Lake Kariba - Zimbabwe's Inland Ocean. Carrie Hampton found that the spirit of Nyanminyami - the Zambezi River God - is still working its magic at Lake Kariba and she soon became mesmerised into a catatonic state of pure relaxation.
By Carrie Hampton
Lake Kariba - Zimbabwe's Inland Ocean
It might have been the heat, which was heading towards a sweltering 38o, but there was something about Lake Kariba that mesmerized me into a catatonic state of pure relaxation. Nothing I saw seemed to make any sense at all.
Nothing Seemed Real
While fishing nonchalantly from a houseboat I noticed a vertical drainpipe drift through the water - perhaps I had drunk one too many sundowner cocktails. It turned out to be an elephant's trunk emerging, attached to a large grey dripping body.
The next day a dark handsome man, who looked as if he had stepped out of the pages of a Wilbur Smith novel, strolled along the same remote sand bank and stared intently at the ground as if searching for something. The hazy heat made me feel as if I was living in a dream and I wondered if anything at Lake Kariba was quite as it seemed.
Kariba's magic is attributed to Nyaminyami, the Zambezi River God who was undoubtedly responsible for the once-in-a-thousand-year flood in 1958 during the building of the massive dam. The river was finally tamed in June 1959 and the lake formed an inland ocean 285kms long and 40kms wide.
Men lost their lives and people their land in the formation of this dam, but more than 40 years on, the new eco-system provides life in many forms. Villagers and their livestock have constant access to water and the fishing is good. Holiday makers flock to the lake for fishing, sailing, game viewing and unadulterated rest & relaxation.
Wildlife abounds and there are so many crocodiles, that to keep numbers down, the National Parks Board allow crocodile farms to collect the newly-laid eggs for their hatcheries. They breed them for their meat and skins like any other domestic animal. This explains the hero-like Crocodile Dundee I saw walking the sandbank. He was looking for crocodile nests to raid - a job with inherent dangers.
I was to experience these dangers first hand after I persuaded him to take me along on the next foray for eggs. It seems that the female crocodile is quite canny and covers her metre-deep nest so thoroughly, that even an expert finds it hard to locate. A dusting of sand on a rock may be the only clue that a nest lies nearby.
When we found some signs, I had to dig into the soft sand like a dog looking for its bone, until I came across about 40 cylindrical cocoon-like eggs. These I was told to handle carefully, as turning them would kill the developing reptile. Another crocodile peculiarity is that the incubation temperature determines the sex. This bizarre freak of nature produces mostly males at 33°C and almost all females at 32°C.
You might think that the density of man-eating crocodiles would prohibit you from taking a refreshing dip in the cooling waters of Lake Kariba, but luckily many of the houseboats have a swimming cage. Crocodiles are not the only life threatening danger in the lake, hippopotami kill more people in Africa than any other animal.
These giant harmless-looking beasts become very grumpy if you invade their territory, or if you get between them and the water while they are grazing on grassy banks. It would only take one snap of those massive jaws to split you in two, but ironically they are strictly vegetarian, so they would spit you out again in disgust.
Don't worry, you are quite safe as long as you don't do anything really stupid. Just enjoy the wildlife and don't try and make friends with it. Africa equals animals and this one very good reason for you to come.
Houseboat with a Butler
Game viewing on foot or by safari vehicle is on offer around the lake at several suerb game lodges, and is sometimes included in the price of a fully serviced houseboat. So too is fishing, all meals and the services of butler and small launching craft.
The boats sleep from 8 people to upwards of 14 and drifts around the lake at your pleasure. It really is a most relaxing form of holiday, particularly for keen fishermen. This is tiger fish territory. A renowned fighting fish that can reach 15 kg in weight. It is such a popular sport that there is an annual tiger-fishing tournament.
What about the weather? Well if I tell you that October is known as 'suicide month, you might wish to avoid it. September to March is summertime and it really is too hot and humid for all but the most colonial Brits. The winter months of June to August, however, are balmy and pleasant.
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 - I suppose in case Nyaminyami decides to vent any more of his anger.
The town lies along ancient elephant paths and it is possible, although unusual, to trip over elephant dung on your way to the bank. There are however plenty of places close by to try a true African safari.
Big Five Country
The Matusadona National Park, on Lake Kariba's southern shore, is a remote area of wooded hills and lakeshore hiding plenty of game and excellent safari lodges. Matusadona is a melodic word whose meaning is not quite as appealing as it sounds; 'constant dripping of dung,'(a reference to its huge elephant population).
Even the hardiest 4X4 vehicle has trouble getting into this real African bush so your transport from Kariba will most likely be by light aircraft (or even romantic floatplane) or boat. Your lodge will organise this for you. This is big 5 country (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo), as well as a variety of antelope and spectacular birdlife.
Take The Ferry
Another way to explore the entire length of the lake at leisure, is by taking the wonderfully slow ferry boat from Kariba to the other end at Mlibizi (or vice versa). Moonlight in the middle of the lake on a warm night while sleeping under the entire pale blanket of the milky way, is indescribably beautiful.
As a foot passenger or with your vehicle, the price for the 22 hour blissfully peaceful journey departing at 9am and arriving at 7am the following morning, is a bargain. Excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided as well as reclining sleeper chairs, pillows and blankets, but most people laid their cushions on deck to catch the light breeze and watch the shooting stars.
Kariba is not so far down the raging Zambezi River from Victoria Falls, so why not adopt a watery theme for your trip to Zimbabwe. Visit Africa's finest rainbow waterfall, cruise on its inland ocean and watch big game from its banks.
Copyright © Carrie Hampton. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited