Sun 31st Nov – Lakeside chalet
Mon 1st Nov & Tue 2nd Nov – Houseboat, Lake Kariba
Wed 3rd Nov – Lakeside chalet
Siavonga border – Lakeside chalet – 18km
Around Kariba town – 50km
Total km travelled since Nairobi: 6,901km
LAKE KARIBA … TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS ON THE WATER!
I’d heard a lot about the houseboats of Lake Kariba and it always sounded like a very attractive proposition … what could be better than drifting around on placid waters, spending two nights in a cabin with a gentle breeze cooling you at night, watching elephants and other wildlife splashing about on the waters’ edge and casting a line out every now and then to see which of the myriad of fishes in the lake would take a nibble?
Our reality was somewhat different. The double-decker boat that came as a bit of a bargain might once have been quite homely, but it was certainly past its prime and needed more than a little TLC. The captain, a lovely Malawian fellow, was even more long in the tooth than the boat and it took him a while to hobble up and down to his brig on the top deck so I hoped we wouldn’t need to take any sudden evasive manoeuvres. However, the weather was the biggest factor for us … for weeks prior to our visit the lake had reportedly been glass-like but the day we set foot on board, the wind picked up dramatically and made things really choppy.
Our captain had planned to take us out towards Matsunadona Park, where wildlife is abundant, especially since Africa Parks became involved in the running of it, and commercial fishing is not allowed. However, an hour into our journey with the boat bobbing back and forth like a rocking horse and lake waters periodically spilling up the corridor that ran between our cabins, we decided to call time on that idea and come up with another plan. Instead, we sought shelter on the leeward side of some islands not far from Kariba town for our first night and managed to journey a little further afield to a larger bay on the second day, but never got out as far as originally intended.
We still saw some wildlife … a hippo, some substantial crocodiles, waterbuck and lots of birdlife. We tried fishing from the pontoon tender boat, but the waters were whipped up to the extent that our plump-looking worms received very few bites and only the deckhand managed to land a fish – a rather small bream that we promptly sent back to rejoin his shoal. The wind that made moving around the lake during the day difficult, died down to whisper on the first night, so the cabins were stiflingly hot at night and the local kapenta fishermen could be quite loud at night as they paddled around close by, tending to their nets.
Having said all of that, we had a fun few days at Lake Kariba. It was a big change to not really be able to get out and do anything so we read books, ate, drank well and Gillian triumphed rather spectacularly at Rummikub. We took a few outings on our small pontoon boat, mostly to admire the skeletal submerged forests, still exposed above the water over 60 years since the Zambezi river was blocked by Italian engineers to create Lake Kariba.
The light wasn’t great for photography but we still got some pretty striking images of tree limbs coming out of the water and the mountains rolling away in the distance. We briefly tried out the ‘swimming cage’ – a 3m x 3m contraption that is hinged off the back of the boat and allows you to cool off in the lake without the very real risk of being munched by a crocodile – but it was mostly to try and repair punctures to our inflatable camping sleeping mats and ended up not being a very glamorous experience as it was all a bit to close to our slightly leaky engine.
Back on the mainland, we stayed in a simple ‘chalet’ at a resort frequented by fishermen, where our double cab pick-up would have fitted right in except we didn’t have a boat trailer attached. Kariba town doesn’t have a huge amount to offer, but Kian and I did manage to sniff out some quad bikes and expressed our ‘petrol-head’ selves for an hour one evening, pulling donuts on the sandy shores under the disapproving eyes of a nearby hippo pod.
One of the most impressive things about Kariba was actually our border crossing in from Zambia into Zimbabwe. We had to drive along the top of the dam wall, which is an impressive bit of engineering, with the water to the west and a huge drop of about 100m down into a plunge pool, currently exposed for renovation work. We could see how high the water can get and it is currently at a much lower level, though that will presumably change as the rains start and the dam begins to refill.
Lake Kariba is a very popular destination for both local and foreign visitors and, if we are to return, I’ll definitely plan our trip not to fall at the start of the rainy season and might throw a few more dollars at the boat hire so we end up on one of the more impressive-looking floating palaces we saw moored in the harbour.
Next stop Mana Pools … back to wildlife viewing and real camping!