Travellers considering a trip to Kariba and the Lower Zambezi Valley are advised that this varied and interesting area is addictive, and can seriously damage future holiday plans.
We first travelled to Africa in 1990, but it was not until 1993 that we first visited Kariba. By then we had travelled overland from Nairobi to Cape Town, explored many fascinating places and had plans for future adventurous trips in Africa and beyond. Sad to report, that for the last four years we have returned without fail to visit the same places and people in and around Kariba. In this brief health warning we highlight some of the potential pitfalls, which may lure you back year after year....
Lake Kariba is the focus for a diverse range of activities including safaris, fishing, sailing and house-boats. Watching the sunset through the petrified tree stumps is a sight we will never tire of, so be sure to take plenty of film. The Matusadona shoreline has a wealth of bird-life, and the anticipation of seeing one of the resident lion prides is reward in itself.
Spending a few days relaxing on a house-boat, pampered by Captain and crew, is the lazy way of exploring the tortuous creeks and inlets of Lake Kariba! With a gin and tonic and a good book what more could you want? Fishing for the famous Tiger fish could keep you amused for hours, although the four inch bream were more than adequate to keep us entertained.
The thrill of seeing animals in the wild is impossible to capture in a photograph, and Mana Pools is perhaps our favourite safari destination. You will have to experience it for yourself to see what we mean.... Be prepared to get a little dusty, since few roads are tarred! After a three hour bumpy ride with grit in your eyes, you'll be ready for adventure, although for wimps, there is always the option of a flight to the Park air-strip.
Our trips have been made with Call of Africa, and qualified safari-guide, Gus Drury, takes us for daily walks in the bush. He is a walking encyclopaedia, explaining the tracks we follow and the geology of the area, in addition to flora and fauna. We are no "twitchers" at home, but no-one can fail to be excited by the colours and variety of birds in Africa - my record is 150 birds in three weeks.
Don't turn your nose up at the thought of camping - with flushing loo, same day laundry service and hot showers (never mind what the hippos might have been up to in the water), Craig MacRae is justly proud of his luxury facilities. The sounds of the night are something you will never forget - the laugh of the hyenas and the roar of the lions. Essentials for your safari should include sun-hat, sunscreen and "dirty-coloured" clothing. If you turn up wearing white, you'll be the first to sample the delights of elephant dung.
Drifting down the Zambezi in a canoe provides a different perspective and allows you to get closer to the animals - they don't seem so wary an approach from the water. With all your gear strapped into your canoe, you are self-contained and camp on remote islands or along the banks of the river. No previous canoeing experience is necessary but it helps to have some co-ordination when manoeuvring around the pods of hippos, who sometimes take exception to you disturbing their wallowing. Our guide warned us to swim to the bank quickly if we capsized and not to hang around for the crocs. We have travelled three separate stretches of the river in complete safety - but perhaps that's because Jane was stuck in the front - no steering or control from there!
Kariba is probably most famous for the Kariba Dam, which was built during the 1950s and is worth a visit. We were initially sceptical of stories about elephants wandering around town in the dry season. However, lounging around the pool one day we were joined by a large pachyderm who was undeterred by waiters banging trays to frighten her, at least not until she had eaten her fill of mangoes. Speaking of food, we particularly look forward to tucking into our fillet steaks at the Breezes hotel - mad-cow disease notwithstanding, there is no comparison with the beef on offer in the UK!
If, even after our warning, you decide to travel to Kariba then please don't recommend it to your friends. Too many visitors might spoil the relaxing beauty, and besides, we wouldn't want a whole generation of addicts.
Here's hoping not to see you in Kariba!
Jane & Graham Walker
Old Felixstowe Road
Woodbridge IP12 4RX