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When Lake Kariba was formed in 1958 the area began to support a booming fishing industry in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

The Tanganyika sardine, otherwise known as the ‘Kapenta’, was a major source of food for people around the lake, and still is today. This species also happens to be a favourite food for the tiger fish. With such an abundance of prey, the tigers of Kariba can grow to over 14kg, providing remarkable fishing opportunities for anyone who likes a big fight on their hands.

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There are many splendid fishing locations on Kariba, but one of the best is surely the Sanyati Gorge, where steep cliffs rise on either side of the gorge for 13km up from the lake. In other parts of the lake you’ll find fish eagles watching over as you cast out your line, elephant and antelope grazing on the lush growth along the waterline, and in the clear, unpolluted waters of the lake itself, the tiger fish are waiting.

Matusadona offers fully-catered fishing charters on the lake as well as the opportunity to experience the general magic of Kariba in style and comfort. Enjoy big game viewing alongside Matusadona National Park, the cosy cabins and fine cuisine while searching out the best fishing spots on the lake.

Kariba. Zimbabwe

Matusadona pulls three smaller boats behind her, ideal for quick trips out as well as morning or afternoon fishing expeditions to get the most out of your time out on the water. We’ll take along a packed lunch and cooler box full of drinks and food, spending as long as we need out there, trying out all the special spots on the lake and searching out the biggest tigers we can find.

Fishing on Lake Kariba is amazing for most of the year, including the winter months, when there are many other fish species to be caught, including Nile Tilapia, chessa, nkupe, cat-fish (Vundu) and even Cornish Jack.

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All in all, Kariba is without a doubt one of the best places in Africa to fish for tigers. And with the added comforts and experiences of a fully-chartered safari cruiser such as Matusadona, you simply can’t go wrong on Lake kariba.

For more information about fishing charters on Matusadona click here.

Written by Paul Steyn

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Matusadona is a safari cruiser unlike any other houseboat on lake Kariba. 

This is obvious as the 28-metre cruiser backs out of its mooring in the Kariba town mariner. All the other houseboats seem to look on in envy as she manoeuvres her way to the entrance in slow, graceful movements. Matusadona is fairly new to Kariba, only having launched in 2013, but she steams out of the harbour into open water with the confidence and majesty of an accomplished vessel.

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Owners Tim and Sabine Featherby launched Matusadona in 2013 and now charter the boat out to travellers looking for a bit of style and comfort on their Kariba safari – something which Tim believes is hard to come by on Lake Kariba these days.

Matusadona isn’t short of either style or comfort. Four wonderful wood-finished cabins make up the bottom deck of the boat; the central area is made up of an elegant lounge and kitchen area with dining deck out the back. The top deck is the real stunner on this boat: There’s a beautiful open-air lounge with adjacent bar, as well as an elevated Jacuzzi on the bow of the boat.

Kariba. Zimbabwe

We spend our first night moored on an isolated island in the middle of Kariba, a glorious sunset from the upper deck bar welcoming us to Kariba. There are many islands dotted around this great lake, the remnants of high points on the land when the area was flooded in the 50’s. Kariba is a wonder of human ingenuity and the history of this section of Zambezi River is almost as fascinating as the lake itself.

A vast lake

After a big breakfast on the central deck, we steam right up the middle of Lake Kariba. I’m completely overwhelmed by the vastness of this body of water. On the southern side the Zambezi Escarpment rises up into the distance, and on the northern side I can barely see Zambia. We sit on the upper deck and take in the dramatic scenery. The purr of the engine is barely audible and the light breeze is welcome relief from the humidity as we make our way steadily up the lake.

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This is our captain’s maiden voyage on Matusadona and he manages to find a secluded island on which to anchor for the night. It’s not long before the staff has packed up a boat full of drinks and we head off for an afternoon adventure on the main land.

We find a secluded beach where the deck chairs are set up and we sit sipping on gin and tonics and merrily watching the sun go down on another epic Kariba day.

