Lake Kariba: History & Heritage

Many describe Lake Kariba as Zambia’s  hidden Riveira! It provides beautiful vistas, gorgeous sunsets, excellent fishing, boating options, water sports, and fantastic peaceful vacations or weekends spent soaking up the sun. Lake Kariba covers an area of almost 6,000 square kilometres and is fed by the Zambezi River, which originates in Zambia and flows through Mozambique towards the Indian Ocean.

The dam, which was completed in 1959, has provided a wide range of benefits to the people of Zimbabwe and Zambia, as well as visitors from across the world.

Lake Kariba has a fascinating history, which is why it is considered to be one of Zimbabwe’s most popular tourist attractions and the ideal family safari spot for locals and international travellers.

The History of Lake Kariba

Construction on Lake Kariba began in the early 1950s out of the necessity to generate hydroelectric energy for Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kariba was designed and conceptualised by a French engineer named André Coyne, who is a renowned “arch dam” specialist. Lake Kariba holds important value for Zimbabwe and Zambia, especially since its establishment has enhanced the economy, electricity and tourism sectors.

bumi hills

The construction of the dam meant that the surrounding areas would be flooded. This would result in the loss of habitat for both humans and wildlife. As a precautionary measure, the Tongan tribes of the Gwembe valley were relocated. This relocation was negotiated on the basis of the economic benefit for both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The construction of Kariba was a very controversial topic, especially since the local people believed that the dam’s construction would anger the Zambezi River god, Nyaminyami. They believed that Nyaminyami would break down the bridge and cause catastrophic floods.

To this day, it is believed that Nyaminyami lives under a rock close to the Lake Kariba dam wall. The rock has been named “Kariwa“, which means to trap. The locals have warned that canoeing past this location can be fatal. This is where the name Kariba comes from.

The history of Lake Kariba is riddled with historic mythology and is described by locals as a spiritually powerful body of water that is revered and respected by the locals of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Not only did the Tongan tribe lose their land as a result of Kariba’s construction, but the wildlife in the surrounding areas lost their habitats as well. Thousands of wild animals fled, in search of higher ground away from the powerful body of water. Rangers and volunteers from national parks in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, rallied together to save animals stuck on islands and in trees. They were later called “Operation Noah” and succeeded in saving over 6,000 animals, including elephant, zebra, antelope, lion and rhino.

Today, Lake Kariba is the 4th largest man-made lake in the world and the 2nd largest in Africa

Lake Kariba: Climate

The climate around Lake Kariba is generally warm throughout the year. However, there are three distinct seasons, which are:

  • The hot dry season (August and October)
  • The hot wet season (November and April)
  • The cool dry season (May and July)

What to Expect in The Hot Dry Season (August- October)

During the months of September, October, and November, Lake Kariba experiences temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius. The water tends to be rough as well. As the months of August and September are often windy,

August through November is a fantastic time of year for game viewing since the bush is dry, allowing for better visibility. Because grazing is rare inland, animals flock to the shores of the lake, which have abundant vegetation and water.

Throughout the year, birdwatching is a treat, but the arrival of summer migrants in September brings a whole new dimension to the experience.

The hot, dry season is also high season, which means that many travellers will flock to the region. We recommend that you book your African safari experience way ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

What to Expect in The Hot Wet Season (August- October)

Afternoon thundershowers and high humidity are hallmarks of the rainy season, which typically lasts from November through April. In between the rains, there is generally a nice, sunny day. As a result, the inter-tropical convergence zone may bring three weeks of rain with ease if you’re there at the wrong moment.

Watching the massive clouds and rumbling thunderstorms as they form over the enormous lake is breathtaking. Clouds can form in amazing ways as early as October because of how hot it is and how big the lake is.

The lush vegetation thrives in the much-needed rain, which turns the bush green and dense quickly. At this time of year, the plains games give birth to their young, which is a beautiful sight in itself. Seasonal birding is at its peak, with an abundance of birds and ducks. Insects and wildflowers are also brought about by the rainfall.

While the local rains have little effect on the lake’s level, it will begin to increase once the Zambezi headwaters, which originate in northern Zambia, arrive in March. Flooding in the streams that run into Lake Kariba can have an adverse effect on fishing in some cases due to the brown and muddy water.

What to Expect During the Cool Dry Season (May-July)

The weather is mild and dry from late April through early August. Even though it’s winter, the days are usually pleasant, with highs in the early to mid-20s and lows seldom falling below 13 °C.

The weather is perfect, with sunny days and mild evenings. The sky is clear and sunny, and the risk of rain is quite low. If you would like to avoid extreme temperatures, this season is ideal for you.

Our Camps Located Above Lake Kariba

Bumi Hills Safari Lodge

bumi hills

Bumi Hills Safari Lodge is located on a series of lonely hills in one of Zimbabwe’s most breathtaking wilderness areas. Located at the base of the Zambezi escarpment, Lake Kariba’s endless shimmering waters may be seen below. Wildlife may easily roam between the national park and Bumi Hill’s private concession, making for limitless game-viewing possibilities with the help of our knowledgeable guides. The lodge’s closeness to Matusadona further adds to the richness of the Lake Kariba shoreline.

Additional Facts About Lake Kariba

  • Lake Kariba is the largest man-made lake on the planet.
  • Kariba is a Shona word that means “Kariva”, which can be translated as “a little trap”.
  • The lake is fed by the might Zambezi river which begins its 2700-kilometre journey from north-west Zambia to reach the Indian Ocean via Mozambique.
  • Kariba covers an area of 5500 km2 and extends for another 280km. Its shore is dotted with many rivers, and has a width of 40 km.
  • It’s located halfway between the mouth and source of the Zambezi River, 200 km downstream from the Victoria Falls.
  • Kariba Dam is made up of a double arch wall. It measures 128 meters high, 617 meters long, 13 metres wide at its peak, and 24meters at its base.
  • The wall crosses the Kariba Gorge, creating a border crossing from Zimbabwe and Zambia
  • Andre Coyne was the leading designer. He was an inventor and engineer from France. He designed 70 dams in 14 different countries after the Kariba dam was built.
  • Between 1958 and 1963, the sheer weight of the water filling Kariba dam caused more than 20 earthquakes. These earthquakes were above 5 on the Richter scale.