, there was a massive relocation operation, with 22000 people moved into Zimbabwe, and 35000 people into Zambia, along with
6000 animals from the river valley. The relocation program caught international
attention and was known as Operation Noah, headed by Rupert Fothergill. The
operation took 6 years to complete, and animals were moved into the Matusadona
and Chete safari areas.
What Was Lake Kariba's Construction Timeline?
1955, August: The Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland called for tenders for the
construction of the dam;
1956, July: The tender was awarded to Italian firm Impresit (now Salini Impregilo);
1956 September: Construction began with the excavation for the foundation;
1957: Rare flooding occurred at Kariba destroying equipment, access roads;
1958: An even bigger flood hit, destroying the access bridge, coffer dam and parts of the main
wall as well;
1958: In December, the Zambezi River was dammed at Kariba;
1958 to 1964: Operation Noah - a rescue mission to save thousands of
animals from the flooding Kariba Dam;
1959, December: The first generator was commissioned;
1960, May 17th: The Kariba Hydro Electric Scheme was officially
Other facts about Kariba
In the late 1960's, Lake Kariba received shoals of kapenta (small sardines)
from Lake Tanganyika, and this was the beginning of the commercial fishing
industry for which Kariba is known. The indigenous Tiger fish have thrived on
the kapenta, and further contributed to tourism in the area. There are several
other species of fish in the lake, and altogether, they make for some of the
best sport fishing anywhere.
Kariba is a major source of hydro-electric power for both Zimbabwe and
Zambia. However, due to time and perhaps some seismic activity over the past few decades,
Kariba must undergo
an upgrade for the next few years. The plunge pool below the wall has been
eroding the foundation, and studies suggest that in time, the dam could give
way, which would be catastrophic. This time, the work has been contracted to
French engineering firm Razel-BEC.
Safari Areas Around Lake Kariba
Matusadona National Park
Just west of Kariba Dam wall is the Matusadona National Park. It has different
ecological zone which include the area along the shoreline of Lake Kariba, the
Zambezi Valley floor, and the escarpment which is a woodland area. During
Operation Noah, much of the rescued wildlife found refuge in this area, and by
1963, Matusadona National Park was declared a game reserve. The rejuvenative
grass found along the shoreline is a great source of food for buffalo, kudu,
waterbuck, zebra and impala. The healthy population of these and other game
makes it a good home for predators such as lion, cheetah and leopard on the
land, and crocodile in the shallows of the lake. Like Matobo Hills, Matusadona
is an Intensive Protection Zone, being home to relocated black rhino. The easiest way to
access the park is by flying to Kariba town or Bumi Hills, then taking a boat
into the reserve.
Chete Safari Area
Upstream from Matusadona National Park is the Chete Safari Area. This hilly and rocky
area is difficult to access by car or game vehicle. Chete is actually
a controlled hunting area, done by boat, vehicle and on foot.
Islands of Kariba
Lake Kariba has several islands both on the Zimbabwean and Zambian side of
which make for idyllic getaways, staying at beautiful island lodges or safari
camps with vast scenic views of the lake. The islands include Maaze Island
(Zambia), Mashape Island (Zambia), Chete Island (Zambia), Sekula (Zambia), Sampa Karuma
(Zimbabwe), Fothergill (Zimbabwe), Spurwing (Zimbabwe), Starvation Island
(Zimbabwe), Antelope Island (Zimbabwe), Bed Island (Zimbabwe), and Chikanka
Towns Around Kariba
The town of Kariba, which was originally built for the people that worked on the
construction of the dam wall, is a small town in Zimbabwe which lies in the eastern
end of the lake, near the dam wall. Binga is on the western side of the lake, closer to
the Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park.
Siavonga is on the Zambian shore of Lake
Kariba, and this town has grown to be the tourist capital for Kariba on the
Zambian side. Together with Sinazongwe, Siavonga was created for the displaced
Tonga people who were made to move for their safety as the waters of the Zambezi
were expected to flood their villages. Sinazongwe was set as the administrative
capital, just 3.5hours from Livingstone town, and 3.5 hours from Lusaka.
Sinazongwe is to Binga what Siavonga is to Kariba town.
"The Zimbabwean side of the lake has about 1 000km of shoreline and a number of islands. Elephants can often be seen swimming between the islands and the shore, a sight so typical of Lake Kariba."
• "Both Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were in contention as it was thought that the Kafue River Gorge site in Northern Rhodesia was preferable to Kariba. The matter was solved in 1951 by a board of experts known as “The Panel” who all agreed that the dam be built on the Zambezi River, at the Kariba Gorge site."
• Kariba Dam was designed by a French man, and construction was managed by an Italian firm.
• During the first flooding, 11 Italian men were trapped in the concrete wall. It was too expensive to get them out, so to this day, their bodies
remain part of the Kariba Dam wall.
• When Kariba Dam was completed, it was actually the biggest dam wall in
the world. It is still the largest man-made lake in the world by volume.