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Matusadona National Park

There’s a herd of about 15 elephants drinking on the lakeshore as we steam past the Matusadona National Park on our second day of the journey. This secluded wilderness on the Zimbabwean side of Kariba preserves some of the biggest prides of lions in Africa as well as elephant, buffalo, leopard and even the rare black rhino.

We anchor at a large inlet on the lakeshore of the park and it’s not long before our host, Scott, is zipping us off on a boat game drive through the pools and inlets in search of birds and wildlife. We also take a few rods along and cast a couple of lines out in the hope that a tiger fish might bite.

Kariba. Zimbabwe

We see big herd of impala, a buffalo bull, more elephants and some incredible bird sightings too. One scene is unforgettable: While casting a line out into one of the inlets, a big elephant bull emerges from the bush and starts having a mud bath directly in front of us.

On the way back to the boat we see the emergence of a huge storm cell in the middle of the lake, the dark clouds illuminated by the afternoon light. A lone fish eagle sits on a dead branch in the foreground, seemingly posing for us like a regal statue.

Wonderful food

By the time we get back to the boat, dinner is almost ready and we prepare ourselves for a feast on the main deck. We are first given fried yabbies by the bar, which is a type of fresh-water lobster that had been caught just hours before, and then some of Tim’s own Foothills Wines comes out and the scene is set for a glorious evening.

It’s a warm evening and we sit eating, drinking and watching the impressive lighting strikes from the approaching storm in the distance.

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Homeward bound

We leave the Matusadona National Park  in our wake and set a course for home. I’m filled with a new sense of appreciation for the majesty of this incredible place. The history, the beauty, the storms, the sunsets and the animals make this a truly unique safari destination in Africa. Combine this with the style and comfort of Matusadona, helpful staff, plus Tim and Sabine’s incredible hospitality touch – and you’ve got an unparalleled safari experience

Written by Paul Steyn

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Matusadona National Park is one of the biggest and most stunning wildlife havens in the greater Lake Kariba area. 

The park inherited it’s name from the Matuzviadonha Hills which directly translated means ‘elephant dung’, thought to be compared to the mounds of dung that gets deposited on the hills leading up the Zambezi escarpment by commuting elephants.

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A stunning view of the Matusadona National Park lakeshore

When the area was flooded by the dam in the 50’s much of the wildlife retreated to the Zambezi escarpment in Zimbabwe, and many of the rescued animals were released here. Matusadona now hosts large numbers of wildlife, including the elephant, lion, leopards, herds of buffalo and and even the rare black rhino. Birdlife on Kariba is spectacular and within Matusadona National Park there are well over 350 species that call it home. Specials include fish eagle sightings, kingfishers, darters, cormorants and other more rare wetland birds along the banks.

The park itself is about 130 000 hectares of unfenced wilderness, and infrastructure within the park is limited. But there are various lodges on the lake-shore such as Musango Safari Camp, Bumi Hills Safari Lodge and Spurwing Island that have some access to the park. A trip on the Matusadona Safari Cruiser will take you on a safari right along the length of the reserve, spending nights anchored on the lakeshore and day trips fishing and game viewing along the pools and channels within the reserve.

Like many other Zimbabwean reserves, Matusadona National Park faces challenges in terms of poaching and other basic mismanagement issues, but this stunningly remote wilderness remains a shining gem in the greater Kariba area.

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A fish eagle sits on a dead tree stump with a supercell tornado in the distance.

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Elephants grazing with Matusadona National Park in the background

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Night time on the Matusadona National Park lakeshore

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As early as 1941, funds were allocated to conduct a survey of Kariba Gorge for a possible ground-breaking hydroelectric dam site on the Zambezi River. 

Both Southern and Norther Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia as they are today) were in contention as it was theorised that the Kafue site in Northern Rhodesia was a better position to the one on the Zambezi. The question was solved by a board of experts who agreed that the dam should be built on the Zambezi River. In August 1955 the then Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, called for tenders for the construction of the dam wall.

