The construction of Kariba Dam

The construction of the Kariba Dam was completed in 1959, an incredible feat of engineering aimed at harnessing the mighty Zambezi River, marking the boundary between the present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe, to produce hydroelectric power for the two countries. As the dam filled – it now covers 5,580 square kilometres – it submerged areas that were home to a rich assortment of wildlife in the Zambezi valley. I clearly remember reading, as a youngster, of “Operation Noah”, a multinational effort that was launched to rescue the animals and preserve at least some of the threatened biodiversity. Animals were manually captured, trapped, or tranquilized; temporary bridges were built from shrinking islands to provide passage to the mainland, and in one way and another thousands of mammals, reptiles and birds were saved. Thrilling stuff!

It has taken a long time, but in June 2023 I finally fulfilled a boyhood dream and visited Lake Kariba.

Our route

The lake is approximately 280 km long, and we visited it at three points on the Zimbabwean side of its length – Maabwe Bay in the south-west, the little town of Kariba in the north-east and the Matusadona National Park in between. Each spot has its own attractions and gave us a good impression of the vastness of the lake and the impact that it has had on tourism.

Repairs to the Kariba wall

After more than 60 years in operation, the Kariba Dam is now undergoing major rehabilitation at a cost approaching USD300 million. The water pouring through the sluice gates over the years has scoured away the rock bed and is at risk of undermining the dam wall. The repairs are being carried out with minimal interruption to the electricity generation by the two power stations, no doubt adding to the engineering challenge..

We visit Maabwe Bay and Matusadona NP

Maabwe Bay is a spectacular fishing area that is also very rich in birdlife, making it an attractive tourist area.

Further along the dam, the Matusadona National Park was a safe haven for many of the animals rescued during Operation Noah in the 1960’s and remains rich in animal and bird diversity. On several occasions elephant wandered past our campsite on their way to the water’s edge.

In addition to the rich variety of animals and birds Matusadona National Park delivers the most mesmerizing sunsets and moon rises over the lake!

Barge to Kariba town

We crossed over the lake by barge to the village of Kariba, which was established at the time the dam was built and continues as a tourist destination. We thus avoided a lengthy drive over very poor roads and could relax over breakfast and coffee while enjoying a smooth passage and a novel experience.

Visiting Lake Kariba was amazing. The vastness of the dam is astounding; 5,580 square kilometres sounds enormous, but it still doesn’t prepare one for that incredible expanse of water.

The experience was well worth the sometimes-challenging drive to get there.

Red-billed Firefinch

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