Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe, has always been in the shadow of its more acclaimed sister to the west, Victoria Falls. It cannot boast that it is one of the world’s true natural wonders, nor can it proclaim to offer the same myriad of adventure activities that come with it, such as unrivalled white water rafting, helicopter flips through clouds of rising “smoke” or bungee jumps into chasms deeper than a 100 metres. What Kariba does to outwit its famed sibling rests with its ability to captivate the discerning traveller for a longer period than Victoria Falls can.
It is traditionally known among the tourism industry that a single stay in Victoria Falls averages out to somewhere between two and three nights and in fact most itineraries to southern Africa are made up of similar durations in each destination, so why should Lake Kariba be the exception to the rule?
1. Time has no law here
One of my fondest memories as a child was when we would arrive in Kariba after a four hour drive from Harare and my Dad would say “Right, watches off everyone!” We all took our watches off and did not put them back on again until it was time to leave. We never did this in any other destination that we visited, but in Kariba it just felt right.
There is something about the soft warmth of the air coming off the lake; it simply feels like you must be breathing in the best oxygen in the world when you are out on that water. It is so naturally pure and addictive and that this alone will make you want to stay for longer than expected.
2. The best of earth and water
There are not too many places in the world where you can get a balanced and equally rewarding experience of both earth and water. If you have Kariba in your sights then you really should not leave before you have stayed out overnight on the water in a houseboat, as well as in one of the varied accommodations on the lake shore. One night doing each of these is simply not enough and will leave you hankering for more.
Some of the lake’s finest houseboats are built for luxury and comfort. These have ample cabin and deck space, often with in-built Jacuzzi’s or plunge pools plus a crew that caters for your every need, firmly dispelling any myth of discomfort. If need be air conditioning and satellite television add to the prestige and all of this is being consistently improved on demand and in line with green and sustainable technologies. The boat will transport you to wild parts of the lake where there are endless creeks, bays and beaches to explore. It is impossible to see it all.
Your stay on land will invariably provide you with the additional chance to explore the pristine environment you viewed from the water, but still allow you to head out on the lake in a speed boat when the need arises.
3. Night skies and sunsets you just cannot get enough of
Africa is generally renowned for its sunsets and night skies, but arguably there is no place where this is more apparent than at Lake Kariba. Whilst other places on the continent will conjure up something special every two to three nights Kariba’s contribution is practically unrelenting.
Every part of the daily transition from light to dark is magical, as mid-afternoon gold glows play into shades of orange then red before transforming to hues of purple, a time when the first stars appear, and then finally a vast blackness becomes sprinkled with glittering diamonds, a budding astrologist’s paradise that firmly puts our diminutive size into perspective. The whole sequence is one of nature’s finest theatre performances and it reflects itself perfectly on the mirror like surface of the lake.
4. Relax, safari, fish, relax….
Repetitive cycles are often mundane and usually avoided, but when you find one that works you don’t want to part from it. This is the case with the way of life at Lake Kariba. Here relaxation is something you will actually struggle to get away from. The timelessness and clarity of the air along with the sights already described above will leave even the most stubbornly stress-afflicted individuals wondering why they seem to have a new spring in their step. Its then that you become fully aware of the true essence of the understated safari offering in the area. The presence of lion, elephants, buffalo, rhino and hippo in the wilderness that surrounds you stirs up much yearned for corners of the soul. This Kariba-type of safari is not over commercialised and it’s also not the type where you come to just casually tick off boxes of landmark sites.
Whether you see every one of the big five or not is not the essence of your stay here, but it’s the knowledge that they are around, which is food enough. In the waters of the lake there exists a wide diversity of fish species. Each camp, lodge and hotel has its own catch and release policy when it comes to what stays out and what gets put back in. The tilapia or bream make great eating, but it’s the famed fresh water, fighting Tiger Fish that will give you the biggest thrill of the catch. It can take 15-20 minutes to land one of these beautiful swimmers. They have razor sharp teeth, a silver body with black stripes and orange tails and fins. The biggest one caught in the lake was in excess of 15 kilogrammes.
5. The Tonga effect
In the two and half years that my wife and I had the privilege of working with Bumi Hills Safari Lodge and Spa we got to learn about Tonga culture and indeed befriend many Tonga people. A trip to Kariba should incorporate at least half a day or more with getting to know the daily life of these special people.
They have preserved their rich heritage, one borne out of their historical relationship with the Zambezi River. In the late 1950s the Tonga people living along the middle stretch of the Zambezi, a few hundred kilometres downstream from Victoria Falls, were displaced to higher ground by the rapidly encroaching flood waters of the newly dammed Lake Kariba. The vastness of the lake now competes with Belgium in terms of its surface area.
Although the Tonga were forced to move inland they did not go far and remain on the edge of the lake today, many of their communities still practicing their ancestral traditions, in Zimbabwe’s remote Mashonaland West province. They are also embracing tourism and are naturals in the field of hospitality. They are polite and friendly people yes, but it’s their witty sense of humour, along with an innate ability to relate and impart their own passions to people from all over the world that really transcends you. About 90% of the Bumi Hills’ staff come from the surrounding Tonga area and they undoubtedly contribute enormously towards the success of the lodge.
By: Luke Brown
Tel: +263 772147769
Date: 24 April 2013