The contract for the construction of Kariba township was awarded to Richard Costain, and the main contract for the wall and transmission lines to the Italian consortium, Imprasit. The Kariba South Bank Power Station of the Kariba Dam hydroelectric scheme was officially opened by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on 17th May, 1960.

THE DAM

The dam wall of Lake Kariba is located at the former Kriwa (Kariba) gorge, it is the largest man-made dam wall in the world, standing 128 m (420 ft) tall and 579 m (1,900 ft) long. It is a concrete double curvature arch dam, of mass concrete construction reinforced around the spillway gates.

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During the construction of Kariba Gorge. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Kariba was designed for the safe passage of a 10 000 year flood, based on river flow data available at the time. In the original design of the dam, the spillway had been designed for a 3-month flood of volume 68km3. During construction, in 1957, a peak flood occurred, the highest on record and created vast amounts of damage to the wall and the building equipment.

As a result, the dam engineers revised their spillway design to a 3-month flood of 74km3. In the following season, 1958, a peak flood was once again recorded. This led to further revision of the spillway design to it’s preset capacity of 92 km3.

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The Kariba Dam wall. Photo Wikimedia Commons

OPERATION NOAH

Kariba’s rising waters put the lives of thousands of animals in danger. This prompted the most extensive and courageous rescue operation ever undertaken.

As the dam wall closed and the waters rose, milliards of large crickets, mice, rats, and the like emerged and scurried away from the encroaching waters. The skies above were blackened by swarms of birds sating themselves on the harvest. In the water the voracious tiger fish rampaged and, glutted with drowning insects, died. Many animals, notably the larger carnivores, retreated inland. Others, however, instinctively made for high ground to wait out another seasonal flood, and were trapped on temporary islands created by the unrelenting upsurge as Lake Kariba filled.

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A satellite view of Lake Kariba. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Senior ranger Rupert Fothergill, Brian Hughes (an ex-fireman who could not swim) and their assistants arrived. Under-manned and under-equipped, Operation Noah had begun.

They began by trying to manoeuvre the large animals into the water and sheaparding them to safety. In so doing, it was revealed that many mammals could swim long distances – waterbuck a full mile and baboon 400 yards, for instance. They also discovered that hornless female buck could paddle further than the males. And they observed instances of intelligent, adaptive behaviour such as waterbuck ferrying offspring on their backs and large horned bull antelope supporting their heads on logs, or testing them on others’ backs, during their journey to safety.

Others, declining the swim, were driven into the water for easier capture before being trussed and transported to shore. During this time tranquilliser darting techniques were pioneered.

This was a heroic period, when a handful of men drove themselves to the verge of collapse whilst their gains were pathetically small as thousands of animals drowned or died from shock or injuries sustained during the rescue operations.

Rupert & Len Harvey releasing a waterbuck from net during Operation Noah, where many game capture techniques were pioneered during the rising water from Lake Kariba.

Rupert & Len Harvey releasing a waterbuck from net during Operation Noah, where many game capture techniques were pioneered during the rising water from Lake Kariba.

Through the British Sunday Mail (February 15 1959) the story of Operation Noah fired the sentimental imagination of the world. Soon there were more feature writers, television cameramen, do-gooders, and inquisitive officials than there were designated rescuers and their intrusion severely hampered operations. A request for and nylon stockings to plait as replacements for the ropes which burnt captured animals, saw millions of pairs inundate the locals SPCA in another unstoppable flood.

Provoked by pressures of a press-fed public and humanitarian organisations, the task force was increased and better equipped by the Southern Rhodesia government. Overseas financial aid was refused, however, because of the danger of donors deeming it their right to intervene in the project. These funds were diverted to Northern Rhodesia (Now Zambia) and used to launch their participation in the rescue campaign.

Operation Noah, the largest animal rescue ever undertaken, saved over 5000 animals, including 50 black rhino between 1960 and 62. How many creatures died will never be known. Ironically, in the 12 years up till then, over 300 000 animals had been killed as part of the programme to control the spread of Tsetsi fly in Southern Rhodesia.

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