Matusadona, Lake Kariba & The Zambezi
Vast and rugged – the Matusadona hills frame Lake Kariba’s majestic water wilderness… A remote big-five paradise just waiting to be discovered…
Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park are vast and rugged, with limited access. They have become a huge attraction for discerning safari guests lured here for the spectacular sights and sounds of this majestic Big-Five wilderness. To know the enchantments of the Matusadona and Lake Kariba, one must be acquainted with the wild, life -sustaining waterway, the mighty Zambezi River.
Lake Kariba lies in the North West corner of Zimbabwe. Fed by the Zambezi River it is the biggest artificial lake (by volume) in the world, and the story of how it all came to being is an intriguing one, shrouded in Tonga legend!
Survey work on the dam began in the late 1940s. The Tonga people were outraged and warned that their river god, NyamiNyami would exact revenge. City dwellers mocked the story, but their laughter soon turned to dread and apprehension when on the night of February 15th 1950 a cyclone swept in from Mozambique and 15 inches of rain fell in a few hours. The river swelled 7 meters that night and the survey team perished.
In 1955 an unprecedented flood stormed down the gorge and washed away the foundations of the cofferdam. Again in 1956 an enormous flood washed down the river that rose almost 6 meters in 24 hours and wreaked havoc. The largest digger truck disappeared instantly.
In January 1958 a flood expected only once every 1000 years swept down the riverbed and destroyed the north tower and bridge in a roar of triumph. The river rose to a full 35 meters above its normal level before it began to subside.
The tired engineers resumed their work and in December 1958 the Kariba Dam wall was finally complete. The Tonga people still say Nyaminyami is yet to complete his revenge and destroy the wall. We hope they are wrong.
When the water began to rise behind the dam, animals were forced to retreat to the higher ground and Operation Noah was set up by Rupert Fothergill to rescue as many animals as possible from drowning and starvation on the islands. It was a mammoth undertaking – 2 small boats were used and at first snakes would drop from submerging trees onto the rescuers – among them cobras and mambas! The teams worked tirelessly and saved hundreds of animals of many different species but the rising lake exacted a tragic toll nevertheless.
Today Lake Kariba offers an unforgettable experience of Africa where visitors are safely camped in wild, pristine surrounds. Game can be viewed on the land in vehicles and on guided walks for close up encounters with elephant, buffalo, zebra, hippo, crocodile to name a few. Lake cruises give an alternative perspective and bream and tiger fishing jaunts offer exciting sport to the anglers.
When to Visit:
Year-round, though rainy season will limit activities (between December and March)
Kariba boasts many resorts and access is largely by light aircraft. It is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes flight time from the international airport at Harare.
Walking, hiking, game driving, birding, boating, canoeing, fishing, houseboat tours.
Tented, lodge & houseboat
The Zambezi River, with a length of 2,700km, rises in the north west corner of Zambia. It flows westward at first and then is channeled south before swinging eastward across the continent to empty into the Indian Ocean. It washes the soils of 6 countries – Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique – bringing life and commerce to the humanity, fauna and flora of those nations.
Its journey through Zimbabwe sees its first drama in an enormous cascade down the sheer face of the Victoria Falls, 1 mile wide and 360 feet deep. The churning waters fight their way through 4 gorges and thrust themselves to freedom eight kilometers downstream to flow about 200 km into an enormous lake. The mighty river was damned in 1960 and was forced back into a magnificent stretch of water 220km long and 30km wide – Lake Kariba.
It escapes the confines of the dam and continues to flow as an international border for a further 300km in Zimbabwe. For most of this stretch the river courses through the Zambezi Valley guarded on both sides by the hills of a stark escarpment.
Here the black eagles exploit up drafts and glide effortlessly searching out Dassies on the rock faces. A thousand meters below fish eagles perch in trees with a commanding river view, their melancholy cries ringing out over the waters. Crocodiles bask on the sand banks that they share with the sandpipers and plovers and hippos spend idle days floating on the surface of the water or partly submerged in the shallows, their heads leaning on one another’s backs.
In winter the bush is hot, in summer very hot but in whatever season one visit the Zambezi the magic is the same. The incessant calls of the emerald spotted wood doves, the cries of the fish eagles, augur buzzards wheeling overhead, a large crocodile mouth agape on the river bank – all welcome you to real, wild Africa.
The monotonous cry of the red chested cuckoo echoing through the hills is interrupted sporadically by the honking of Egyptian geese and the raucous calls of the hippos. Elephants wade into the cool water to spray their backs. The shoreline blackens with the bodies of hundreds of thirsty buffalo and herons and storks scan the water with endless patience for the next meal.
The night brings cool relief The night brings cool relief and the calls of a host of creatures – the rasp of a distant leopard on the hunts answered by the inquiring whoop of a prowling hyena. One dozes off to the sonorous hoot of the Giant Eagle Own and the golden resonance of a lion declaring his royal supremacy – the songs of Africa, sung throughout the ages, the endless rhythms of the wild. It is said of this place ‘he who drinks the waters of Africa will doubtless return to drink again’ – the waters of the Zambezi – a world of exquisite beauty, a world indeed of magic.
Matusadona National Park
Matusadona National Park
Matusadona National Park, situated on the shores of Lake Kariba, encompasses the lake’s most beautiful southern shorelines, a vast flat bush-covered plateau and the 600m-high Matusadona mountain range that divides the Zambezi valley from the upland farmlands beyond. The Park lies about 20km across the lake from the town of Kariba, and is bounded by two spectacularly beautiful rivers, in the west, the Ume, which meets the lake in a wide estuary and in the east, the Sanyati with its magnificent, steep sided, rocky gorge.
The Matuzviadona Hills from which Matusadona takes its name, which borders the largest artificial lake in the world (by volume), Lake Kariba. Its stunning shoreline boasts spectacular scenic views of lake, plain and mountain and a huge diversity of fauna and flora. It is one of the last wilderness sanctuaries in which the elusive black rhino can still be seen and it is also home to the big five. One of its compelling features is that this exquisite corner of Africa is also home to over 240 species of birds – a naturalists’ paradise.
One of the last wilderness sanctuaries in which to see the elusive Black Rhino, Matusadona is also home to the Big Five, but one of the most compelling features about this exquisite place is its luxuriant birdlife with over 240 species recorded in the park.
Safari guests visit the Park for its sensational views of Lake Kariba with its dramatic escarpment, rewarding game drives and bush walks and a variety of water activities, including canoeing, boating an fishing. But one does not have to venture out to experience the enchantment of these pristine wild surrounds. The constant call of the African Fish Eagle from its nest on the shoreline, the roar of lions close by, the guffawing grunts of the hippo in the water transcend the soul into one of the most magnificent wilderness areas on earth.
Matusadona is an exceptional safari escape and one that will leave the sights and sounds of this spectacular sanctuary forever in memory, but don’t take our word for it… !
When to Visit
Whilst access by air charter is possible year-round, activities are limited during the rainy season, between December and March.
Access is largely by light aircraft. It is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes flight time from the international airport at Harare. Some guests choose to arrive across the lake by Ferry – a full day’s travel from the Southern part of the lake and a 6-8 hour journey from Kariba town.
Walking, hiking, game driving, birding, fishing, boating, canoeing, houseboat tours.
Tented, lodge & houseboat.