A manmade, Lake Kariba is one of the jewels in Zimbabwe's crown. It is an artificial lake that was a result of the construction of the Kariba Dam across the Zambezi River as a part of the hydroelectric power supply utility for Zimbabwe and Zambia. Not surprisingly, this man-made intervention has changed the area to such a great extent that it has resulted in a new ecosystem attracting herds of game and different kinds of bird species which make for a very attractive locale. Loads of activities, impressive lodges and houseboats and the most beautiful sunsets in the world have put Lake Kariba on the tourists' bucket list of holiday destinations.
The construction of the dam with 6 floodgates was started in 1955 and finished in 1959. Amongst many stories, one version explains the origin of the name as follows: There is a distinct boulder near the dam that looks like a traditional stone trap 'riva'. Hence the dam was named 'Kariva' that was mispronounced as Kariba. It was designed by a Frenchman, Andre Coyne and built by Impresit, a constructor from Italy. The consequences of this construction were that when the sluice gates were closed, the water levels started rising. The dam was creating many islands and had also submerged the land in some places. This posed a risk to the animal population residing in the Zambezi valley as their numbers could start dwindling anytime. That was when a concerted effort was made by the National Parks and the Governments of Zimbabwe and Zambia to relocate around 6000 animals to other hospitable areas of the countries. This operation got international publicity and soon received enough funds from few countries like UK and USA. It was rightly called as the 'Operation Noah' carried out by Roger Fothergill and his team.
Legendary tales around the area amongst the Tonga tribe who worship Nyaminyami River God say that he is a dragon-like amphibious god of the valley and has a head of a fish, the torso of a snake and protects the Tonga people during hard times. It is believed that the god lived upstream with his wife but they were separated because of the construction of the dam. The angry god forced his way back and caused the collapse of a part of the dam in which 86 workers were killed.
Lake Kariba is an astounding 282 km in length at its best and 40 km in width and covers an area of around 5000 sq. km across the northern border of Zimbabwe separating it from Zambia. The Matusadonha National Park is situated on the shores of the lake and houses a variety of game, elephants, buffalo and some predators. Safaris can be taken both on foot and by vehicle. The wild animals come to the shoreline for water, which makes Lake Kariba an amazing place for safaris. In addition to game-viewing, Lake Kariba is popular among fishing enthusiasts due to the major population of Tiger fish in the lake, which take centrestage during the world famous 'Tiger Fish Tournament' in October where the winner has caught the heaviest tiger fish amongst all the ones that inhabit the lake. The lake also has around 40 species of fish including different types of bream, chessa and Cornish jacks, nkupe, chessa, bottlenose, vundu and barbell. The temperatures range from around 25 degrees in the day in the winters to 38 degrees in the day in summers. There are 20 camping sites located within 100 metres of the lake shore and 15 caravan sites with ablution facilities. For more comfortable accommodation, there are many lodges situated on the Kariba shores and few in the Matusadonha National Park plus many houseboat facilities for the people who want to experience a different side to water safaris.
Kariba town is about 5 hours by road from Harare, the capital city and around 28 km from camp Nyanyana. Kariba town is the centre point from which Chizarira National Park, Matusadonha National Park, Lake Kariba and Mana Pools National Park are all accessible. Along the Harare-Chirundu road at Makuti, there is a turn at Makuti Hotel and then a tarred road leads to Kariba town. There are many hotels, fuel, shops, main harbours and other facilities at Kariba town. From Makuti, Nyanyana is about 56 km and is sign-posted. The southwestern side of the lake is less developed than the eastern side. There are two fishing villages Binga and Mlibizi, which are of interest to the visitor, the latter being a ferry terminus. The roads coming to this side are tarred up to Binga town and hence a sturdy 4WD is required to travel on this route. The third longer route is from Kwekwe, crossing Chizarira National Park and then going onto Binga.
Islands spread out on the lake - There are 102 islands on the lake including: Fothergill, Spurwing, Msambakaruma, Rhino, 126, Long Island, Redcliff, Antelope, Zebra, Kings Camp, 155, Starvation Island, Lubangwa Island, Twin Sisters, Nemambere Island, Partridge Island, Whither Island, Paradise Island, Snake Island, Bed Island, Chete Island among others.