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Lake Kariba: The Largest Reservoir in the World by Volume
Lake Kariba Information and Facts
Boasting 180 km3 of freshwater, Lake Kariba, located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is the largest reservoir in the world by volume. The hydroelectric power plant on Kariba dam is of paramount importance for both African countries, providing considerable electricity to the population.
Construction of the Dam and its Consequences
The arch dam was constructed between 1955 and 1959, and has a length of 579 meters and a height of 128 meters. Before flooding the area, the vegetation was burnt to create a thick lake bed, which became fertile soil, ensuring the vibrant ecology of Lake Kariba. Inhabitants of the region were moved to various villages: Binga and Mlibizi on the Zimbabwe side, and Siavonga and Sinazongwe on the Zambian part.
By flooding Kariba Gorge and the Zambezi River between 1958 and 1963, Kariba Lake was born. In the late 50’s one of the world’s largest animal rescue attempts took place in the area, under the name “Operation Noah”. The team led by Rupert Fothergill rescued more than 6,000 animals, including elephants, warthogs, leopards, zebras, antelopes, rhinos, and many other species, by relocating them to Matusadona National Park and the surroundings of the lake.
Because of the immense mass of water that flooded the area, scientists stated that it caused induced seismicity in the already seismically active region. More than 20 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5 or more on the Richter scale have been attributed to the flooding.
Local climate is generally tropical, with three major seasons. The months from November to March are part of the hotter, rainy season, followed by a cooler dry period between May and August. The hottest season, which is also very dry, lasts from September to November.
The temperature in the winter months rarely drops below 13 degrees Celsius; whilst in the summer daytime temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. Annual rainfall is about 400 mm in the valley, and 700 mm in the plateau area.
The ideal time to visit the lake is between the months of April and August for recreational purposes, and September-October, for fishing.
Flora and Fauna
The shoreline vegetation of the reservoir consists mostly of rich grassland with natural bush and trees, a preferred site for elephants.
Fishing is a popular sport in the area, since the richness of the water caused the tiger-fish to grow to record sizes. The sardine-like Kapenta was introduced into the reservoir (brought in from Lake Tanganyika), causing a thriving commercial fishery.
Among frequently-seen animals we can enumerate the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, fish eagles, cormorants and other water birds.
Lake Kariba and Its Surroundings
The reservoir is situated in a beautiful setting, in a combination of fertile flood plains with some rising walls of mountains serving as a backdrop. Matusadona Game Reserve, with its abundance of wildlife only adds to this unique scenery. Since many rescued animals were brought to the nature reserve, Matusadona houses strong populations of mammals, which are representatives of the Zambezi valley.
There are plenty of islands located on the reservoir, such as Maaze, Mashape, Spurwing, Sekula, Sampa Karuma, Snake, Antelope and Bed Island. Chete Island is the largest on the lake and is geographically closer to the Zimbabwean shores. The island is a pristine place with no roads or accommodations, and is home to many animal species, like lions, impalas, leopards, elands, waterbucks, bushbucks, hippos and crocodiles.
Kariba is one of the largest towns of the precinct, serving as the ideal starting point for trips to the isolated Chizarira National Park, Matusadona Game Reserve, Lake Kariba and the Mana Pools Wildlife Conservation area. Kariba isn’t too touristy, since it is mostly set up for locals.
Siavonga is a smaller town, which usually accommodates visitors who are part of the business market, but is also open to house tourists. Sinazongwe is mostly a town for locals, not having any tourist facilities.
Differences between the Zimbabwe and Zambia area
The Zambian part of the reservoir is in a more remote area, very poorly developed and is rarely a target for tourists. The Southern and Eastern shores of Zimbabwe are quite different, with national parks, wildlife areas and modernized tourism regions awaiting adventure-seekers.
Even though the Zimbabwe region is prepared for tourists, through clever planning and good management, it managed to retain its wilderness character, along with its unparalleled beauty and pristine scenery.
Tourism at Lake Kariba
Accessing the lake can be done by air until Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. From there, one must travel 4-5 hours by car to reach the reservoir. There are many accommodation sites along the lake, from hotels and chalets to lodges and houseboats. You can easily get around with the help of local taxis, which have a varied price range, often subject to negotiations.
Lake Kariba offers the perfect scene for any type of holiday, from entertainment and adventure to sports and relaxation. After a few days of resting, one can choose from the many activities the reservoir and its surroundings have to offer, such as game-viewing, bird-watching and even fishing.
The best attractions are secluded and uncommercialized, ranging from tented, walking or canoeing safaris to cruises, sailing adventures and bush camps. At the end of the day enjoy the breathtaking sunset at Lake Kariba and spend some time gazing at the clear, starlit nights.